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Psychoanalytic

Adair, Vance. “Rewriting the (S)crypt: Gazing on Hamlet’s Interiors.” Q/W/E/R/T/Y 6 (1996): 5-15.

PSYCHOANALYTIC

While arguing that Hamlet “regularly solicits the gaze of its audience” with sites of secret interior (e.g., closet, confessional, bed chamber, veiled recess, gravesite), this article begins with a discussion of “the closet’s versatile, and deeply contradictory, epistemology” (6). It then offers “an analysis of how the text variously seeks to negotiate the problems of authority and interiority” and of how psychoanalysis and Hamlet “engage with the issue of epistemology at irresistible points of rupture which indicate a much more complex kind of savoir: the unconscious” (6). But Hamlet’s interiors “yield only a cryptic accessibility. If they elude capture by the gaze, it is precisely because vision itself is implicated in the catachrestic spacing of the signifier, where every interior can only ever be contradictory” (6-7).

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Adelman, Janet. “Man and Wife Is One Flesh: Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body.” Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest. By Adelman. New York: Routledge, 1992. 11-37.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This monograph chapter argues that Hamlet “redefines the son’s position between two fathers by relocating it in relation to an indiscriminately sexual maternal body that threatens to annihilate the distinction between the fathers and hence problematizes the son’s paternal identification” (14-15). Hamlet “rewrites the story of Cain and Abel as the story of Adam and Eve, relocating masculine identity in the presence of the adulterating female” (30). Gertrude “plays out the role of the missing Eve: her body is the garden in which her husband dies, her sexuality the poisonous weeds that kill him, and poison the world—and the self—for her son” (30). The absence of the father combined with the presence of the “engulfing mother” awakens “all the fears incident to the primary mother-child bond” (30). The solution is for Hamlet to remake his mother “in the image of Virgin Mother who could guarantee his father’s purity, and his own, repairing the boundaries of his selfhood” (31). In the closet scene, Hamlet attempts “to remake his mother pure by divorcing her from her sexuality” (32-33). Although Gertrude “remains relatively opaque, more a screen for Hamlet’s fantasies about her than a fully developed character in her own right,” the son “at least believes that she has returned to him as the mother he can call ‘good lady’ (3.4.182)” (34). As a result, Hamlet achieves “a new calm and self-possession” but at a high price: “for the parents lost to him at the beginning of the play can be restored only insofar as they are entirely separated from their sexual bodies. This is a pyrrhic solution to the problems of embodiedness and familial identity . . .” (35).

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Bergoffen, Debra B. “Mourning, Woman, and the Phallus: Lacan’s Hamlet.” Cultural Semiosis: Tracing the Signifier. Ed. Hugh J. Silverman. Continental Philosophy VI. New York: Routledge, 1998. 140-53.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Concurring with “Lacan’s notions of the phallus, jouissance, the symbolic, the imaginary, and the signifying chain” (140), this article suggests that Gertrude demonstrates “the way woman’s complicity is essential to the patriarchal order as she provides a glimpse of a woman who steps outside its parameters” (141). In the role of mourning, woman represents “the invisible medium through whom the phallus passes” (144). But Gertrude substitutes “marriage nuptials for mourning rituals”; her marriage to Claudius “violates the father who has not been properly remembered, and it violates the son who is denied his legacy” (146). Gertrude’s “refusal to mourn brings back the ghost and fuels its impossible request: that the son do what the mother will not, legitimize the father” (146). But Hamlet, a male bound by patriarchal laws, cannot perform the “social act” of mourning, as he and Laertes prove at Ophelia’s burial (141). And, as long as Gertrude “confers legitimacy on Claudius, Hamlet’s action is barred” (149). The son begins the process of “re-inserting his mother into the patriarchal phallic order” in the closet scene by accusing her “of being too old to love,” by de-legitimizing her “mode of otherness” (149). Gertrude, in death, finally frees Hamlet to act by being unable to mourn Claudius, but her absence means no mourning and, hence, no mediation for the transference of power: “in the absence of women, Denmark comes under the rule of its enemy,” Fortinbras (151-52). “Rejecting the role of passive mediator Gertrude plays the game of jouissance” (153). Yes, Gertrude is destroyed as a result, but she succeeds “in exposing the myth of the male phallus” and “provides us with a glimpse of a signifier placed outside the patriarchal structure of silenced mourning women” (153).

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Byles, Joanna Montgomery. “Tragic Alternatives: Eros and Superego Revenge in Hamlet.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 117-34.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

While exploring and defining Freud’s principles of the superego aggression and Eros, this essay contends that, in Hamlet, the playwright “subverts the essential logic of the revenge form by representing revenge as an inward tragic event, reinforced by destructive family relationships whose psychic energies violate and destroy the protagonist’s psychic wholeness, fragmenting and ultimately dissolving the personality” (118). The tragic process, “instead of strengthening the ego in its task of regulating Eros and aggression so that they do not clash with reality and defuse (separate), is one in which the ego is destroyed by the undermining of its total organization” (123). The Ghost appears as “a piece of theatrical aggression for it stops Hamlet’s initial fierce self-restraint; allows him to express his deeply conflicted feelings about Claudius” (127), and affirms “his intense feelings about his mother” (128). But as a key producer of guilt, the self-torturing superego is “dramatized as delay” (121). Hamlet attempts “to gain control over the destructiveness of the superego” by projecting his guilt onto others and finds periods of relief when channeling his vengeful aggression, primarily through verbal cruelty and hostility (129). Unfortunately, his “failure to achieve revenge” and his “blunders” that lead to the untimely deaths of Polonius and Ophelia create “acute mental agony” (130). Hamlet’s “ego yields to his superego and takes the suffering the self-abusive superego produces,” leading the tragic hero to exact “revenge upon himself”: Hamlet returns from sea “resigned to his own death” (130). This “conflict between ego and superego constitutes the dynamic action of Hamlet” (131).

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de Grazia, Margreta. “Weeping For Hecuba.” Historicism, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Culture. Ed. Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor. Culture Work. New York: Routledge, 2000. 350-75.

HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / PSYCHOANALYTIC

While Freud argued that the loss of the father greatly influenced Shakespeare during the writing of Hamlet, this article uses Freud’s source (Brandes’ William Shakespeare: A Critical Study) to stress an overlooked historical fact of equal importance: Shakespeare bought land around this time because his father—like Hamlet’s—did not leave an inheritance for the son. This article suggests “that Hamlet dramatizes the difficulty of mourning a father who did not make good the promise of the patronymic” (360-61). The grave yard scene, the only instance when Hamlet truly expresses grief, focuses on property. For example, who does the grave belong to, the gravedigger or the dead? In his musings over the gravedigger’s handling of the dead, Hamlet mentions extinct world conquerors, emperors, landlords, and lawyers—all “who once held land,” but who “are now held by the land” (357). While Hamlet derides the thirst for, quest after, and transience of property, he eagerly jumps into Ophelia’s grave to compete with Laertes for the property. But, in this all-consuming and passionate grief, Hamlet never mentions his father. Old Hamlet left his son none of the “patrinomial properties that secure lineal continuity—land, title, arms, signet, royal bed” (364). Without these inheritances, Hamlet’s memory is “insufficiently ‘impressed’” to remember his father, causing the son to forget the date of his Old Hamlet’s death, for instance (365). In comparison, Shakespeare had to cope with the absence of an inheritance from his father and the lack of an heir to pass his own estate onto. Freud’s father also could not leave an inheritance to his son because, at the time, “laws restricted Jews from owning and transmitting property” (369). These three sons share the meager legacy of guilt upon their fathers’ deaths: “According to Freud, Freud experienced it while writing about Shakespeare, Shakespeare experienced it while writing Hamlet, and Hamlet experienced it in the play that has continued since the onset of the modern period to bear so tellingly on the ever-changing here and now” (369).

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Díaz de Chumaceiro, Cora L. “Hamlet in Freud’s Thoughts: Reinterpretations in the Psychoanalytic Literature.” Journal of Poetry Therapy 11.3 (1998): 139-53.

PSYCHOANALYTIC

This article presents “a vista of the psychoanalytic literature that has focused on this masterpiece, beginning with Freud’s use of it” (139-40). Although Freud’s interest in Hamlet began at a young age, letters to Wilhelm Fliess reveal that Shakespeare’s drama played a key role in helping Freud to overcome his personal misgivings about neuroses theory. The correspondences also show the preliminary association between Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, a premise that was further developed in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. Whether arguing against or expanding on Freud’s reading of Hamlet, critics continue to produce material in response. This article surveys the work of some contributors (e.g., Jones, Steiner, Winnicott, Lacan, Green, Barzilai, Jacobson, Goldberg, Celidonio, Bayard, Paris, Frattaroli, Rand) and provides a lengthy list of additional readings. The quantity of diverse interpretations supports Freud’s theory that “interpretation is a self-revelation” because we “cannot but project ourselves into the literature we read” (149).

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Engle, Lars. “Discourse, Agency, and Therapy in Hamlet.” Exemplaria 4 (1992): 441-53.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC / RHETORICAL

Synthesizing the ideas of Foucault, Bakhtin, and Freud, this article offers “a compressed reading of Hamlet as a meditation on the balance between the power of circumambient discourses and the capacity of an exemplary (and privileged) human subject to find his way among them toward a therapeutic and pragmatic kind of agency” (444). Shakespeare’s play is dense with explorations of mental interiors through discourse, raising questions of agency. As Hamlet struggles to discover and accept a personal mode of agency, he shows “other people what they are doing by demonstrating to them what discursive fields they have entered” (446). For example, Hamlet parodies Laertes’ anger by Ophelia’s grave. He also considers “the discursive control which preempts agency,” as evident in the nunnery scene (448), and contemplates “the philosophical complexity of the compromise between agency and discourse,” as revealed after his meeting with the players (451). In all of these examples, Hamlet dramatizes/reenacts his “horror,” allowing him therapeutically to “exorcise or destroy or understand or forgive it” (452); hence, his calm attitude in the final act of the play. Hamlet learns to accept a personal mode of agency, the boundary condition of selfhood, and the allowance for “meaningful action amid constitutive discourses” (453).

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Faber, M. D. “Hamlet and the Inner World of Objects.” The Undiscovered Country: New Essays on Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. Ed. B. J. Sokol. London: Free Assn., 1993. 57-90.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This article advances the complex proposition that Western tragedy “invariably presents us with characters who undergo a traumatic reactivation of infantile feelings” (57). In Hamlet, the hero possesses idealized conceptions of his parents and of their marriage (which influence his self-perception)—until Gertrude marries Claudius. This marring of the “good mother” forces Hamlet into a “double-bind”: he cannot maintain the illusions, but he cannot give up what his identity hinges upon (61). In addition, the “reactivation of the hero’s unconscious aims” manifests desires to “overcome separation”; Hamlet’s craving to take in and to be taken in by the “bad object” creates “self-revulsion” and “desire for death” (62-63). But the players offer Hamlet hope: “The actor takes in the part or the character and then brings forth from within himself a version of the character that is bound up with an inner object to which the newly internalized character more or less corresponds” (67). Also, the Hecuba performance, complete with “good father” and “loyal mother-wife,” allows Hamlet to reaffirm and reinforce the “good objects” that “he is losing touch with” in his “ambivalence and confusion toward the bad objects” (68). But the exercise with the “good objects” only succeeds in increasing feelings of “guilt, self-revulsion, and confusion,” leading Hamlet to “examine the reality of the bad object” through The Mousetrap (69). Unfortunately, this tactic also fails. Desperate to act, Hamlet goes to Gertrude’s closet to gain control of his mother, to change her “back into the good object” (73). While the “transformation of the mother” allows Hamlet to regain some self-control, he does not achieve “a genuine resolution of deep, long-standing conflict” (77). Because, “as Hamlet sees it, Claudius possesses Gertrude,” Hamlet must “incorporate the rival . . . in order to get at the mother whom the rival possesses” (79). An alternative method to merge with the maternal object is death, Hamlet’s primary topic in the graveyard scene. Not surprisingly, Hamlet accepts the challenge to a duel, “seizing upon the opportunity to lose his life, passively surrendering to the part of himself that longs to be dead” (87). Hamlet dies by a lethal poison that destroys him from within, like the bad object (89), proving that tragedy, “at least as we know it in the Western world,” results when the “unconscious inner world of the hero is stirred to life” (90).

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Finkelstein, Richard. “Differentiating Hamlet: Ophelia and the Problems of Subjectivity.” Renaissance and Reformation 21.2 (Spring 1997): 5-22.

FEMINISM / HAMLET / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This essay explores how “Shakespeare uses Ophelia to expose an interplay between culture, epistemology, and psychology which constructs Hamlet’s heroic subjectivity, itself understood through his logic, development, and actions informed by agency” (6). Hamlet and Ophelia are similar in various ways, including their “fashioning a sense of interiority” (6). But they also differ. For example, Hamlet “goes out of its way to disassociate her [Ophelia’s] epistemological habits from the empirical exactitude Hamlet seeks” (11). Ophelia “signifies knowledge which cannot be known with certainty” (10). According to “contemporary French feminism, the opposition of Claudius, Horatio, Fortinbras, and Hamlet (prior to his fifth act embrace of providence) to Ophelia’s manner of signifying cannot be separated from challenges female bodies pose to gendered concepts of fixed subjectivity” (13). Yet Ophelia’s “disjointed speeches do not define a feminine language so much as they interrogate the related economies of object relations and a readiness to act which mark Hamlet’s ‘developed’ subjectivity in the play” (14). The uncertainties of Ophelia’s death “also raise questions about whether agency itself can define subjectivity” (15). While agency and intention “do not function efficiently for either Hamlet or Ophelia,” the play allows “more than one means of defining subjectivity” (17). Through Ophelia, “the play interrogates its own longings, and its participation in defining subjectivity” (18).

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Hillman, David. “The Inside Story.” Historicism, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Culture. Ed. Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor. Culture Work. New York: Routledge, 2000. 299-324.

NEW HISTORICISM / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Hoping to illuminate “aspects of the early modern period” (299), this essay traces “uses of the spatial metaphor of inner and outer and some of the ways in which it has profound ties to questions of faith and doubt” (300). It begins “by briefly examining the role of this [inner/outer] binary in the constitution of the subject as it is understood by psychoanalysis” and, then, outlines “some ways in which the figure can be seen to be pervasive in early modern English culture” (300). Lastly, this essay explores how Hamlet “engages the question of inward and outward through its protagonist’s obsessive attention to the body’s innards and a concomitant attachment to an idea of the truth as something specifically and exclusively interior” (300). “The strident insistence on an absolute separation of inner and outer collapses in upon itself, as the external world and its inhabitants are found to be always already within, and the private, internal world is revealed to be expressible, after all, in the ‘forms, moods, shapes’ of the body and the words that emerge from its interior” (317).

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Levy, Eric P. “Universal Versus Particular: Hamlet and the Madness in Reason.” Exemplaria 14.1 (Spring 2002): 99-125.

METAPHYSICS / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This study contends that the play “dramatizes the strife or competition between two modes of thought: one explains the particular by reference to the universal(s) it exemplifies,” “principles that have absolute generality”; “the other apprehends the particular in terms of its incommunicable uniqueness,” or the “absolute singularity” (100-01). The article tests Aristotelian and Freudian schemas, while probing “the antagonism between the two modes of knowing operant in the play” (101). Unfortunately, the “[. . .] Freudian theory is no more capable of rescuing singularity from subsumption in the universal than is the Aristotelian-Thomist doctrine of reason,” as both “great intellectual systems [. . .] formulate the individual in terms of universals”—emphasizing “the magnitude of the problem. In this context, the power of Hamlet to express the human predicament on the epistemological level can be more completely appreciated. Perhaps nowhere else in literature are the plight of singularity and the function of pity more profoundly and movingly portrayed” (125).  

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Lupton, Julia Reinhard and Kenneth Reinhard. After Oedipus: Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis. Ithaca: Cornell U P, 1993.

PSYCHOANALYTIC

This monograph "stage[s] the knotting of the object and the thing in the formations of psychoanalysis and tragedy" (6). The Introduction discusses "the shifting conceptualization of the object in Lacanian discourse: the object of desire, the object in desire, and the object as cause of desire" (3). Treating Hamlet as "the literary object in psychoanalysis--its topic, thematic, and self-image--" (5), the first half of this text focuses "on the melancholic passage of Hamlet into psychoanalysis, and more broadly, of tragedy into theory" (6). It emphasizes "the psychoanalytic work of interpretation and mourning" as well as an intertextuality that encompasses "Hamlet in Freud and Lacan" and "Seneca in Hamlet" (6). Approaching King Lear, the second half of this monograph turns "from psychoanalytic interpretations to psychoanalytic construction" (6).

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Morin, Gertrude. “Depression and Negative Thinking: A Cognitive Approach to Hamlet.” Mosaic 25.1 (1992): 1-12.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Using the cognitive-behavior approach, this essay hopes to demonstrate that “Hamlet is, essentially, a portrayal of a tortured, depressed young man who loses his way in the labyrinth of his negative thoughts” (2). Rather than agree with Freud’s assessment of Hamlet as a victim of the unconscious, this article presents the protagonist as the responsible party of a “common occurrence”—depression (2). Hamlet reacts to the loss of his father and his mother’s hasty remarriage “by employing negative schematic processes”—learned responses (3). His soliloquies reveal examples of “cognitive logic error that leads to and reinforces the depressive’s negative view” (4): Hamlet’s fascination with death reflects “selective abstraction,” in which the positive aspects of life are overlooked (5-6), in favor of “absolutist, dichotomous thinking,” which views death as the “principal reality” (6); he suffers from the cognitive error of “overgeneralization” when he concludes that Gertrude’s flaws extend to all women (7-8); his poor prediction for the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude (and thus the creation of a self-fulfilling prophesy) demonstrates “arbitrary inference” (8); Hamlet’s various methods of self-criticism include “magnification and minimization” (9), “inexact labeling” (9-10), as well as “self-coercive” thoughts (10). According to this approach, the depressed person “thinks him/herself into an impaired mood” (11). While literary studies may benefit from the new insights of cognitive-behavioral research, the simultaneous hope is that psychologists, researchers, and patients may benefit from reading Hamlet (11).

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Oakes, Elizabeth. “Polonius, the Man Behind the Arras: A Jungian Study.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 103-16.

HAMLET / JUNGIAN / POLONIUS / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This reading of Hamlet argues that Polonius represents the archetypal figures of “wise old man, fool and scapegoat” and that his “truncated sacrifice, the climax of the action, contrasts with the transcendent one of Hamlet, the climax of the symbolic level” (103). Through Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s various references to and descriptions of Polonius, he is linked with the wise old man figure. But unlike the figure responsible for guiding and instructing the hero, Polonius “inverts the figure” by being overly concerned with his own social/political position (105). Aside from linguistic allusions, the lethal closet scene confirms Polonius’ status as scapegoat. Polonius is mistaken for the King, suggesting the role of the fool. While Polonius “incorporates the fathers in the play into one figure whom Hamlet can confront,” the Prince similarly plays the roles of fool and scapegoat (107): His adoption of an antic disposition “with a conscious purpose” suggests the first, and his sacrifice in the final scene exemplifies the latter (108). But the deaths of the two scapegoats differ: “Through symbols connected with the mother archetype, Hamlet’s sacrifice is, both individually and in its effect on the community, consummate, while Polonius’ is void” (108). For example, Hamlet’s rebirth occurs at sea, water being a symbolic element of the mother archetype (110), but Polonius does not have such an experience. Also, Hamlet’s return to Denmark marks a shift in his priorities, from “the personal to the communal” (111)—something Polonius never achieves. In death, Hamlet “moves beyond the communal to the spiritual,” existing “as a realized ideal” in Horatio’s’ narration, while the dead Polonius is only noted for “the details concerning his corpse” (111-12). Perhaps Shakespeare’s true source is not an Ur-Hamlet but “the archetypes that in this play vibrate beneath the surface” (112).

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Porterfield, Sally F. "Oh Dad, Poor Dad: The Universal Disappointment of Imperfect Parents in Hamlet." Jung's Advice to the Players: A Jungian Reading of Shakespeare's Problem Plays. Drama and Theatre Studies 57. Westport: Greenwood P, 1994. 72-98.

HAMLET / JUNGIAN / PARENTHOOD / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This essay presents a Jungian reading of Hamlet's "universal experience of parental discovery" (74). The death of the "good father" and the remarriage that transforms the "good mother" into a sexual being force "the ideal, archetypal parents of imagination to die a violent death" (75). Hamlet copes with the psychological upheaval by regressing "to an earlier stage of his development": he becomes the "trickster" (75). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern represent "another manifestation of the trickster" (76); hence, the pair must die to mark Hamlet's "integration of the trickster figure" (77) and his ability to leave childhood behind (94). The Gravediggers also appear as the trickster figure to show that "he is not within Hamlet" and that "he has been integrated" (94). In this scene, Laertes functions as the "shadow" and Ophelia as the "rejected anima"; Hamlet "becomes one with both" when he leaps into the grave (94). Horatio is the "self" for Hamlet, "the ideal man he would become" (88), and Fortinbras offers another form of the "self," "the man of action" (97); "these two symbols of the self" merge in the final scene (96-97). But Hamlet's progression towards integration proves difficult, alternating between depression and mania. Only the presence of art (symbolized by the players) causes Hamlet to be "taken out of himself by interest in the world around him," demonstrating his "dependence upon art as salvation" (86). Hamlet's use of The Mousetrap drama suggests a hope "not simply to kill but to redeem" Claudius and "to rediscover the goodness he seeks so desperately in those around him" (87). Ultimately, Hamlet cannot avoid violence, "but he gives us courage, generation after generation, to attempt the ideal while existing with the sometimes nearly unbearable realities that life imposes" (97).

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Ronk, Martha C. “Representations of Ophelia.” Criticism 36 (1994): 21-43.

ART / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Perceiving Ophelia as a mix of emblem and the projection of others, this dense article sets out to discover what Ophelia’s “representation represents” by focusing on the report of her drowning (23). Emblematic and allegorical characteristics of the speech reveal some insight into Ophelia—the means particular to a historical period when “the emblematic was a received mode of perceiving the world” (27). But like emblem books of the period, the combination of the visual and verbal still leaves much unarticulated. Another component in the speech is the speaker, Queen Gertrude, who becomes an appropriate substitute for Ophelia based on their shared gender and roles within the patriarchy. While Gertrude offers a “dispassionate description” of the drowning (29), she also becomes linked to Ophelia’s passive volition. The questioning of Gertrude’s involvement in Ophelia’s death (and Hamlet Sr.’s) provides reiteration of an insistent question within the play: “what it means not to know what is going on” (31). As Gertrude “leisurely relates” Ophelia’s demise, this ekphrastic moment presents a brief “stillness” within the play before the plot rushes to tragic fulfillment (32). The resulting ramifications elicit contemplation from the audience and move Ophelia “out of narrative and into some ‘cosmic order’” (34). As emblem (and myth) Ophelia possesses the capacity to arouse fear, referring to Freud’s “The Uncanny.” Her “ekphrastic presence” implies “the impossibility of more than seeing what the viewer ‘could not have seen’ . . . to an audience intent on viewing what is not there” (38).

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Russell, John. Hamlet and Narcissus. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1995.

HAMLET / PARENTHOOD / PSYCHOANALYTIC

In the introduction, this monograph presents comprehensive descriptions of Freud’s psychoanalytic premises (e.g., Oedipus Complex, Pleasure Principle), of Margaret Mahler’s advancements in the study of infant development, and of Heinz Kohut’s explorations of the self and its development. The primary arguments are that distinctions seperate the Freudian and psychoanalytic projects, that “the conflicts that inform and structure Shakespearean tragedy are precisely those elucidated by contemporary psychoanalysis” (16), and that Hamlet’s “commitment finally is not to reality but to the distortions of narcissistic fantasy” (23). After this laying of groundwork, the first chapter focuses “on the distortions in Hamlet’s behavior that are the result of that most characteristic pre-Oedipal strategy of defense, splitting”; the next chapter examines Hamlet’s mother/son relationship with Gertrude; chapter three draws on Kohut’s understanding of the Oedipal period in order to explore the Prince’s father/son relationship with the Ghost/Hamlet, Sr.; chapter four explains “the puzzling and controversial delay” in Hamlet; and the final chapter treats Hamlet’s “surrender to one of the deepest and most powerful of narcissistic fantasies, the fantasy of death” (38). Similar to psychoanalysis, “the great theme of Shakespearean tragedy is the death of fathers and the complex of narcissistic conflicts that congregate around the passage of authority from one generation to the next” (180-81).

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Schiffer, James. “Mnemonic Cues to Passion in Hamlet.” Renaissance Papers, 1995. Ed. George Walton Williams and Barbara J. Baines. Raleigh: Southeastern Renaissance Conference, 1996. 65-79.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This investigation examines “[v]icissitude of passion” as “an issue of critical importance in Hamlet” (65). While Hamlet accuses Gertrude of “amorous forgetfulness” (65), the son “too cannot remain emotionally constant, nor can he keep his word” (66). His fluctuating love for Ophelia provides but one example; his delay in revenge also suggests an inability to sustain initial “emotions long enough to take action” (68). Hamlet, the Player King, and Claudius all speak of “the relationship between time and the forgetting of feeling,” which seems difficult to prevent (68). But memory (and, hence, the passions) can be revived through the senses—“especially the visual sense” (69). Aside from Hamlet’s use of pictures in the closet scene and his persistent mourning garb (1.2), Hamlet’s The Mousetrap demonstrates the “conscious strategy of using external stimuli to work upon the memory to arouse passion” (70). Intended “to stir Claudius’s memory of the crime,” the play-within-the-play also should re-ignite Hamlet’s passionate drive for revenge and should provide “a model of action for Hamlet to follow” (71). Instead, it “delays the revenge by arousing Oedipal guilt” (73). As The Mousetrap does succeed in upsetting Claudius, “the mnemonic power of theater is valorized,” suggesting the “idea of theater as memory” (76). Perhaps historical representations in art are “oblique, distorted, imperfect” (77), but they also possess the capacity to strengthen “our limited capacity to retain and recall” (78).

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Simon, Bennett. “Hamlet and the Trauma Doctors: An Essay at Interpretation.” American Imago 58.3 (Fall 2001): 707-22.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / HAMLET / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

After reviewing “several broad trends in the history of interpretation of the play” and locating “within those trends some dominant themes in psychoanalytic interpretation,” this essay offers a “late-twentieth-century psychoanalytic interpretation—both of Hamlet and Hamlet—based on trauma theory” (707). Trauma research provides insights pertinent to Hamlet: trauma victims often experience oscillations between numbness and overwhelming emotions, difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, “a sense of unreality,” a sense that the “self and the world become loathsome,” a thirsting for revenge or scapegoat, and “a profound mistrust of the future” as well as of other people (e.g., family members, friends) (712). But “secrecy associated with a trauma is especially devastating” because secrets “combined with confusion about fact and fantasy often lead to incomplete or fragmented narratives”; “a story that cannot be told directly in narrative discourse finds expression through displacement, symbolization, and action” (713). In Hamlet, the protagonist’s trauma derives from his first encounter with the Ghost, which leaves Hamlet “both certain and uncertain” of his father’s death, his uncle’s responsibility, and his mother’s involvement (714). Following this meeting, Hamlet mutely expresses his story in Ophelia’s closet (717). His madness (perhaps more real than even Hamlet realizes) “is a symptom of the ‘feigning’ and deceit around him,” such as Claudius’ secrecy and Ophelia’s seeming betrayal (715). In comparison, Ophelia experiences various traumas, including “a web of half-truths, paternal attempts to deny her perceptions,” the loss of “male protection” (716), the secrecy surrounding her father’s murder (and her lover’s responsibility), as well as “the impossibility of any kind of open grieving or raging—let alone discussion” (715-16). While her “feelings are consistently ignored and she is silenced,” Ophelia’s madness “is focused on her speaking in such a way that she cannot be ignored” (715). In this “aura of a traumatized environment,” the theater audience must “live with a discomforting set of ambiguities” that Horatio’s promised narrative cannot entirely clarify (717).

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Takahashi, Yasunari. “Speech, Deceit, and Catharsis: A Reading of Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 3-19.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC / RHETORICAL

Drawing heavily on the linguistic theories of J. L. Austin, J. R. Searle, and Keir Elam, this article approaches Hamlet as “a remarkably complex and rich essay into the possible modes of speech and narrative” (6). Analysis of the play’s first five lines initiates a study of “expressionistic possibilities of language” (3). For example, Barnardo’s “Who’s there?” (1.1.1) suggests the setting’s dark lighting, the speaker’s anxiety, and the play’s central theme of uncertain identity (3-4). The protagonist’s psychological complexity provides particularly intriguing examples of language. In act one, scene two, Hamlet “attempts to speak of something within that cannot be adequately expressed and at the same time to hide that within which cannot be adequately hidden,” meaning that his “speaking is indistinguishable from counterfeiting” (9). After meeting the Ghost, he appropriates “as his own style the ‘pretended forms’ of speech” by donning the guise of madness (11). Hamlet leaps “out of the bounds of his ‘antic disposition’” to discover “the role of playwright / director,” as a result of the player’s Hecuba speech (14). Unfortunately, Hamlet’s theory of acting seems “at odds with what he practices”; the son’s overacting in the closet scene presents but one example of “the gap between the representor and the represented” (15). During his voyage at sea, Hamlet “takes an important step towards recovering his identity by using his father’s seal as his own” (16). Upon his return to Denmark, he speaks without counterfeiting, and his “speech on the fall of a sparrow provides ultimate proof of his transformation” (16). When Hamlet “unwittingly plays the role that providence has allotted to him,” in the final scene, the “gap between role and actor disappears” (17).

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Thatcher, David. “Sullied Flesh, Sullied Mind: Refiguring Hamlet’s ‘Imaginations.’” Studia Neophilologica 68 (1996): 29-38.

HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This essay hopes “to ascertain what specific ‘imaginations’ (=mental pictures, imaginings, ‘figures’) were in Hamlet’s mind, to ask whether they were transitory, and to pose this crucial question: which they do gravitate towards more—his father’s murder or his mother’s behavior?” (29). While his “imaginations” are visual, the Prince does not imagine the Ghost, nor does his melancholy create the mental projection. However, an awareness of his emotional vulnerability motivates Hamlet to seek confirmation of the Ghost’s report. Hamlet doubts his source immediately prior to the testing of Claudius’ guilt: “imaginations are as foul / As Vulcan’s stithy.” His reference to Vulcan, both the Roman cuckold and “the black lord of hell,” metaphorically reflects on Hamlet, Sr., the Ghost, and Gertrude’s adulterous relationship with Claudius (33). Aside from the fact that Hamlet actually fails to confirm the Ghost’s report and Claudius’ guilt, this article doubts that Hamlet’s “imaginations” would cease if the King were found innocent because the “Oedipal fixation on Gertrude’s sexual abandonment would remain, as it actually does, uneradicated, a proliferating and contaminating source of ‘foul imaginations’” (36).

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Watterson, William Collins. “Hamlet’s Lost Father.” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 10-23.

HAMLET / PARENTHOOD / PSYCHOANALYTIC / YORICK

This article asserts that Yorick’s abstract presence and Hamlet’s memories of the court jester “constitute a benign inscription of paternity in the play, one which actively challenges the masculine ideals of emotional repression and military virtus otherwise featured so prominently in Shakespeare’s drama of revenge” (10). Unlike the other father figures in Hamlet who represent patriarchal authority (e.g., the Ghost, Claudius, Polonius), Yorick is the absent surrogate parent who showed a young Hamlet alternatives to phallocentric oppression and who “remains a central figure in Hamlet’s psyche precisely because he has been lost” (11). By prematurely dying (possibly due to syphilis), Yorick abandoned a seven-year-old Hamlet in the pre-genital stage; hence, Hamlet identifies him as the cause of his sexual deficiency “and associates him permanently with his own anality” (18). Yet Yorick also endowed Hamlet with the skills of jesting and merrymaking, which are so evident in the exchange between Hamlet and the gravediggers. All play is set aside during Hamlet’s interaction with Yorick’s skull, as the “residual child in Hamlet articulates the pain of loss” over his childhood mentor (16). Perhaps the mournful sentiments were shared by Shakespeare, who lost his father around the time that Hamlet was being written (17). While Yorick contradicts paternal cliches, he also raises questions regarding maternal stereotypes and the femininity of death. Even the origin of Yorick’s name suggests “an obscure conflation of gender, [which] actually encodes the idea of feminine fatherhood” (18). Ultimately, Yorick instills in Hamlet “values and emotions fundamentally at odds with the patriarchal codes of masculine behavior” (19).

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Wheale, Nigel. "'Vnfolde your selfe': Jacques Lacan and the Psychoanalytic Reading of Hamlet." Hamlet. Ed. Peter J. Smith and Nigel Wood. Theory in Practice. Buckingham: Open UP, 1996. 108-32.

PSYCHOANALYTIC

This essay offers a summary of Lacan's arguments regarding Hamlet, Hamlet Sr., Gertrude, Ophelia, and Laertes, as well as definitions of Lacan's key terms (108). While Lacanian analysis contributes to performance theory and an audience's responses to productions (108), it also "appears to be seriously compromised by at least four major misreadings": the absence of "the political dimension" (127); the denied "opportunity of analyzing how theology is intimately at work in the Renaissance psyche and ethical value"; the focus on "the phallus as signifier," which disallows the "construction of Virtue as a gendered type"; and the emphasis on the unconscious that prevents "the possibility of a consciously chosen heroism as a primary motive for the Prince" in the play's last act (129). Even with its flaws, Lacan's "emphasis on the rhetorical structure of psychical experience does seem to contribute to new ways of thinking about early modern literature, and about Hamlet in particular" (130). Ideally, the Lacanian perspective can "heighten the sense of emotive, affective materials obscurely at work in the enigmatic forms of early modern culture" (130-31).

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Whitehead, Cintra. “Construing Hamlet.” Constructive Criticism 1.1 (Mar. 1991): 33-100.

PERFORMANCE / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This article begins with sketch reviews of Freud’s, Jones’, and Lacan’s psychoanalytic readings of Hamlet as well as Mairet’s Adleian interpretation. “Although the psychoanalytic and Alderian theories are diametrically opposed in many ways, they both might be called content theories in that they look at the content of the mind rather than the operation of the mind as construct theory does” (39-40). This article outlines the basic tenets of the Kellyan construct theory before following “the action of the plot chronologically, construing character through events” (41) and entertaining the hypothesis that Hamlet “is man-the-scientist who experiences the universal need to predict and control” (40). It also offers suggestions for performance techniques, such as methods to “emphasize the poignancy” of the final scene, when the British ambassadors have come too late (97). This article concludes that Hamlet is “a tragedy of knowing vs. not knowing, but of knowing with the emotions and the will as well as with the intellect. The personal construct theorist will suspect that the play’s unrivaled position in English drama results from its dramatization of the human need for all of us, like Hamlet, to be man-the-scientist who must decide when to trust intuition and emotion . . . and when and how to state and test hypotheses about life and the universe in order to predict and control life events” (99).

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All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com