Lord Dunsany's short story "The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap" chronicles Mr. Shap's passage into insanity. Though the narrator repeatedly stresses that Shap is "a sound, sane, level-headed man," a realization of "the very beastliness of his occupation" leads him to create his own imaginary worlds and, increasingly, to live in them instead of reality. Dunsany thus emphasizes the role of the environment, rather than individual propensity, in the formation of insanity.
As Shap's imagination flowers, the dissonance between his imaginary life and his real life becomes more pronounced:
Until a year ago he had never imagined at all; it is not to be wondered at that all these things now newly seen by his fancy should play tricks at first with the memory of even so sane a man. He gave up reading the papers altogether, he lost all interest in politics, he cared less and less for things that were going on around him. This unfortunate missing of the morning train even occurred again, and the firm spoke to him severely about it. But he had his consolation. Were not Arathrion and Argun Zeerith and all the level coasts of Oora his? And even as the firm found fault with him his fancy watched the yaks on weary journeys, slow specks against the snow-fields, bringing tribute; and saw the green eyes of the mountain men who had looked at him strangely in the city of Nith when he had entered it by the desert door. Yet his logic did not forsake him; he knew well that his strange subjects did not exist, but he was prouder of having created them with his brain, than merely of ruling them only; thus in his pride he felt himself something more great than a king, he did not dare to think what! He went into the temple of the city of Zorra and stood some time there alone: all the priests kneeled to him when he came away.
He cared less and less for the things we care about, for the affairs of Shap, the business-man in London. He began to despise the man with a royal contempt.
By this point Shap's fantasies have become more than just pretty landscapes. The central theme is now his power, as a king and as even something greater. The juxtaposition of the line "he felt himself something more great than a king, he did not dare think what!" with the scene in the temple and the kneeling priests implies that that "something" might be a god. Shap has progressed from imagining an environment different from his real environment to imagining an identity different from his real identity. He despises his former self, his real self, with "a royal contempt." So, although Shap is still "sane" in that he can distinguish the imaginary from the physical, he considers them both real, and the former superior to the latter.
1. What effect does Dunsany seek from the capitalization of "Business?"
2. What do the warders mean when they say "pretty bed" in the last paragraph?
3. Do any of Shap's fantasies have symbolic significance? If so, what?
4. How does Dunsany's depiction of insanity in this story compare with Browning's in "Porphyria's Lover?"
5. What is the function of the sentence in the first paragraph, "This was the use to which he put his life"?
Last modified 25 January 2009