An Image of Vanitas: Geometrical Optics and Shakespearean Points of View

B.J. Sokol


A woodcut illustration to Der Ritter vom Turn, Marquard vom Stein’s 1493 German translation of Chevalier Geoffroy de La Tour Landry’s Livre pour l’enseignement de ses filles (c. 1372), shows a girl vainly viewing herself in a mirror unaware of an obscene demon standing behind her. The implied viewer of this scene sees the girl and demon and the demon reflected in her mirror. Thus the spectator is made aware of the unawareness of the girl. The geometrical optics and perceptual mechanisms lying behind this scene are explored and placed in historical contexts. It is also noted how mirror imaging served varied purposes when noted or depicted by Renaissance authors. It is demonstrated finally that Shakespeare created dramatic configurations that show how perceptions may be entirely altered as a result of changes of vantage point or points of view.

Keywords: Mirrors, Vanity, Mistaken perception, Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida 

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