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Hamlet in Analysis

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1: The Prelude

ePub

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name
Things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me.
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story. (V. ii. 349-54)

Hamlet, aged 19, commences analysis with Dr Horacio, who recognizes his “uncle-father” delusion and loneliness as an only child.

November 1981. That interesting book by the melancholy young Dane with its grindingly repetitive yet fascinating spirals of sentences lay open where I had left it that Sunday afternoon before taking the dog for his afternoon walk. The small circular table near the window was where I preferred to sit and read. Now it was dusk and it was my custom always to draw the curtains as my narrow, terraced house in Flask Walk, which also contained my consulting room, exposed me to the view of passing patients – many of whom lived locally. As I moved past the table I clumsily jogged my right arm, which was in plaster owing to an absurd accident I had had the previous night, and surprisingly painful. The light from the two tall Georgian windows leapt over the basement chasm and glistened on the wet, narrow, uneven pavement outside (characteristic of the old village of Hampstead). It reached to the place where tree roots pushed the stone upwards. A young woman wearing ugly large trainers strode through the light squares as I closed the curtain, going in the direction of the village. There was a temporary lull in the rainy stormy weather which had been blustering on for the past fortnight, though at the end of the road in the darkness where the massed trees and wide spaces of the Heath began, the energies of the storm still growled with the soughing of branches in the wind.

 

CHAPTER ONE The Prelude

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CHAPTER ONE

The Prelude

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name

Things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me.

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story. (V. ii. 349-54)

Hamlet, aged 19, commences analysis with Dr Horacio, who recognizes his “uncle-father” delusion and loneliness as an only child.

N

ovember 1981. That interesting book by the melancholy young Dane with its grindingly repetitive yet fascinating spirals of sentences lay open where I had left it that Sunday afternoon before taking the dog for his afternoon walk. The small circular table near the window was where I preferred to sit and read. Now it was dusk and it was my custom always to draw the curtains as my narrow, terraced house in Flask Walk, which also contained my consulting room, exposed me to the view of passing patients – many of whom lived locally. As I moved past the table I clumsily jogged

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2: The Ghost

ePub

Ghost: If thou has nature in thee, bear it not,
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But howsomever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught. (I. v. 82-86)

Horacio is surprised by the sudden impact of Ophelia after Hamlet's dream of the Ghost, and begins to tackle Hamlet's ambivalence towards women.

The week after this, Hamlet brought me a fascinating and crucial dream, whose mirroring of deep emotional conflicts would prove central to the analysis for a long time. The Ghost dream became a major point of reference for us.

In this dream, Hamlet saw his father in his fighter-pilot's uniform from the war, seated inside his Spitfire wearing flying suit and goggles. He seemed larger than life, surrounded by a shimmering golden aura, and the plane's wings seemed to be quivering in a violent wind. Their shadow enveloped Hamlet as he stood outside the plane and shivered. Hamlet felt tiny by contrast with his father in the plane, and intimidated. Above all, he felt bewildered and wanted desperately to know what was happening, and he cried out:

 

CHAPTER TWO The Ghost

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CHAPTER TWO

The Ghost

Ghost: If thou has nature in thee, bear it not,

Let not the royal bed of Denmark be

A couch for luxury and damned incest.

But howsomever thou pursuest this act,

Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive

Against thy mother aught. (I. v. 82-86)

Horacio is surprised by the sudden impact of Ophelia after Hamlet’s dream of the Ghost, and begins to tackle Hamlet’s ambivalence towards women.

T

he week after this, Hamlet brought me a fascinating and crucial dream, whose mirroring of deep emotional conflicts would prove central to the analysis for a long time. The Ghost dream became a major point of reference for us.

In this dream, Hamlet saw his father in his fighter-pilot’s uniform from the war, seated inside his Spitfire wearing flying suit and goggles. He seemed larger than life, surrounded by a shimmering golden aura, and the plane’s wings seemed to be quivering in a

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HAMLET IN ANALYSIS

 

CHAPTER THREE The Prince

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CHAPTER THREE

The Prince

Ophelia: He rais’d a sigh so piteous and profound

As it did seem to shatter all his bulk

And end his being. That done, he lets me go,

And with his head over his shoulder turn’d

He seem’d to find his way without his eyes,

For out o’ doors he went without their helps,

And to the last bended their light on me. (II. i. 94-100)

Hamlet’s claustrophobic anxiety becomes clear in the context of his parents moving house. It takes the form of using Ophelia as his tool to attack his parent figures and their value systems.

L

ooks like the old devil was right about women being untrustworthy and two-faced, were Hamlet’s opening words next session. I realized, of course, he was talking about the Ghost and Ophelia, and wondered what had transpired over the weekend. “The whole question is, which side expresses a woman’s true nature – the inside or the outside”, he said aggressively. God has given them one face and they make themselves another.

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3: The Prince

ePub

Ophelia: He rais'd a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being. That done, he lets me go,
And with his head over his shoulder turn'd
He seem'd to find his way without his eyes,
For out o’ doors he went without their helps,
And to the last bended their light on me. (II. i. 94-100)

Hamlet's claustrophobic anxiety becomes clear in the context of his parents moving house. It takes the form of using Ophelia as his tool to attack his parent figures and their value systems.

Looks like the old devil was right about women being untrustworthy and two-faced, were Hamlet's opening words next session. I realized, of course, he was talking about the Ghost and Ophelia, and wondered what had transpired over the weekend. “The whole question is, which side expresses a woman's true nature – the inside or the outside”, he said aggressively. God has given them one face and they make themselves another.

I thought this sounded ominous, and asked him to explain.

“And I'm asking you – what the fuck is this thing called beauty anyway?” he declaimed, gesticulating with his hands. A bawd. I saw he was about to deliver a tirade. “Fools say, the world is so beautiful, in their usual twittering plebspeak” (he mimicked a high idiotic whine). “What the hell does it really mean? Nothing – nothing it all. To mask the emptiness of their minds, and their tightarsed suburban inhibitions, people go about labelling things as beautiful just to show they're respectable and agree with each other. They all want to be part of the same mutual brainwashing system. That's all they need to give them a buzz. The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. And it's exactly the same when it comes to women. Everyone is conditioned like Pavlov's dogs to start slavering at the sight of what is called a beautiful woman. But what is there really, underneath it all? Nothing but a pestilent congregation of vapours. A meaningless mess – phobias and perversions. But has anybody got the guts to admit it? Oh no, we're all supposed to keep up the show – keep it up, yeah, keep it up!”

 

CHAPTER FOUR The Mousetrap

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CHAPTER FOUR

The Mousetrap

Ophelia: You are as good as a chorus, my lord.

Hamlet: I could interpret between you and your love

if I could see the puppets dallying.

Ophelia: You are keen, my lord, you are keen.

Hamlet: It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.

Ophelia: Still better, and worse.

Hamlet: So you mis-take your husbands. – Begin,

murderer. (III .ii. 240-46)

Hamlet has stung Horacio into losing his grip on the analytic transference, and Horacio is astounded by news of Ophelia’s pregnancy.

After the Mousetrap dream however Horacio appreciates Hamlet’s vulnerability and for the time being the analysis is back on track.

I

t was Hamlet himself who first described his version of

Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream as a “mousetrap” intended to exhibit to his parents the stupid and pornographic nature of their lovemaking. (It transpired that in fact

Claude was in the habit of calling Gertrude his “mouse”.)

 

4: The Mousetrap

ePub

Ophelia: You are as good as a chorus, my lord.

Hamlet: I could interpret between you and your love if I could see the puppets dallying.

Ophelia: You are keen, my lord, you are keen.

Hamlet: It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.

Ophelia: Still better, and worse.

Hamlet: So you mis-take your husbands. – Begin, murderer. (III .ii. 240-46)

Hamlet has stung Horacio into losing his grip on the analytic transference, and Horacio is astounded by news of Ophelia's pregnancy. After the Mousetrap dream however Horacio appreciates Hamlet's vulnerability and for the time being the analysis is back on track.

It was Hamlet himself who first described his version of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream as a “mousetrap” intended to exhibit to his parents the stupid and pornographic nature of their lovemaking. (It transpired that in fact Claude was in the habit of calling Gertrude his “mouse”.) Pinch wanton on her cheek, call her his mouse. By the end of this play production, however, every member of our little drama had sustained some degree of insult or injury.

 

CHAPTER FIVE The Grave

PDF

CHAPTER FIVE

The Grave

Hamlet: Witness this army of such mass and charge,

Led by a delicate and tender prince,

Whose spirit, with divine ambition puff’d,

Makes mouths at the invisible event,

Exposing what is mortal and unsure

To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,

Even for an eggshell. (IV. iv. 47-53)

Horacio unearths the anxieties behind the question of Ophelia’s abortion and Hamlet’s relation with the Forte family, and is rewarded by the Grave dream and Hamlet’s new dependence.

T

he Monday after the Christmas break, Hamlet was delivered to the door in an MG sports car, twenty minutes late for the early morning session. He stumbled uncertainly down the steps and entered the consulting room looking uncharacteristically dirty and dishevelled, his clothes smelling strongly of stale tobacco smoke and marijuana. High and mighty,

I am set naked on your kingdom.

“Sorry I’m late old man”, he began; “couldn’t make it any earlier. If it hadn’t been for Forte I wouldn’t have made it at all. The

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5: The Grave

ePub

Hamlet: Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit, with divine ambition puff'd,
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. (IV. iv. 47-53)

Horacio unearths the anxieties behind the question of Ophelia's abortion and Hamlet's relation with the Forte family, and is rewarded by the Grave dream and Hamlet's new dependence.

The Monday after the Christmas break, Hamlet was delivered to the door in an MG sports car, twenty minutes late for the early morning session. He stumbled uncertainly down the steps and entered the consulting room looking uncharacteristically dirty and dishevelled, his clothes smelling strongly of stale tobacco smoke and marijuana. High and mighty, I am set naked on your kingdom.

“Sorry I'm late old man”, he began; “couldn't make it any earlier. If it hadn't been for Forte I wouldn't have made it at all. The fact is, I don't feel too brill. I know what you're thinking - you're surprised at me having anything to do with him, seeing he's such a pansy joker. Well – it's sheer coincidence. He just gave me a lift, that's all – on the way to his office. I had a long way to come. He's cool enough in his way – got an MG. Coupé. The fact is, I had the most awful dream last night – or the night before. We were all at this groovy affair at Forte's place in the country – his mother's place that is. Bedfordshire. Some of us are still there. A convocation of politic worms. Amazing.”

 

CHAPTER SIX The Winter’s Tale

PDF

CHAPTER SIX

The Winter’s Tale

Queen: Her clothes spread wide,

And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,

Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,

As one incapable of her own distress,

Or like a creature native and indued

Unto that element. (IV. vii. 174-179)

Still Horacio does not see the depth of Hamlet’s despair during the following period of persecutory depression and guilt. The Winter’s

Tale dream, together with Ophelia’s recovery, encourages a false hope of his own.

B

y the time he learned of Ophelia’s abortion and illness,

Hamlet’s demeanour had already commenced its sea-change from the Mousetrap mania. He became subdued and depressed, and this depression, in the context of the analytic work, had produced the fascinating Grave dream.

After this, he was often silent for long periods during sessions, and for many weeks oscillated between withdrawal, depression and paranoia. He made decided efforts to co-operate in the analysis, coming on time to the sessions and bringing whatever

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6: The Winter's Tale

ePub

Queen: Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. (IV. vii. 174-179)

Still Horacio does not see the depth of Hamlet's despair during the following period of persecutory depression and guilt. The Winter's Tale dream, together with Ophelia's recovery, encourages a false hope of his own.

By the time he learned of Ophelia's abortion and illness, Hamlet's demeanour had already commenced its sea-change from the Mousetrap mania. He became subdued and depressed, and this depression, in the context of the analytic work, had produced the fascinating Grave dream. After this, he was often silent for long periods during sessions, and for many weeks oscillated between withdrawal, depression and paranoia. He made decided efforts to co-operate in the analysis, coming on time to the sessions and bringing whatever he could remember in the way of dreams. These were invariably repetitive “grave dreams” on the lines of his being imprisoned in the dark somewhere with only small windows for eyes on the world, despairing of release. Loopholes onto the stage of the world. None of these dreams had the emotional depth of the original Grave dream. There was, however, a new element which linked back to that dream and his falling into the grave – it was his strong identification with the aborted baby. He experienced himself as having similarly been flung into the rectum, discarded, to await evacuation.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN The Tempest

PDF

CHAPTER SEVEN

The Tempest

Hamlet: Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting

That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay

Worse than the mutines in the bilboes …

Being thus benetted round with villainies –

Or ere I could make a prologue to my brains,

They had begun the play. (V. ii. 4-6, 29-31)

Horacio offers insufficient support over Hamlet’s self-denigration in the Tempest dream and is then shocked and hurt by Hamlet’s hypocritical way of breaking off the analysis.

O

phelia came home shortly before the Easter break.

I did not see Hamlet for three weeks. On the first session of the new term he came in muffled to the hilt in a long black scarf wound round his neck and ears, dark glasses, and a zipped up leather jacket. He moved with uncharacteristic slowness and lay down silently and lugubriously. Then from the depths of the scarf came a low, strangled humming. For a moment I wondered whether he was sobbing, but he then explained that he “had a stinking cold and was drowning in catarrh; his brain was buzzing”.

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7: The Tempest

ePub

Hamlet: Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting
That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes…
Being thus benetted round with villainies –
Or ere I could make a prologue to my brains,
They had begun the play. (V. ii. 4-6, 29-31)

Horacio offers insufficient support over Hamlet's self-denigration in the Tempest dream and is then shocked and hurt by Hamlet's hypocritical way of breaking off the analysis.

Ophelia came home shortly before the Easter break. I did not see Hamlet for three weeks. On the first session of the new term he came in muffled to the hilt in a long black scarf wound round his neck and ears, dark glasses, and a zipped up leather jacket. He moved with uncharacteristic slowness and lay down silently and lugubriously. Then from the depths of the scarf came a low, strangled humming. For a moment I wondered whether he was sobbing, but he then explained that he “had a stinking cold and was drowning in catarrh; his brain was buzzing”.

A strange humming about my ears. There was still a question in my mind about the humming, which sounded somehow familiar. I asked him what it was. He didn't seem to realize at first that he had been humming anything specifically, and moved his jaws to discover what it was, then said in a tone of mild boredom: “It's just some old Beatles song.” I asked which one, and he replied reluctantly, “It's one called ‘Help’.” When I asked for the words, he said he couldn't remember, so I reminded him they went something like:

 

CHAPTER EIGHT The King and Queen

PDF

CHAPTER EIGHT

The King and Queen

King: In the corrupted currents of this world

Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice,

And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself

Buys out the law. But ’tis not so above:

There is no shuffling, there the action lies

In his true nature, and we ourselves compell’d

Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults

To give in evidence. (III. iii. 57-64)

Breaching his own analytic technique, Horacio dines with Hamlet’s parents and discovers something rotten in the state of Denmark which mirrors personal problems of his own, that he now suspects might have interfered with his relationship with Hamlet.

D

espite Hamlet’s farewell letter, I kept his regular sessions available for two weeks in case he should suddenly choose to come back. It would be hard for me to say whether I was more hurt or mystified by his sudden departure. It was as though I had been in the process of pulling someone who had fallen overboard back on the ship, when they let go my hand and slowly sank from view. Not waving but

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8: The King and Queen

ePub

King: In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But ’tis not so above:
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature, and we ourselves compell'd
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults
To give in evidence. (III. iii. 57-64)

Breaching his own analytic technique, Horacio dines with Hamlet's parents and discovers something rotten in the state of Denmark which mirrors personal problems of his own, that he now suspects might have interfered with his relationship with Hamlet.

Despite Hamlet's farewell letter, I kept his regular sessions available for two weeks in case he should suddenly choose to come back. It would be hard for me to say whether I was more hurt or mystified by his sudden departure. It was as though I had been in the process of pulling someone who had fallen overboard back on the ship, when they let go my hand and slowly sank from view. Not waving but drowning. Hamlet waved goodbye, apparently unaware that he was drowning. And I, too, sometimes felt I was drowning in a welter of painful confusion. Had I somehow conspired with him in the delusion that he was cured, or at any rate set on his way as a creative writer – ready in fact to write his autobiography? Had I given the impression that his distress at Ophelia's illness, in both somatic and dream-terms, had earned him some sort of absolution from his sins, which could then be packaged away into the past? A special providence.

 

9: Ophelia at Colonus

ePub

Ophelia:                 But good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles like a puff'd and reckless libertine
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede. (I. iii. 45-51)

Horacio's consultation with Ophelia confirms her disturbing effect upon Hamlet and makes clear his ignorance of her character. Still Horacio has not fathomed the completeness of his own mistake.

By now my own newly recognized loneliness was beginning to bite. Meeting Hamlet's parents had done nothing to alleviate that; in fact it had exacerbated it. I suspected, though did not yet understand, that it was bound up in some vaguely non-analytic way with Hamlet's unconcluded analysis. And I was still hungry for more information. This was why, when Ophelia Polack contacted me at the end of term asking for a consultation, I agreed to see her myself rather than referring her to someone else. It was not my normal practice, but these circumstances, I told myself (as with the Danes), were unusual. I almost felt that I needed to see her: that it was owed to me. And since learning of her miscarriage, a certain ambivalence towards her which I had noticed in myself had been replaced by a revival of curiosity.

 

CHAPTER NINE Ophelia at Colonus

PDF

CHAPTER NINE

Ophelia at Colonus

Ophelia:

But good my brother,

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,

Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,

Whiles like a puff’d and reckless libertine

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,

And recks not his own rede. (I. iii. 45-51)

Horacio’s consultation with Ophelia confirms her disturbing effect upon Hamlet and makes clear his ignorance of her character. Still

Horacio has not fathomed the completeness of his own mistake.

B

y now my own newly recognized loneliness was beginning to bite. Meeting Hamlet’s parents had done nothing to alleviate that; in fact it had exacerbated it. I suspected, though did not yet understand, that it was bound up in some vaguely non-analytic way with Hamlet’s unconcluded analysis. And I was still hungry for more information.

This was why, when Ophelia Polack contacted me at the end of term asking for a consultation, I agreed to see her myself rather than referring her to someone else. It was not my normal

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