Poisonous Philaster

Philaster, a play written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, was performed in the early 1600’s during the Jacobean period and began the early trend of tragicomedies. The plot revolves around the imprisoned Prince Philaster of Sicily and Princess Arethusa, the daughter of the king who usurped the throne of Sicily. It is meant to be an amazing tale of bravery and virtuous love amid the characters Philaster and Arethusa. However, the characters possess fatal flaws which create chaos and disaster throughout the play. The vulnerable and naïve Princess Arethusa mistakes Philaster’s narcissistic personality for bravery, ensnaring her devotion and establishing a relationship riddled with turmoil.

Philaster is hailed as a brave prince, yet is nothing more than a self-entitled narcissist. Narcissism and self-entitlement are readily apparent when Prince Philaster requests to speak. Philaster uses his time to express his utter disdain for Prince Pharamond of Spain whom has been paid to marry Princess Arethusa. Philaster shouts: When thou art king, look I be dead and rotten, and my name ashes; for hear me, Pharamond! This very ground thou goest on, this fat earth my father’s friends made fertile with their faiths, before that day of shame shall gape and swallow thee and thy nation, like a hungry grave, into her hidden bowels; prince, it shall; by the just gods, it shall. (Beaumont and Fletcher 307).

Philaster continues insulting Pharamond calling him prince of parrots presenting an image of absolute madness and self-entitlement. Princess Arethusa, the noble gentlemen, and the ladies of the court witness the wildly hot-tempered Philaster claim his territory, and hail him as brave and worthy. However, it is not bravery or worthiness that Philaster possesses. There are evidential traces of narcissism expressed that the character cannot hide nor control. Philaster believes he deserves everything because he is superior in every way. Psychologists Twenge and Campbell state, “This state of mind is called entitlement, the pervasive belief that one deserves special treatment, success, and more material things. Entitlement is one of the key components of narcissism and one of the most damaging to others. When narcissists feel entitled to special treatment, someone else invariably gets the shaft” (230). Philaster’s bitter comments toward Prince Pharamond and the King is influenced by mental instability and a motive toward guarding his self-loved image. Philaster is demanding respect through his own incredibly disrespectful comments because of vanity not valiance. His anarchistic speech is seen as poetic bravery which excites the young Princess Arethusa, prompting her to send out her servant to invite him into her lodging. The servant locates an equally eager Philaster and says, “To you, Brave lord; the princess would entreat your present company” (Beaumont and Fletcher 311). Princess Arethusa declares her love to Philaster in her lodging and Philaster’s true characteristics are seen through their dysfunctional relationship.

Philaster’s egotism and ravenous libido trigger him to announce a false love. Philaster easily accepted affection from the king’s virgin daughter because he’s entitled, narcissistic, and aroused. On the subject of sensuality confused for love Dr. Tallis comments, “Love tends to be viewed as a secondary (almost unimportant) by-product of libidinous urges” (Tallis 36). The alleged love occurred only a few moments after seeing one another. In the court, there had been no conversation, no courting, and no sincere acts of chivalry. Philaster did not fall in love with Arethusa at first sight but he did immediately notice her physical attractiveness. Princess Arethusa represents beauty and purity which lures in Philaster physically not emotionally. A study showed, “Men and women were depicted as holding different relationship priorities: Men are typically interested in a sexual union while women are predominately interested in pursuing an emotionally committed partnership” (McLellan-Lemal 13). The very different mindsets of Arethusa and Philaster serve to establish a forewarning of disorder. Philaster experiences not only physical desire but self-entitlement, particularly when he refuses to hide from Pharamond at Arethusa’s personal request. Instead of fulfilling her request and doing as she asked, Philaster takes great offense. “Hide me from Pharamond! When thunder speaks, which is the voice of God, though I do reverence, yet I hide me not; and shall a stranger-prince have leave to brag unto a foreign nation that he made Philaster hide himself” (Beaumont and Fletcher 317). Afterwards, Philaster starts an argument with Pharamond, threatening to brawl in the Princess’ lodging shortly after she specifically requested he hide. The pompous Philaster is marking his territory over both Princess Arethusa and her bedroom much like that of a dominant barking dog, displaying indisputable signs of disrespect. If Philaster truly respected the princess, he would have done as she asked or at the very least not start an argument with Pharamond. However, Philaster does not respect her, and does not take her feelings into consideration because he is a narcissist who is unable to care for anyone beside himself. Due to this disorder, Philaster will not be able to manage a healthy relationship with Arethusa. Psychologists Twenge and Campbell write, “Narcissists are missing the piece about caring for others, which is why their self-admiration often spins out of control” (24). Princess Arethusa is blind to the red flags that are so visible in this first circumstance, justifying her vulnerability. Philaster is a ticking time bomb, susceptible to the complications their affair will soon present.

Princess Arethusa is a victim, vulnerable to the mentally unstable Philaster. Inexperienced and unexposed to love, she is defenseless to the bold and outspoken Philaster. She instantly believes herself to be in love with Philaster, misunderstanding the difference between love and simple physical attraction. Regarding deceptive love, authors Katz and Liu write, “Unfortunately, many people don’t understand this, and they easily fall prey to partners whose motivation is not purely to please but to seduce. Then romance turns to deception” (96). Arethusa mistakes Philaster’s egotism for courage and his physical needs for love because she has had no experience remotely comparable. Arethusa announces she loves him and wants nothing more than his reciprocated feelings. “Thy love; without which, all the land discovered yet will serve me for no use but to buried in” (Beaumont and Fletcher 315). She claims that nothing in the world matters unless she has his returned love. Princess Arethusa is delusional and experiencing obsession produced by passion rather than love. In regard to infatuation produced by passion alone, Dr. Frank Tallis writes, “It is the form of love most strongly associated with obsession and idealization. When commitment is added to passion in the absence of intimacy, the result is fatuous love” (46). Dr. Tallis labels infatuation and passion as an absurd type of love not to be taken seriously. Arethusa has confused her physical desires with romantic attachment, blinded by Philaster’s supposed gallantry. In the courtroom, Arethusa meets the stranger whom she is being forced to marry and the free-spirited imprisoned Philaster who stands up to the father forcing the marriage. Naturally, Arethusa would feel admiration and respect towards Philaster but it quickly develops into obsession resulting in a toxic mix for a short-lived relationship dominated by a narcissist. This infatuation and obsession inevitably leads the characters into darker territory. Dr. Frank Tallis writes, “Obsession produces a psychiatric domino effect—the serial collapse of circuit panels in the brain. Once obsessional preoccupation has been triggered, new complications are introduced one after another” (Tallis 149). The writer of Love Sick explains that sanity is essentially destroyed once obsession floods in, and disaster cannot be avoided forewarning the troubles for Princess Arethusa.

Philaster’s mental instability unravels when his ego crumbles due to an invalid rumor. A corrupted whore named Megra declares a fictional relationship between Princess Arethusa and Philaster’s pageboy Bellario. At first, Philaster refuses to believe the rumors, “Though liest, and thou shal feel it I had thought thy mind had been of honour” (Beaumont and Fletcher 338). Philaster pulls his sword out mightily, and appears to defend the princess although he is only defending his ego. Experts on narcissism and aggression say, “When faced with an ego threat, individuals with high but unstable self-esteem may be prone to maladaptive behaviors aimed at bolstering or safeguarding their self-image” (Baumeister, et al. 27) The rumor is an insult to his character and the high self-regard he has for himself. It is psychologically agonizing to know his own pageboy may be having an affair with his princess, and it is humiliating for someone with a superior sense of self and inflated ego. Philaster believes himself to be brave, worthy, a true king’s heir, and the elegant princess chose to have an affair with their youthful servant. Philaster cannot believe she would, “take a boy that knows not yet desire,” only a few short moments after she has declared her own loyalty to him (Beaumont and Fletcher 343). He believes such treachery should not be happening to someone as superior as he. The rumored affair sets up the peaking point to tragedy as Philaster’s pride has been wounded, transforming his narcissism into hostility. In regard to hostility Baumeister, et al, writes, “These traits seem quite plausibly linked to aggression and violence especially when the narcissist encounters someone who questions or disputes his or her highly favorable assessment of self” (26). Eventually, Philaster believes the rumors to be true because it is repeated in detail by someone who claims to have witnessed it. Philaster has already exhibited standard traits of narcissistic personality disorder and the alleged betrayal between his lover and servant increases the rage boiling from within. The shame he feels inside is made apparent when he declares, “Do I bear all this bravely and must sink at length under a woman’s falsehood” (Beaumont and Fletcher 349).

Philaster chooses to end the relationship so he can preserve his image as he does not truly care for Arethusa. The relationship has become a threat to his self-esteem producing enough reason to confront the princess and damage their relationship as a way to protect his image. “When relationship partners become the source of a self-esteem threat, narcissists appear willing to jeopardize these interpersonal bonds in the pursuit of self-enhancement” (478). Philaster is a mentally unstable narcissist and has no respect for the infatuated Princess Arethusa. The state of their relationship is so poisonous it motivates their decision to commit suicide for their own reasons. Philaster cannot handle the disgrace upon his prideful image and Arethusa cannot stand the idea of life without him. Philaster’s own request for Arethusa to drive the sword into his heart persuades her own decision for death. “Upon thy hand, I shall have peace in death. Yet tell me this, will there be no slanders, no jealousy in the other world? No ill there?” (Beaumont and Fletcher 361). Arethusa, blinded by her obsession, is unable to see his contemptuous mental instability resulting in her request for suicide. If Philaster loved Princess Arethusa, he would not have attempted suicide or drive the sword into her. However, he is a selfish being with an unstable sense of personal superiority which he felt had been damaged resulting in something closer to attempted murder. It is intriguing to note that Philaster had earlier refused her request to hide from Pharamond but effortlessly accepted a request to kill her, proving he is a violent and careless person. On the subject of violent narcissists, psychologists write, “Their violence often stems from a sense of wounded pride. When someone else questions or disputes their favorable view of self, they lash out in response” (Baumeister, et al. 26). Philaster cannot see anything further than his wounded pride, his damaged image, and an unfaithful woman. Their decision in suicide proves the princess to be a delicate simple-minded character and the prince to be a selfish egoist.

Philaster’s cowardice and lack of true love for Arethusa comes to light while waiting for execution. After the discovery of Philaster’s crime, Arethusa convinces her father to place her in charge of both Philaster and Bellario who has also been accused of injuring the princess. “Forgive and leave me. But the king hath sent to call me on my death: oh show me, and then forget me” (Beaumont and Fletcher 370). The selfish Philaster is backed up into a corner on the border of death and he chooses this time to accept Arethusa’s words as true and gain pity from Bellario and Arethusa. Initially, he chose to believe the rumor to preserve his image and now chooses to believe her by deriving pity because he is a coward. His choice in believing Arethusa’s integrity has nothing to do with loving her. In fact, narcissists such as Philaster cannot even function normally in a relationship because they do not care for anyone as much as they care for themselves creating an unstable environment filled with catastrophe. Writers on self-love explain, “Because narcissists are less concerned for the well-being of their partners, more concerned about maintain power in autonomy in their relationship and willing to derogate romantic partners in order to maintain positive self-views, conflict may provide a scenario in which narcissists rely on relationship-damaging tactics to enhance feelings of self-worth” (Peterson and DeHart 479). Despite everything, Philaster’s narcissistic traits has wooed Arethusa so much so, she is willing to go behind the kings back and marry the prisoner who stabbed her and save him from execution. Philaster’s lingering doubts about Princess Arethusa’s claim is made clear when Bellario is discovered to be a woman. “It is a woman! Thou art fair, and virtuous still to ages, in despite of malice” (Beaumont and Fletcher 388). Philaster is relieved to find concrete evidence of Arethusa’s fidelity because it reciprocates the great perception he holds for himself. His surprise at the discovery presents the obvious mistrust he still held for Princess Arethusa making him a narcissistic coward.

Philaster’s fluctuations in his moods, beliefs, and comments serves as evidence for his narcissism and mental instability which ensnared the devotion of the innocent Princess Arethusa. Philaster’s valiance is nothing more than a façade for narcissistic personality disorder which seduces Arethusa, deteriorates their affair, causes Arethusa’s suicide attempt, and lands him in death row for attempted murder. The relationship between Philaster and Arethusa was set up for devastation due to the hubris of Philaster and Arethusa’s lack of worldly knowledge. The beginning of their relationship was riddled with problematic turbulence presenting an impending image of their dysfunctional and corrupted marriage to come, completing the story of a mentally unstable narcissist who lures a vulnerable simple-minded young girl.