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Hamlet in Analysis

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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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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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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”.)

 

CHAPTER FIVE The Grave

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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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CHAPTER SIX The Winter’s Tale

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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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CHAPTER SEVEN The Tempest

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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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CHAPTER EIGHT The King and Queen

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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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CHAPTER NINE Ophelia at Colonus

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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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CHAPTER TEN Becoming Fortinbras

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CHAPTER TEN

Becoming Fortinbras

Hamlet: I lov’d Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love

Make up my sum …

Woo’d weep, woo’t fight, woo’t fast, woo’t tear thyself,

Woo’t drink up eisel, eat a crocodile?

I’ll do it. Dost come here to whine,

To outface me with leaping in her grave? (V. i. 264-73)

Horacio is bitterly disappointed by Hamlet on his return eight years later, after having followed the Forte road to intellectual yuppydom, and begins to understand his own mismanagement of the analysis.

M

y further acquaintance with the Danes and Polacks left me with mixed feelings. I was more conscious than ever of the seductiveness of his home environment, this nest of sensitive and cultured opportunity in which no expense was spared. Polack too, in his way, was an agent or offshoot from this. But I remembered Hamlet saying nobody wanted “a feller with a social disease”. I was now in a position to understand better the social aspects of the disease by which both their houses were plagued – the confusion over status and privilege, the loss of identity, fear of being

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CHAPTER ELEVEN Horacio Agoniztes

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Horacio Agoniztes

Hamlet:

For thou hast been

As one, in suff’ring all, that suffers nothing,

A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards

Hast ta’en with equal thanks; and blest are those

Whose blood and judgement are so well commeddled

That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger

To sound what stop she please. (III. ii. 65-71)

Horacio’s dream of Gertrude and of Ophelia pulls together strands from his personal life and from Hamlet’s analysis. Accepting their mutual interference at last, the “old romantic” is ready to review his own story.

O

n Saturday evening, after the meeting with Hamlet,

I took my two daughters and their boyfriends to an expensive restaurant in Church Row to celebrate my fiftieth birthday.

Both the boyfriends were eminently unsuitable in my view, though nobody had asked my opinion, so I did not give it.

My elder daughter, Antigone, a slender straight-backed girl resembling her mother, has a degree in Oriental Studies and an

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