Echo and Narcissus, or, Man O Man! is the only surviving fragment of an early dramatic work of Shakespeare’s, perhaps his first – some critics argue it was composed before he left home and saw his first play performed. It shows signs of immaturity in its stagecraft. (Though a well-funded contemporary production could work technological magic with the pool in which Narcissus sees his mirror image and, perhaps, hears his mirror voice. Or sees his mirror-voice.) Shakespeare would return to Ovid for material more than once in his career (Carroll, 1985), and his wry, choric clowns are often taken, as here, from folk culture, but the sense of imminent catastrophe evident in even the casual opening lines of his tragedies is missing in this early effort, as is the barely suppressed power struggle of the initial exchange in his first completed Ovidian comedy Midsummer Night’s Dream. Greenblatt has suggested that this fragment, apparently abandoned, was sketched by the young playwright during detention, as a display of nonchalance intended to frustrate an embittered Latin teacher (Shakespearian Negotiations, 1989).
Mary Baine Campbell is a poet and Professor of English at Brandeis University (US), where she also teaches Comparative Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies. She has published two collections of poems (The World, the Flesh, and Angels and Trouble) and two scholarly books (The Witness and the Other World and Wonder and Science). She is currently writing a book on early modern dreams.