ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Mirror in Literature

Updated on October 25, 2012

Wicked Queens, deposed Kings and curious, little girls.

Very few people, men or women, can imagine getting through a normal day without looking at least once in a mirror. Modern self-consciousness means that we must see ourselves as others see us. A mirror is a polished surface, usually of amalgam-coated glass, or metal, which reflects an image, reads the Oxford English Dictionary. A mirror need not be the familiar object of silvered glass that we are all used to, but any surface that reflects an image. We can only imagine that our forbears looked at their images in pools of still water, before the existence of manufactured mirrors. Judging by the number of fables and stories that involve reflections and mirrors, people believed that there was something magical surrounding this "doppelganger" world.

In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Narcissus was a handsome youth who saw the reflection of his face in the waters of the Styx River. He became so captivated by his own reflection that he sat looking at himself until he died and a small flower grew in his place. Six thousand years ago, people looked into surfaces of polished obsidian, a volcanic rock. Later in history, mirrors were made of highly polished bronze and copper. Early mirrors were associated with wealth. The Romans coated glass with a layer of lead to make mirrors that allowed them check the state of their hair and jewellery. By the Renaissance, the mirror had evolved into something like it is today. The spread of mercantile wealth made mirrors more ubiquitous but few people still had access to one. Leonardo da Vinci famously wrote his notebooks in mirror writing, something that many left-handed people are able to easily do, making his work more arcane. For the majority of people, the mirror remained surrounded by superstition and sorcery. In the Grimm fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the Wicked Queen uses the surface of a mirror to conjure a demon that enables her to track and kill (she thinks) her hated stepdaughter.

The eponymous hero of William Shakespeare’s play of 1595, Richard II, takes a glass mirror and after a long and eloquent speech, shatters it. Hath Sorrow struck/ So many blows upon this face of mine/ And made no deeper wounds? (Act 4, Scene 1, 277-80), he declares. Although Richard was actually a medieval king, Shakespeare was dramatizing the growing self-awareness of the Renaissance mind, the disjuncture between the image and the self. Shakespeare was not concerned with superstition; the hero had already had his bad luck. However, the psychology surrounding the mirror had to take a back seat for a few centuries.

In the 1600s, a plethora of optical devices were in invented, then perfected by scientists like Galileo Galilei. The age of looking had arrived. The universe had opened up and the world would never be the same again. The telescope was followed by the microscope, which was followed by the camera. By the nineteenth century, the mirror had lost its connotations of magic and become simply an object with which to reflect “reality”. However, the romance surrounding the mirror still lived on. In 1833 the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote his poem, The Lady of Shalott. She lives in a tower, under a spell that forbids her to look at the real world least she should die. Her mirror comes to her rescue, enabling her to see the outside reflected as she works her loom. However, one day she sees the reflection of the handsome Sir Lancelot, and falls in love. I am half-sick of shadows, she declares, before leaving the tower and going to her doom.

The meaning of the poem was clear; it was the lady who was enchanted, and not the mirror. Forty years later, Lewis Carroll published Through The Looking-Glass. I never cease to marvel at the prescience of his work. Today, in the wake of Albert Einstein and other physicists, we are well used to the strange theories of the parallel universe, of matter and anti matter and I wonder, over and over again, just how this nineteenth-century mathematician wrote this extraordinary book. Another OED definition of the mirror is anything regarded as giving an accurate reflection or description of something else. In the modern world, we have become used to parallel actions and situations. We have access to technology that allows us to capture exact images on a hither-to unimagined scale. You would imagine that the doppelganger world would have lost its magic, but there we are, creating virtual worlds with film and computer technology. It seems that The Matrix is here to stay.

Sources

  • Alice Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Metamorphosis by Ovid
  • Richard II by William Shakespeare
  • The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson





The Reflected World.....

Real, or not....
Real, or not....

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 years ago from HighPoint, N.C.

      Good Work! - Yes, that's who i had in mind. And, from what i've read/heard, it's the 1st prominent text on the subject.

    • Mary Phelan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Phelan 

      5 years ago from London

      You could possibly mean Alhazen (In al-Haythem), who wrote the Book of Optics in the early 1200s?

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 years ago from HighPoint, N.C.

      Love This! Thank you for mentioning Galileo in this context! Also, the mentioning of the 'Medieval King' via Shakespeare's Richard II, is nice to see here on HubPages. /// *TRIVIA: Who is {what is the name of} the Arab who wrote the 1st prominent book on Optics?? {circa Medieval era}

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      6 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Interesting and well written! Images in litereature and history put into a timeline. That paralell universe stuff is fascinating. I am reading Stephen King's novel dealing with time travel, called 11/22/63, and it is a fascinating tale of someone trying to go back and thwart the terrible event of that day.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      6 years ago from Wales

      A brilliant share

      Eddy.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)