What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Psychoanalysis: A Local Habitation and a Name

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Using Shakespeare's work to expand our understanding of what it is to be human, this book of applied psychoanalysis furthers the study of Shakespeare, literary theory, dramatic arts, and psychoanalytic theory. It is also accessible to readers, theatre-goers and those who have an interest in the human condition. With intellectual rigour, and close textual analysis, it values the insights of many creative writers such as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, W. H. Auden, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as Sigmund Freud, Heinz Kohut and D.W. Winnicott. For the clinician, this book introduces new theories in psychoanalysis based upon the text and clinical experience. Psychoanalysts looking at literature are at a disadvantage, as the value system belongs solely to the realm of literary theory proper. Literary theory, in turn, often finds what the scholar seeks. It is not surprising that this potentially enriching combination of literary theory and psychoanalysis has had difficulty sustaining its relevance and tends towards reductionism. As a bringing together of both literature and psychoanalysis this book is unique in that it includes that which is available to both canons. In this way, the authors hope to encourage readers to take part in the drama and in the analytic process.

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Chapter One - The Metaphysics and Metapsychology of Evil in Othello

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From the simplistic duality of the Middle Ages, William Shakespeare was the first, in the English language, to craft characters with an understanding of the unconscious and the inner conflicts that motivate our species. It is no wonder that Sigmund Freud was so enamoured of Shakespeare that he learned English specifically to read Shakespeare's writings in its original language.

Shakespeare went beyond the stock characters of the morality plays that preceded him, with their overt personifications of virtue and vice, and gave us, for the first time, human “villains”. These were different from the allegorical villains that had been in repertoire. Here we find each one has his or her own history, which, brought to the drama, does much to further our understanding of their motivations. For instance, Richard III concisely describes his version of his early life. He says that he was not fully formed before being expelled from the womb. Born prematurely he is:

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature

 

CHAPTER ONE The metaphysics and metapsychology of evil in Othello

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CHAPTER ONE

The metaphysics and metapsychology of evil in Othello

F

rom the simplistic duality of the Middle Ages, William

Shakespeare was the first, in the English language, to craft characters with an understanding of the unconscious and the inner conflicts that motivate our species. It is no wonder that Sigmund

Freud was so enamoured of Shakespeare that he learned English specifically to read Shakespeare’s writings in its original language.

Shakespeare went beyond the stock characters of the morality plays that preceded him, with their overt personifications of virtue and vice, and gave us, for the first time, human “villains”. These were different from the allegorical villains that had been in repertoire. Here we find each one has his or her own history, which, brought to the drama, does much to further our understanding of their motivations. For instance,

Richard III concisely describes his version of his early life. He says that he was not fully formed before being expelled from the womb. Born prematurely he is:

 

CHAPTER TWO Mothers in Shakespeare—absent and present

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CHAPTER TWO

Mothers in Shakespeare—absent and present

W

ithin William Shakespeare’s great body of work, the role of mothers comes as a great surprise. It is tempting to utilise a structuralist’s solution. On Shakespeare’s stage there were no females. To portray a young woman the solution was simple; to have a boy costumed as a girl. For a man to play an adult woman would be a more difficult dilemma. In a comedy with many adult female characters, such as The Merry Wives of Windsor, this would not prove an obstacle. If the costume effect failed, it could simply further the comedic effect. In a tragedy, however, it was more complex. Despite the legal limitations

Shakespeare was burdened with, what is of interest is the solution that he chose. We cannot speculate upon the nature of his creative process or the effect his life experience had on his writing. We can, however, examine our reaction to his portrayals of mothers in the resulting artistic creations.

Alan Rothenberg, reflecting on this same paucity of mothers in

 

Chapter Two - Mothers in Shakespeare—Absent and Present

ePub

Within William Shakespeare's great body of work, the role of mothers comes as a great surprise. It is tempting to utilise a structuralist's solution. On Shakespeare's stage there were no females. To portray a young woman the solution was simple; to have a boy costumed as a girl. For a man to play an adult woman would be a more difficult dilemma. In a comedy with many adult female characters, such as The Merry Wives of Windsor, this would not prove an obstacle. If the costume effect failed, it could simply further the comedic effect. In a tragedy, however, it was more complex. Despite the legal limitations Shakespeare was burdened with, what is of interest is the solution that he chose. We cannot speculate upon the nature of his creative process or the effect his life experience had on his writing. We can, however, examine our reaction to his portrayals of mothers in the resulting artistic creations.

Alan Rothenberg, reflecting on this same paucity of mothers in Shakespeare's dramas, states that “the well-treated, fortunate, happy child is absent as well as the ideal mother, tender, constant, and true, sympathetic alike in the prosperity and adversity…The mother (or nurse) is almost always cold, neglectful, cruel or simply absent physically from the child's emotional hemisphere” (Rothenberg, 1971, pp. 447–468). In a feminist critique, Janet Adelman sees this absence of mothers as an attempt “to establish masculine identity through the absence of the maternal.” Her argument continues: “Shakespeare splits his psychic and dramatic world in two (heterosexual bonds and father–son bonds) isolating its elements from each other and from the maternal body that would be toxic to both” (Adelman, 1992, p. 10). This simultaneously exemplifies the beauty of the projective nature of Shakespeare's work and the subsequent danger of discovering in Shakespeare that which the investigator expects to find. While we firmly believe in separating the author from his work, as in the New Criticism, it is a difficult task. Psychobiography leads only to reductionism. Even Sigmund Freud attempted to resist this view. Freud wrote that: “Before the problem of the creative artist analysis must, alas, lay down its arms” (Freud, 1928b, p. 177). This dictum did not prevent him from using literature to buttress his clinical findings. Yet he was able to also recognise the limitations of psychoanalytic criticism of literature, and delegated it as only one of many ways in increasing our experience of art. It is not what we know or presume to know about Shakespeare, but rather how close reading, hearing, and witnessing the plays allows us to find the Hamlets, Lears, Macbeths, and Falstaffs, in ourselves. Harold Bloom, an aesthetic critic, writes: “we hear, speak and know ourselves and others” (Bloom, 1998, pp. 1–17). We value the insights of creative writers on Shakespeare, such as Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and W. H. Auden, among others. One must be cautious of theorists who attempt to simplify what is complex, and to be wary of formulaic conclusions. Our focus is on our emotional reaction to the works, whatever form this appreciation may take; whether it be love, hate, or any ambivalent combination. Bloom also dislikes socio-historical and political critics and he too understands that Shakespeare's works must speak for themselves. This is most true for this chapter on mothers in Shakespeare, as it is a topic many theorists and critics have deconstructed based upon few assumptions from Shakespeare's own life experience.

 

Chapter Three - Disguise and Disavowal in The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet

ePub

Aristotle defined tragedy as “…an imitation of an action that is complete and whole and of a certain magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning and middle and an end” (Aristotle, 335 BCE, p. 14). Tragedy is first defined as an external event that occurs outside of the individual and can clearly be observed by the audience. A man cannot be a tragic hero, however, until he himself can identify the root of his own downfall. For Aristotle, the second component of tragedy is that this external event of action must also have a limited corollary in the internal world of the hero, who is able to recognise that he himself brought these events to pass. Elizabethan and Jacobean drama developed out of the passion plays of the English church and is not a descendant of Greek and Roman drama. The Elizabethans and Jacobeans, led by William Shakespeare and his contemporaries, had a very different conception of tragedy. Shakespeare, for the first time in the English language, relocated the action of tragedy from the external world to the internal world. Recognising one's culpability was no longer enough to define a tragic hero. Now tragedy is recognised as an internal process, rather than simply one of action. It seems tragedy is when the hero requires that others respond to him in a specific manner. This need, this insistence, and interference with it forms tragedy. Thus tragedy is shifted from an individual's phenomena to an interactive two-person psychology. Additionally, Shakespeare supplies us with many “heroes” within each play, as these internal conflicts are no longer limited to the tragic hero, but affect the internal world of most characters of the histories, tragedies, and even the pure comedies. The characters’ reactions, solutions and attempted solutions to these conflicts are as varied as the patients we see in our consulting rooms. The depth of the characters does not change between the genres. A comic character suffers the same magnitude as a tragic one. The distinction between comedy and tragedy, then, is no longer a tragic flaw and self-actualisation but rather it is only the difference in how the conflicts are solved. Traditionally, the distinction between comedy and tragedy has been conceptualised in their resolution, as comedies end in marriage and tragedies end in death. However it is more accurate to say that it is the manner in which these conflicts are addressed, worked through, overlooked or resolved that truly categorises each play. For Aristotle, tragedy was the result of a character flaw of hubris, and an attempt to take aspects of the gods for oneself. Comedy concludes in magical solutions, and tragedy concludes with insolvable conflicts. By this definition The Merchant of Venice is a comedy. Despite the suffering of Antonio and Shylock, its rash love, and disguised meetings, it ends with the consummation of three marriages, and all characters either get what they need from the other or characters abandon or disavow this need. Romeo and Juliet, written the same year, is a tragedy, although it contains similar conflicts. The characters’ needs cannot be abandoned or sublimated. The gilded statues of the dead lovers underscores that there is no possibility for a new beginning. In both genres the characters need another—in comedies this occurs, in tragedies the others are unable or unwilling. In the tragedies the characters insist others react, needing someone to act or be a certain way, and the true tragedy occurs when this is interfered with. It is no longer self-actualisation that defines the depth of the tragic hero. Instead, Shakespeare's characters are left with a lack of understanding of their contributions, and the focus has shifted from self-awareness to that which one receives or is withheld from others.

 

CHAPTER THREE Disguise and disavowal in The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet

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CHAPTER THREE

Disguise and disavowal in The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet

A

ristotle defined tragedy as “… an imitation of an action that is complete and whole and of a certain magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning and middle and an end” (Aristotle,

335 BCE, p. 14). Tragedy is first defined as an external event that occurs outside of the individual and can clearly be observed by the audience.

A man cannot be a tragic hero, however, until he himself can identify the root of his own downfall. For Aristotle, the second component of tragedy is that this external event of action must also have a limited corollary in the internal world of the hero, who is able to recognise that he himself brought these events to pass. Elizabethan and Jacobean drama developed out of the passion plays of the English church and is not a descendant of Greek and Roman drama. The Elizabethans and

Jacobeans, led by William Shakespeare and his contemporaries, had a very different conception of tragedy. Shakespeare, for the first time in the English language, relocated the action of tragedy from the external world to the internal world. Recognising one’s culpability was no longer enough to define a tragic hero. Now tragedy is recognised as an internal process, rather than simply one of action. It seems tragedy is when the hero requires that others respond to him in a specific manner.

 

CHAPTER FOUR Visions of self in Julius Caesar

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CHAPTER FOUR

Visions of self in Julius Caesar

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his Roman play by William Shakespeare is referred to as his first mature tragedy and is only half the length of Hamlet. It was written and performed in 1599 (Platter, 1599, pp. 139–161), and is the play that Shakespeare chose to open the Globe Theatre. The plot appears simple and direct. There is little humour by contemporary or even Elizabethan standards. It is a drama dominated by men and in which its only two women are not listened to, and are both refused.

There are gruesome murders and suicides performed on the stage. It is not just a play of action, as there are poetic passages and fine lines, perhaps none more famous than Antony’s funeral oration. These words and phrases entered our language and remain there, such as “Et tu,

Brute”, “the dogs of war”, and “cowards die many times, the valiant but once”. There are omens, supernatural storms, dreams, and even a visitation from a ghost; shades of what was to come in both Hamlet, and Macbeth. The ending cleanly resolves the conflicts raised in the play. It is no wonder that educators use this play as an introduction to Shakespeare. When the senior author first read it in the seventh grade it seemed a “blood and guts” thriller. It was only later in life with re-reading, and seeing film and stage versions that the drama revealed its psychological depth. While Hamlet demands much of the audience

83

 

Chapter Four - Visions of Self in Julius Caesar

ePub

This Roman play by William Shakespeare is referred to as his first mature tragedy and is only half the length of Hamlet. It was written and performed in 1599 (Platter, 1599, pp. 139–161), and is the play that Shakespeare chose to open the Globe Theatre. The plot appears simple and direct. There is little humour by contemporary or even Elizabethan standards. It is a drama dominated by men and in which its only two women are not listened to, and are both refused. There are gruesome murders and suicides performed on the stage. It is not just a play of action, as there are poetic passages and fine lines, perhaps none more famous than Antony's funeral oration. These words and phrases entered our language and remain there, such as “Et tu, Brute”, “the dogs of war”, and “cowards die many times, the valiant but once”. There are omens, supernatural storms, dreams, and even a visitation from a ghost; shades of what was to come in both Hamlet, and Macbeth. The ending cleanly resolves the conflicts raised in the play. It is no wonder that educators use this play as an introduction to Shakespeare. When the senior author first read it in the seventh grade it seemed a “blood and guts” thriller. It was only later in life with re-reading, and seeing film and stage versions that the drama revealed its psychological depth. While Hamlet demands much of the audience (one must come to grips with the conflict of guilty passivity vs. action and revenge) this play requires less of us. Caesar, Mark Antony, Brutus, Cassius, and Cicero were real people; yet this is not a pure history play. In 1579, Sir Thomas North translated Plutarch's Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans. It has been shown that this book was in Shakespeare's personal library, and Shakespeare read and clearly absorbed its contents. He based three of his plays on the material he gleaned from North's translation: Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar. Plutarch's names and plots also appear in other Shakespeare plays; however, unlike the others, here Shakespeare remains close to his source (Plutarch, 1579, pp. 119–213).

 

Chapter Five - Madness and the Death of Self in Titus Andronicus

ePub

Titus Andronicus is a difficult play. Read, it feels disorderly and disorganising. Staged, it proves complicated, and with its grotesque imagery it is difficult to make palatable to contemporary audiences. While it was popular and a financial success during William Shakespeare's lifetime, it was abandoned and left virtually unperformed for three centuries. It continues to be one of the least popular of Shakespeare's works. Comments by some of the best readers of Shakespeare attest to this. Samuel Johnson described it as a work that “…can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience” (Johnson, 1864, p. 364). T. S. Eliot characterised it as “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written” (Eliot, 1950, p. 67). Harold Bloom states “I am rendered incredulous, and still wish that Shakespeare had not perpetuated this poetic atrocity” (Bloom, 1998, p. 79).

There have been many performances of Shakespeare using inventive staging and direction, which work hard to undo the difficulties of the content. Following Puck's example in his apology of A Midsummer Night's Dream: “…you have but slumber'd here/While these visions did appear” (V.i.411–412), The American Players Theater, for instance, to make palatable the misogynist sentiments in The Taming of the Shrew produced the play as if it were all a drunken dream of Kate's henpecked husband Petruchio. In 1996, the slightly abridged film Titus framed the story in a manner that also protects the audience from its alarming content. It begins with a boy playing with toy soldiers, set up as marching men, which are sent flying by the child's destructiveness. The marching men become Titus’ army, but since it is introduced in the context of kinderspiel the events that follow need not be taken seriously, or perhaps the viewer may revert to viewing this as imaginative play when the drama becomes too painful.

 

CHAPTER FIVE Madness and the death of self in Titus Andronicus

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CHAPTER FIVE

Madness and the death of self in Titus Andronicus

T

itus Andronicus is a difficult play. Read, it feels disorderly and disorganising. Staged, it proves complicated, and with its grotesque imagery it is difficult to make palatable to contemporary audiences. While it was popular and a financial success during

William Shakespeare’s lifetime, it was abandoned and left virtually unperformed for three centuries. It continues to be one of the least popular of Shakespeare’s works. Comments by some of the best readers of Shakespeare attest to this. Samuel Johnson described it as a work that “… can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience” (Johnson,

1864, p. 364). T. S. Eliot characterised it as “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written” (Eliot, 1950, p. 67). Harold Bloom states “I am rendered incredulous, and still wish that Shakespeare had not perpetuated this poetic atrocity” (Bloom, 1998, p. 79).

There have been many performances of Shakespeare using inventive staging and direction, which work hard to undo the difficulties of the content. Following Puck’s example in his apology of A Midsummer

 

CHAPTER SIX The future of an illusionist

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CHAPTER SIX

The future of an illusionist

T

he Tempest, William Shakespeare’s final solo work, is one of his most popular plays. It continues to inspire artists of every genre.

It is almost the shortest play, and critics often comment on its symmetry. The play begins with a shipwreck and magical arrival and ends with a ship restored and a magical departure. There is also symmetry in the themes: serenity and turmoil, legitimacy and usurpation, fertility and bareness, masculinity and femininity, and mature vs. adolescent drives. The entire play in form and content is a mirror image of itself. There are frequent interruptions in the speeches and in the actions. Even the language itself is especially abbreviated, and is so truncated that even the syllables collapse on themselves (Vaughan &

Vaughan, 1999, pp. 14–21).

Like the classic epics of Greece and Rome, we enter during the storm in media res, not simply in the middle of the story, but as if we are interrupting something already underway. The Tempest, then, is a phenomenon that can be witnessed, but there is also an internal storm that rages and must be inferred from the text.

 

Chapter Six - The Future of an Illusionist

ePub

The Tempest, William Shakespeare's final solo work, is one of his most popular plays. It continues to inspire artists of every genre. It is almost the shortest play, and critics often comment on its symmetry. The play begins with a shipwreck and magical arrival and ends with a ship restored and a magical departure. There is also symmetry in the themes: serenity and turmoil, legitimacy and usurpation, fertility and bareness, masculinity and femininity, and mature vs. adolescent drives. The entire play in form and content is a mirror image of itself. There are frequent interruptions in the speeches and in the actions. Even the language itself is especially abbreviated, and is so truncated that even the syllables collapse on themselves (Vaughan & Vaughan, 1999, pp. 14–21).

Like the classic epics of Greece and Rome, we enter during the storm in media res, not simply in the middle of the story, but as if we are interrupting something already underway. The Tempest, then, is a phenomenon that can be witnessed, but there is also an internal storm that rages and must be inferred from the text.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN What Shakespeare teaches us about aging parents and their adult children in King Lear

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CHAPTER SEVEN

What Shakespeare teaches us about aging parents and their adult children in King Lear

O

ne imagines that audience response to William Shakespeare’s plays is a static phenomenon. Reactions to directing and staging notwithstanding, we assume the content more or less affects us as it did previous generations. The history of audience response to King

Lear is surprising. Written in 1605, the play has only been performed as we know it since the nineteenth century. The play was thought to be intolerable as it was written. In 1681, after the restoration of Charles II to the throne and the lifting of the ban on theatres, Nahum Tate, an Irish poet, rewrote the play. In his version, Cordelia defeats her sisters and returns Lear to the throne, thus achieving a happy ending. Although

King Lear technically is an easy play to stage, requiring little by way of scenery, it was thought “un-actable” (Foakes, 1997, p. 1). It is unlikely that the stark story alone would have turned Georgian and Victorian audiences away from King Lear. They enjoyed Macbeth and The Tragedy of King Richard III, both of which are extremely bloody, and include graphic murders of children. Perhaps there is something in the structure itself of Shakespeare’s other dramas that somehow relieved the audience in a way that King Lear does not. For instance, Othello and

 

Chapter Seven - What Shakespeare Teaches us about Aging Parents and their Adult Children in King Lear

ePub

One imagines that audience response to William Shakespeare's plays is a static phenomenon. Reactions to directing and staging notwithstanding, we assume the content more or less affects us as it did previous generations. The history of audience response to King Lear is surprising. Written in 1605, the play has only been performed as we know it since the nineteenth century. The play was thought to be intolerable as it was written. In 1681, after the restoration of Charles II to the throne and the lifting of the ban on theatres, Nahum Tate, an Irish poet, rewrote the play. In his version, Cordelia defeats her sisters and returns Lear to the throne, thus achieving a happy ending. Although King Lear technically is an easy play to stage, requiring little by way of scenery, it was thought “un-actable” (Foakes, 1997, p. 1). It is unlikely that the stark story alone would have turned Georgian and Victorian audiences away from King Lear. They enjoyed Macbeth and The Tragedy of King Richard III, both of which are extremely bloody, and include graphic murders of children. Perhaps there is something in the structure itself of Shakespeare's other dramas that somehow relieved the audience in a way that King Lear does not. For instance, Othello and Hamlet follow Aristotelian tragedy. In these plays the leading figure has a tragic flaw in their character that directly leads them to ruin. It is not only Iago's cunning, but also Othello's own jealousy that undoes him. Without Othello's flaw there would be no tragedy, and, therefore, some reassuring sense of inevitability may emerge. In attempting to apply this Aristotelian model of tragedy to King Lear we find it comes up short. It is not Lear's tragic flaw that leads to the tragedy but rather something very different.

 

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