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Psychoanalytic Ideas and Shakespeare

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Psychoanalysis is concerned with the vicissitudes of life: loss, grief, mourning, guilt and also with reparation and creativity, with death and rebirth, as is the work of Shakespeare. These papers link the Bard's universe to psychoanalytic thought and practice and show us how much both worlds have in common. In today's world we are moved by Shakespeare's plays whose themes are brought to life with a richness and creativity that has not dimmed with the passing of time. Echoing Freud's fascination with Shakespeare, Michael Conran, Peter Hildebrand, Gerald Wooster, and Peter Buckroyd find much to feast on in King Lear, Twelfth Night, All's Well That Ends Well, The Tempest, Macbeth, and The Winter's Tale. The interplay of inner and outer world, inner and outer reality, brings about a rich tapestry of conflicts, desires, anxieties, challenges and resolutions that were as true then as they are now. Throughout his life and reflected in his plays, Shakespeare faced loss and death repeatedly. That his creativity was not diminished but was enriched by this, is part of his genius. Loss and the thought not just of death, but of our own death is something we all have to struggle with, as do the patients whose conflicts the authors speak about.Part of the Psychoanalytic Ideas Series.

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CHAPTER ONE: Psychoanalysis and theatre

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Peter Hildebrand

The title of this chapter is “Psychoanalysis and theatre”. Serious academic scholars and theatre professionals will T know more about theatre than I do. However, I was a paid-up member of the American Federation of Radio Actors in my youth, one of my sons is a professional actor, and I have analysed several eminent actors. If you follow MASH, you will remember that the psychiatrist to the hospital is Dr Hildebrand. This was no accident—so that I do have at least a nodding acquaintance with the theatre and with acting. From the analytic point of view, I have been a training analyst for over twenty-five years and a member of the Independent Group of the British Psychoanalytical Society. Please note that while I have established some credentials in relation to my title, I have not yet mentioned the second word in the title—that little conjunction “and”. In some ways, it is the most important word of the three and may lead us in some interesting directions.

Ernest Jones, in his biography of Freud (1980), tells us that he was “ill-informed in the field of contemporary psychology”, and seems to have derived mainly from hearsay any knowledge that he may have had of it. Freud often admitted this ignorance, although later work has shown that he was familiar with the notion first put forward by the mid-Victorian philosopher, Herbart, that “ideas are primary to affects”. Jones gives a very interesting account of Herbart’s ideas—saying that he conceived of two thresholds in the mind which correspond with Freud’s ideas. One is the static threshold, where an inhibited idea is robbed of its activity and can enter consciousness only when the inhibition is lifted: it is like a “suppressed idea in the preconscious”. At another level is what he calls the mechanistic threshold, where wholly repressed ideas are still in a state of rebellious activity directed against those in consciousness and succeed in producing indirect effect, e.g., “objectless feelings of oppression”. Herbart stated that science knows more than what is actually experienced—the traces of what is stirring and acting “behind the curtains”.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Grief, loss, and creativity: whither the Phoenix?

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Gerald Wooster and Peter Buckroyd

The central idea in this chapter is that out of loss can come the creative impulse. Moreover, attending to the vicissitudes of T the affective responses to loss may help us to distinguish between the destructive and more creative sequelae of loss. Loss in real and metaphorical ways, as we know, provokes anger, guilt, and sadness. The grief of loss is a complex state of mind with different lengths of duration, and in each individual shows different mixes of other constituent affects, such as anger, guilt, shame, mixed with envy and jealousy as well as frequently accompanying depression with varying degrees of somatic disruptions. Each person has a different threshold of defences against depression, among which the manic defence is the most characteristic.

Since loss plays so great a part in creativity, it is important first to consider depressive response to loss and its characteristic defence by examining some psychoanalytic ideas that provide a framework for thinking about creativity. We shall go on to consider one of the most comprehensive descriptions of the common factors in creativity: Rothenberg’s The Emerging Goddess (1979). We shall then consider the group as a crucible in which grief, loss, and creativity can be expressed in different ways. Last, we shall examine the writer who is perhaps the most striking exemplar of all these experiences, Shakespeare, whose middle period play All’s Well That Ends Well binds together grief, loss, and creativity, both in its own content and in the circumstances surrounding its composition and context.

 

CHAPTER THREE: The Caledonian tragedy

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Peter Hildebrand

During the course of Ronald Harwood’s play and film, The Dresser, a leading character, the famous actor manager called ‘Sir’, inadvertently quotes Macbeth in his dressing room at the theatre. His dresser is horrified and implores him to take the appropriate action to exorcise the ill fortune that he fears will ensue. ‘Sir’ refuses, and after a brilliant performance of King Lear suddenly dies near the end of the play. We, the audience, are expected to assume that this is due in part to his action in quoting Macbeth and not then taking the appropriate steps to counteract the ill fortune that could follow.

The Dresser offers a good modern example of the theatrical superstitions that surround the tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In a recent book entitled The Curse of Macbeth, Ronald Huggett (1981), gave some fifty pages of material describing how the play is regarded as unlucky or even accursed in the acting profession. Thus, the actors must never refer to the name of the play within a theatre. It is always called “The Scottish Play” or “Harry Lauder” or “That Play” or “The Unmentionable” or “The Caledonian Tragedy”. Macbeth is associated with every possible form of ill fortune in the theatrical profession. When it is played, there is a history of theatres collapsing, actors falling ill, being injured in stage fights, running away, breaking down and actresses miscarrying. Famous actors and actresses playing the leading roles are reputed to have died soon after the play opened and the runs of many productions are associated with catastrophic experiences for members of the cast. Theatrical people, because of Macbeth’s popularity, expected their companies to close when the play was put on, as it was usually regarded as a last resort by the management of a failing group to try and get an audience into the theatre. There have been actual deaths in stage duels and The Royal Shakespeare Theatre itself, at Stratford-on-Avon, burned down in the 1930s on the night following a performance of Macbeth.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Some considerations of shame, guilt, and forgiveness derived principally from King Lear

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Michael Conran

“Sorrow would be a rarity most belov’d, If all could so become it.” [King Lear, 4.3: 20-26]

I

Ishall declare an interest. Some years ago my youngest daughter—I have three—said to me: “I am studying King Lear at school, will you talk to me about it?” We sat down on a park bench and talked for nearly an hour. Subsequently she asked me to write something for her. This took me, with twenty-one pages of foolscap, to the end of Act 1! As I attempted to proceed further I found myself drawn into something from which I was unlikely ever to be free, or wish to be free.

It is necessary to enter a caveat. When a psychoanalyst, addressing a celebrated literary text, announces it is not his intention to analyse either the text or the author, we are at once put on our guard that he is about to do just that. Since neither text nor author enjoys the private and exclusive relationship of a patient, both are available, promiscuously, to anybody and everybody, the text especially so. If the latter rivets our attention and captures our imagination, it can be said that a role reversal takes place, one having a certain psychotic quality: we (singularly) become the “patient” of the text. We feel we are “possessed” by it and then omnipotently “possess” it. The relationship is pre-oedipal in the classical sense, forsaking all others. For the moment we are alone with it. We suppose we are drawn to it by its manifest content. Ars est celare artem holds hands with psychoanalysis assuring the relevance of a latent content. Projection into the text and reintrojection take place. The “patient” discovers things in the text that manifestly are not there. Worse, he may ignore or distort things that manifestly are there. But even worse still he dares to infringe upon our private, exclusive possession. And, would you believe it, he doesn’t know what he does and cares even less.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The other side of the wall. A psychoanalytic study of creativity in later life

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Peter Hildebrand

I wish to address myself in this chapter to the notion of creativity in later life. I do not intend to do more than briefly summa-I rize the classical view of creativity as put forward originally by Sigmund Freud and developed by other psychoanalysts over the past eighty years. I wish instead to bring together several strands of thought arising from consideration of object-relations theory and the application of structuralist ideas to psychoanalytic thinking, together with recent interest in the developmental stages of later life. I will combine this approach with a critique of certain notions put forward by René Major in his work on Hamlet and apply the amended theory to an outstanding creative work of later life: William Shakespeare’s last complete play The Tempest.

The Tempest, although the last complete play written by Shakespeare, is accorded pride of place in the Folio of 1623. Subsequent to its presentation at Court in 1612 on the occasion of the marriage of the Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Shakespeare seems to have retired to Stratford, where he lived with his married daughter and her husband at New Place until his death some four years later.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Prospero’s book

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Peter Hildebrand

In his Introduction to the discussion on the links between philosophy, literary criticism, and psychoanalysis at the Estates I Generaux of Psychoanalysis in Paris in July 2000, Sergio Benvenuto claimed that

it is not possible to establish a scientific psychology of the inner world, but only of the public world which explains why, while the philosophers have engaged with Freud and Lacan, they have never discussed Klein, Winnicott and Bion, so that their paths have diverged.

Using Benvenuto’s terms, it seems to me that object relations theory is concerned with an inner world that we can know only inferentially: therefore it must be essentially hermeneutic—belonging to or concerned with interpretation, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it—as of course is literary criticism. We may comment from a psychoanalytic viewpoint on a literary production that is of itself not an account of a lived life but an interpretation of behaviour seen through the distorting lens of the internal and external theatre of the author—Jan Kott (1967) describes Hamlet as “the central reflector”—but our comment must always remain an interpretation and no more. I would not go so far as Shoshana Felman when she suggests that “literature, fiction, is the only meeting place between madness and Philosophy” (Felman, 1982), but I feel that Winnicott has a point when he suggests that where literature and analysis converge is in the moment of overlap between the two—the potential space of play that Winnicott defined as follows:

 

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