To His Coy Mistress

Chris Spurlock
Critical Perspectives
Dr. Ellen Flournoy
English 1102

“Psychological Approach to “To His Coy Mistress”

Psychological criticism analyses a piece of literature considering it a dream of the writer or the unconscious of the writer. Understanding of the unconscious of the writer or the characters presented by a writer in a literary work is vital in psychoanalytical criticism. Study of the unconscious mind of either the author or the central character in a literary piece is usually the focal point in any psychoanalytical criticism. The lover’s psyche is revealed in three stages which are the three parts of the poem. Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” reveals the internal psychological struggle between the persona’s id, ego, and super ego.

The instinctive desire is always strong and amoral which represents the uncontrollable and wild desires residing in Id. The id of course knows no judgments of value: no good and evil, no morality” (Wikipedia). The ‘pleasure principle’ seems to dominate and control all the mental and emotional aptitudes of the lover in the third stanza of the poem where the role of ego and superego seems to have been completely defeated in the lover’s psyche. Id, though, seems to work too strongly in the psyche of the lover, yet his psyche is not completely void of the workings of Ego and Superego. Ego and superego assert themselves in the first two parts of the poem where the lover’s argument tends more towards spiritualism and the lover limits his assertion to high praise and some threatening about death and its aftermath. Wikipedia explains the Ego as acting according to the reality principle; i.e. it seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bringing grief. Ego provides the “reality principle” to the lover in the initial two stanzas and instructs him to persuade the mistress in a way which may not arouse social disapproval. Id, however, does not let the lover think...