Title Page
 Front Matter
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Psychoanalytic view of literat...
 Freud on the artist
 Freud on the work
 Freud on the response
 And beside Freud
 Psychoanalytic view of Shakesp...
 Freud on Shakespeare
 Psychoanalysis and the man
 Psychoanalysis and the artist
 Psychoanalysis and the works
 Conclusions : psychoanalysis, Shakespeare,...
 Conclusions logical
 Conclusions not so logical
 Subject index
 Author index
 Back Matter

Title: Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00002277/00001
 Material Information
Title: Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare
Physical Description: xi, 412 p. : ; 22 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Holland, Norman Norwood, 1927-
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1966
Edition: [1st ed.]
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Bibliographical references included in "Notes" (p. 350-397)
Funding: Psychological study of the arts.
Statement of Responsibility: by Norman N. Holland.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00002277
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 000036005
oclc - 00358969
notis - AAE0131
lccn - 65027298
 Related Items
Other version: Alternate version (PALMM)
PALMM Version

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page
    Front Matter
        Front Matter
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Preface 1
        Preface 2
    Table of Contents
        Table of Contents 1
        Table of Contents 2
        Table of Contents 3
    Psychoanalytic view of literature
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
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    Freud on the artist
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    Freud on the work
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    Freud on the response
        Page 26
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    And beside Freud
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    Psychoanalytic view of Shakespeare
        Page 53
    Freud on Shakespeare
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    Psychoanalysis and the man
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    Psychoanalysis and the artist
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    Psychoanalysis and the works
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    Conclusions : psychoanalysis, Shakespeare, and the critical mind
        Page 291
    Conclusions logical
        Page 293
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    Conclusions not so logical
        Page 314
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    Subject index
        Page 399
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    Author index
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    Back Matter
        Page 413
Full Text


Books by Norman N. Holland




Norman N. Holland



/V q"t>

New York Toronto London


Copyright @ 1964, 1966 by Norman N. Holland. All Rights Reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
without permission of the publishers.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 65-27298
First Edition

To Jane
for starting this and much else


This book tries to speak to three different groups: people interested
in psychoanalysis; people interested in Shakespeare; people interested
in humanistic thought in general. Because of this multiplicity, it may
help you in approaching the book to think of it in two interlocked
halves. Roughly one-half of the book consistently develops a con-
sistent argument that you can-and should-read from beginning to
end. As a way of establishing a context for the rest of the book,
Chapters 1-5 state what the psychoanalytic theory of literature
presently is, putting together in one place scattered remarks of Freud,
Kris, and others. Then, the summaries at the ends of Chapters 6,
7, 8, and 9 state briefly how this theory has worked out with Shake-
speare. Finally, Chapters 10 and 11 draw general conclusions, some
about Shakespeare, but others about the way psychoanalysis adds
to modern humanistic thought essential information without which
we cannot understand our relation to Shakespeare or any other
The other half of the book is somewhat encyclopedic. The
larger parts of Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 (that is, all but their con-
clusions) survey, summarize, and evaluate piece by piece everything
psychoanalysis has said about Shakespeare and his works, from the
beginnings of psychoanalysis up to 1964. Rather than read this
Guide Michelin continuously, you may prefer to consult it for par-
ticular plays, poems, or topics that interest you.
Because it has these multiple and ambitious aims, many people
have contributed to this book in many different ways. Indeed, my
indebtednesses double themselves, not only because this book walks
in two fields, but also because it is one of William James' "twice
born." I originally finished the book in the spring of 1960, basing it
upon the kind of "reading knowledge" of psychoanalysis Chapter 1
so sharply criticizes. At that time, through the kindness and interest
of Dr. Joseph Michaels, I had become a nonmedical student at the
Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, and I embarked upon their training
program. One result was that I totally rewrote this book, basing it
upon a different and more valid knowledge of psychoanalysis. Among


the many candidates and faculty members at the Institute who have
helped me, I shall mention only one, Dr. Elizabeth Zetzel, to whom
I am uniquely thankful.
In the other field, academic and literary, I am greatly indebted
to my friends and colleagues who have read all or part of the manu-
script at various stages in its double birth: C. L. Barber, Gordon
Ross Smith, Simon O. Lesser, Irving Singer, Bruce Mazlish, Leonard
F. Manheim, Steven Gilborn, and Max Bluestone. Each of you by
your comments has left this book better than my efforts alone could
have made it. I hope the result justifies your pains.
Both I and the book have profited, too, from the discussions
made possible by the Group for Applied Psychoanalysis and the
literature-and-psychology group of the Modem Language Associa-
tion. M.I.T. and my department have been more than generous in
providing typing, a term off for writing, support for summer re-
search, but, perhaps most important, tolerance and trust. Four li-
braries have graciously helped: the M.I.T. library, the Library of
Harvard College and of the Boston and New York Psychoanalytic
Institutes. I am particularly indebted to Miss Katherine Murphy and
Mrs. Irma Johnson of M.I.T.: Diana herself could have done no
more than they in tracking down and spearing the elusive game here
On the publishing front, I am grateful to my agent and comrade
in arms, Mr. Sterling Lord, for his keen efforts pro bono libri. Shorter
versions of Chapters 5 and 10 appeared in PMLA and The Hudson
Review, respectively, and I am indebted to Mr. John H. Fisher and
Mr. Frederick Morgan, respectively, for permission to present those
essays again here.
My final gratitudes are both personal and familial: to Dr. G.
Henry Katz of Philadelphia who by precept and example opened up
for me the possibilities of psychoanalysis; but most of all to the lady
of the dedication.
To all of you who have helped in these many ways, let me simply
say that I will have done well if I have managed to write a book that
even imperfectly matches your own magnanimity.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
September, 1965


Part I

The psychological revolution/3 Data and Observation in
psychoanalysis/4 Freud as a theorist of literature/7

The artistic "gift": three factors/9 Infantile wishes and adult
experience: the example of Dostoevsky/ll Three factors in artistic
transformation/13 Disguise: condensation and displacement;
projection, reversal, splitting, symbolization/14 The example of the
Medusa's head/16 Artistic technique/18

Art as portrayal of mind/21 "Poetic license"/22 Formalist
concern with detail/23 Intention/24

The artistic "frame"/27 Response to form/28 Form as economy
justified by meaning/29 Second level of involvement:
identification/30 Third level: gratification of unconscious wishes/32
The example of a joke/34 Catharsis and the preconditions for it/37
Psychoanalysis and canons for evaluation/39 Unity, complexity,
intensity/40 Social and moral function of literature/41 The
theme of mutability/43

Other analytic writers on the artist/45 On the work and the
response/46 Ernst Kris/47 Simon O. Lesser/50


Part H


In general/55 Authorship/56 Ambivalence/58 Hamlet/59
Henry IV plays/63 Henry VI plays; Julius Caesar; King Lear/64
Love's Labour's Lost; Macbeth/66 Merchant of Venice; Midsummer
Night's Dream/69 Much Ado; Othello; Pericles/70 Richard II;
Richard III; Romeo and Juliet/71 Sonnets; Tempest; Timon; Twelfth
Night/72 Method of psychoanalytic criticism/73 Schism in
approach; changing emphases/74


Authorship/79 Problems of psychoanalytic biography/80 The
Sonnets and homosexuality/83 Attitudes toward the father as shown
in Hamlet/88; in Julius Caesar/95; in Macbeth/96 Attitudes
toward the mother as shown in Coriolanus/97 Attitudes toward
siblings/98 Analyses of the poet's character from single plays/99;
from several plays/103; from all the works/109 Shakespeare in
diction and imagery/121 Evaluating studies of an author's
personality/126 Two speculations/130 Shakespeare the man:
as psychologically normal/132; as contrasted to Marlowe and
Jonson/137 A guess at Shakespeare's personality/139

Writers using Shakespeare to prove a theory of art/144

Als WeU/152 Antony and Cleopatra/154 As You Like It/156
Comedy of Errors; Coriolanus/157 Cymbeline/162 Hamlet/163
I and H Henry IV (and Falstaff)/206 Henry V/210 Henry VI
plays; Henry VIII/211 Julius Caesar/212 King Lear/214
Macbeth/219 Measure for Measure/230 Merchant of


Venice/231 Merry Wives (and Falstaff)/242 Midsummer Nights
Dream/243 Much Ado; Othello/246 Pericles/258
Richard 11/259 Richard 111/260 Romeo and Juliet/263
Sonnets/267 Taming of the Shrew; Tempest/269 Timon/274
Titus Andronicus/275 Troilus and Cressida/277 Twelfth
Night/278 Venus and Adonis; Winter's Tale/279 Evaluation/282

Part III


Three ways of psychoanalytic criticism: reading toward the author's
mind/294; toward a character's mind/296 The critics' rejection of
"character"/296 Justifications of "character"/302 Degrees of
error about "character"/304 The third "way" of psychoanalytic
criticism/308 Reading toward the audience's mind/309 The
third "way" with Shakespeare/311 The author's retraction/313

The critic's two roles as scientist and teacher/314 The psychoanalytic
critic/316 The literary continuum: author, text, imagined event,
audience's re-creation/317 The two roles of the psychoanalytic
critic/318 The psychological continuum/324 Six Shakespearean
instances: Macbeth/325; Coriolanus/328; Merchant of Venice/330;
Romeo and Juliet/331; Richard 111/334; Tempest/337 Some
hypotheses: catharsis, tragedy, and comedy/338 Five further
instances: Henry IV/339; Julius Caesar/340; Othello/341; King
Lear/343; Hamlet/344 Aims for psychoanalytic criticism: the
continuum of response/347; staging/348; the emotional roots of
humanistic thought/349





[ Part I]




FOR the last sixty years or so a revolution has been going on in our
understanding of literature. Quite simply, it has become possible in
this century to answer with some certainty the traditional puzzles
about literature: What is the nature of inspiration? The creative proc-
ess? How do we respond to literature? How does form work in our
response? Meaning? Identification? How does literature have a moral
effect? Why do we like one work better than another? Why does
Shakespeare seem to tower over all other writers? By no means have
all of these questions been answered, but it has become possible to
answer them, some with certainty, others simply with greater preci-
sion, but in every case the answers can make a stronger claim on our
belief than mere tradition or opinion would, a claim, in fact, ap-
proaching that of science.
Freud's inconspicuous discovery of the unconscious mind at the
end of the nineteenth century bids fair to be the defining event in the
intellectual life of the twentieth. Already, psychoanalysis seems to
have touched everyone from the carefree delinquent on the comer to
the scholar in his study, even when most unwilling to be touched. Bi-
ography, history, literary criticism-whatever baleful light psycho-
analytic theory sheds into the desert places of the human mind, it
sheds on these and other disciplines as well-and not least, the study
of Shakespeare.
In fact, one of the first literary gestures of psychoanalysis was to
point out that Hamlet has an oedipus complex, and, in the course of
time, his oedipus complex has become as common and irritating a
feature of the popular image of Shakespeare as the controversy about
authorship. In general, Shakespeare has been the favorite preserve of
psychoanalytic literary criticism, yet, so far, Shakespeareans and psy-
choanalytic critics have had little to say to one another-and that
often unfriendly. Both parties seem to agree, although for different
reasons, with that friend of Buck Mulligan's who pronounced
Shakespeare "the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost
their balance."

Nothing seems to provoke so angry a response from lovers of liter-
ature as the application of psychoanalysis to the world of letters. As
one cannibal said to the other, "Did you ever eat a psychoanalyst?"
"Eat one!" replied the other. "Did you ever try to clean one!" And,
indeed, some of the more lurid insights of psychoanalysis must seem
an index and obscure prologue to the history of lust and foul
thoughts. Nevertheless, this book is written in hopes that where con-
flict was, there shall insight be-and perhaps even acceptance.
If such an acceptance is to happen, the literary man will have to
meet the psychoanalytic one halfway, for nobody can "prove" the
scientific validity of psychoanalysis (and therefore its relevance to
literature) to an unwilling audience. As Freud wrote one of his first
First they [the opponents of psychoanalysis] write as though we had
never published a dream analysis, a case history or the interpretation of
parapraxes; then if the evidence is forcibly brought to their notice, they
say: "Yes, but that's no proof, that's arbitrary." Just try to produce a
proof to someone who is set against it! There is nothing to be done with
logic... .1
Nor will experiments do much more, Freud wrote an anthologist in
I would like to comply with your wish and make a contribution to your
collection of solutions to scientific problems. But in trying to find some
suitable examples I have encountered strange and almost insuperable
obstacles as though certain procedures that can be expected from other
fields of investigation could not be applied to my subject matter. Perhaps
the reason for this is that within the methods of our work there is no
place for the kind of experiment made by physicists and physiologists.2
One must take a different tack in understanding psychoanalysis. At
best, argument or experiment might convince someone of the validity
of psychoanalysis as an abstract theory or philosophical system, but
that is not the important thing.
"The teachings of psychoanalysis," Freud wrote, "are based upon
an incalculable number of observations and experiences and no one
who has not repeated these observations upon himself or upon others
is in a position to arrive at an independent judgment of it," 3 and that
caveat, it seems to me, should apply not only to rejection, but also
acceptance. It does, however, make psychoanalysis sound like a cult
to be believed or disbelieved, not by verification, but by indoctrina-
tion or initiation-and yet not so. Psychoanalysis is that science
which tries to speak objectively about subjective states, specifically,
subjective states resisted but arrived at in the psychoanalytic inter-


view. "The only subject matter of psychoanalysis is the mental proc-
esses of human beings and it is only in human beings that it can be
studied," wrote Freud.
As with any science, one can only judge its theoretical constructs if
one has some knowledge of the data those constructs and generaliza-
tions are designed to explain, in this instance, subjective states, par-
ticularly those we are most resistant to. To find the real validity of
psychoanalysis, one must listen beneath the theoretical grace notes,
recognizing that psychoanalysis is the systematizing of a very special
kind of data obtained in a very special way. The unique, nonrepeata-
ble, two-person intimacy of patient and analyst makes up both the
data and the observational procedure of classical analysis. The pa-
tient brings to this dyadicc" relationship his free associations. The
analyst provides, as they seem appropriate, his interpretations on the
basis of prior experience generalized as theory. When his interpreta-
tions are sound, they will modify the free associations coming from
the patient and they will either confirm or call for modification of
theory. Thus, there is a feedback relationship between patient and
analyst. In so far as the patient changes, one speaks of therapy. Con-
versely, in so far as interpretation does or does not confirm the
analyst's experience, one speaks of theory, and that part of the pa-
tient's experience which becomes part of the analyst's thereby takes
its place in sixty years of such data derived from hundreds of analysts
and thousands of patients. In addition, of course, to this basic source
of data, psychoanalytic theory has drawn from myth, folklore,
anthropology, literature, and even experimental psychology.
From all this data Freud and the analysts after him have erected
(not without a number of false starts and changes in direction) a
hierarchy of propositions within the theory. We can distinguish five
levels: the data of observation; individual interpretations to patients;
clinical generalizations (for example, phenomena that recur with a
certain age group, impact of a certain experience, and so on); clinical
theory (dealing with such concepts as regression, return of the re-
pressed, defense, and the like); and, finally, metapsychological gener-
alizations, such as psychic energy, Eros, or the death instinct. These
last, Freud noted, were "not the bottom but the top of the whole
structure, and they can be replaced and discarded without damaging
Most unfortunately, when psychoanalysis gets bandied about in
intellectual circles, this sensible, scientific procedure is turned topsy-
turvy to produce a Vulgirfreudismus. Instead of data generating
theory, theory generates data. The intellectual Freudian typically
begins with a "reading knowledge" of Freud (neglecting other

analysts, despite the great importance of ego psychology, largely
developed after Freud's death). He parades the most speculative and
tentative of Freud's abstractions from data (sometimes even after
they have been abandoned as valid constructs). Then, he treats them
as moral philosophy, aesthetics, theory of culture, philosophy of his-
tory, or what have you. The "death instinct," for example, seems to
have a magnetic attraction for this kind of treatment. It is usually
used as developed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) without
the important modifications Freud felt it necessary to make in 1932
(New Introductory Lectures, XXXII).6 By 1932 Freud "places" the
death instinct as a construct to bring together certain clinical patterns,
particularly "moral masochism!' and "the negative therapeutic reac-
tion." Many analysts do not accept the construct of a death instinct at
all. Those who do, recognize it is a construct very far removed from
clinical data, perhaps directly manifest only in the need for rest. "The
instincts are mythical beings," wrote Freud, "superb in their indefi-
niteness," but somehow in Vulgarfreudismus a "silent" instinct can
explain, say, the rise of capitalism.
Such pseudo-philosophical legerdemain, not unlike using Einstein
to prove moral relativity, greatly adds to the confusion about an al-
ready difficult subject. It serves as the latest way of avoiding the pain-
ful truths of psychoanalytic data by transforming them into innocu-
ous philosophy which can be accepted or rejected simply as an act of
taste. Thus, one has the peculiar spectacle of a most distinguished
literary critic using Freud to analyze Shakespeare's tragedies, Jung
for the romances, and Adler for the histories. It is as though he were
choosing psychologies like pickles in a barrel, according to whether
they are sweet or sour.
Acceptance without a sense of the data of psychoanalysis is no
acceptance at al. What is needed is an understanding in the pulse. As
one of Ernest Jones's patients, in a moment of sudden insight, ex-
claimed, "I knew that Freud's theories were true, but I did not know
they were so true!" Freud is quite correct to insist that either ac-
ceptance or rejection must be based on an experience of the data of
psychoanalysis-one must either analyze or be analyzed. Unfortu-
nately, not many of us are in a position to do either. The next best
thing is to read, not Freud's theoretical papers, but the voluminous
literature of case histories, both by Freud and by others. A few hours
spent with the tragedies and satyr plays that make up psychoanalytic
practice will do more than anything else except personal experience
to give a feeling for psychoanalytic concepts in action and thus to
avoid the empty use of psychoanalysis as a theory cut off from data.
Such a feeling is particularly necessary for using psychoanalysis to
look at literature.


The psychoanalytic view of anything, I suppose, begins with Freud,
but rarely ends there. For Freud, "Some rationalistic, or perhaps
analytic, turn of mind in me," he wrote, "rebels against being moved
by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that
affects me." It is not surprising, then, that he was led down the
corridors of literary criticism. It is important to remember, however,
that his critical excursions into literature and the arts were sidelines
to his psychoanalytic explorations, that he used the analysis of litera-
ture mostly to strengthen the clinical data he had already gotten for
his psychoanalytic hypotheses. For that reason he did not work up a
theory of literature as such, and his literary insights remain scattered
among his nonliterary writings. People, as a result, have often mis-
understood or underrated his contributions, even though many of
them coincide with ideas of long and distinguished lineage in literary
theory. (For example, Freud's psychological insights do not over-
throw the traditional view of catharsis but rather deepen and enrich it
by giving it a scientific underpinning.)
Freud's literary remarks are scattered, and therefore finding in
them a coherent theory of literature calls for assembling a series of
scattered quotations. The late Ernst Kris, himself the most brilliant of
psychoanalytic literary theorists after Freud, has criticized this
"quotation method" as creating a "static system," as not showing
"the gradual unfolding of Freud's ideas." 9 Were we concerned pri-
marily with the growth of psychoanalytic theory, Kris's objection
would bite. It would indeed be foolish to discuss any aspect of
psychoanalytic theory on the basis of scattered quotations taken
without regard for date and such major changes in theory as Freud's
shift in 1926 from a "toxicological" to a signal theory of anxiety, the
development after 1920 of the structural constructs of superego, ego,
and id, or the five stages in the theory of instincts. But we are con-
cerned, not with psychoanalytic theory, but with literature. Looked at
from that limited point of view, Freud's ideas about literature simply
do not change very much because they are like his ideas about
dreams, so close to the raw data of psychoanalysis. The general the-
ory of psychoanalysis changes and unfolds around a relatively un-
changing approach to literature (as we shall see). While different
periods in the development of psychoanalysis create different lights
and stresses within that established approach, Freud's basic idea of
art remains the same.
For Freud, art is "an activity intended to allay ungratified wishes
-in the first place in the creative artist himself and subsequently in
his audience or spectators." 1o Freud thus stands with those who
(like, say, John Dewey) see the audience's experience of art as the re-
creation of the artist's activity. Essentially, what Freud adds is, first,

that art for both artist and audience gratifies wishes, and, second, that
the wishes gratified are those (both unconscious and preconscious)
discovered by psychoanalysis.
Broadly speaking, we can distinguish three attitudes toward the
work of literature as such. To the classical or neoclassical critic, both
writer and reader were to refer the text to nature: "Art imitates na-
ture" or art is a "just representation of general nature" (Johnson).
The Romantics and pre-Romantics, influenced by Cartesian skepti-
cism and the psychologies that arose from the British empirical philos-
ophies, tended to translate the objective truth of classical "nature"
into a fluctuating, subjective "experience": "imagination" and "origi-
nality" became the plus words. In its extreme form, say, in a writer
like Poe, this Romantic conception renders art mere self-expression,
and "the good critic is he who narrates the adventures of his soul
among masterpieces" (Anatole France). The modern or formalist or
"New" critic emerges as a reaction against this impressionism, but he
is still within the Romantic tradition. The text in literature becomes
an end in itself, removed from "nature" and author alike.
Freud, in effect, draws on all three of these traditions in the three
key essays in which he deals with the three separate stages in the
artistic process and in which his "theory of literature" most clearly
emerges. Freud is primarily a Romantic in his description of poetic
creation as a sophisticated kind of daydreaming in "Creative Writers
and Day-Dreaming" (1908). He seems almost a "New Critic" when
he considers the work of art in isolation ("The Moses of Michel-
angelo" [1914]). Finally, he becomes Aristotelian when he describes
the cathartic effect of literature in "Psychopathic Characters on the
Stage," not published until 1942, but written in 1905 or 1906. All
three of these essays he wrote before the major changes in psycho-
analytic theory of the twenties and thirties, which would have pro-
duced shifts in emphasis and terminology but would not alter this
basic literary frame of reference. Within it, Freud's remarks, scat-
tered through all his work, elaborate a detailed and comprehensive
view of the artistic process.
His approach falls quite naturally into three parts as it applies,
first, to the artist, second, to the work of art itself, third, to the audi-
ence. It is in these three segments that we will consider Freud's
"theory of literature" in order to place the psychoanalytic study of
Shakespeare in its proper context. More generally (or at least more
ambitiously), in order to see in the conclusions to this book the direc-
tions it can and should take, we need first to see what the psycho-
analytic theory and practice of literary criticism presently is.


Freud on the Artist

WHEN he speaks of the artist, Freud is very much in the Romantic
tradition, seeing art as self-expression. The artist, in effect, fantasies.
As Freud says, "Mental work is linked to some current impression,
some provoking occasion in the present which has been able to
arouse one of the subject's major wishes. From there it harks back to
a memory of an earlier experience (usually an infantile one) in which
this wish was fulfilled; and it now creates a situation relating to the
future which represents a fulfillment of the wish." 1 This, however, is
only ordinary mental work or fantasying. If we add in the special at-
tributes of the writer, the fact that poeta nascitur non fit, or his use of
artistic techniques, we can state Freud's notion of artistic creation as
a kind of equation: the finished work of art is a function of four
"variables": (1) the artist's natural endowment qua artist; (2) as
an individual, his innate drives and infantile wishes, which live yet in
his unconscious, both those particular to him and those he shares
with all men; (3) the writer's immediate experiences and impres-
sions; (4) his artistic techniques for reworking his personal experi-
Freud had a good deal to say about the first of these four "varia-
bles," the artistic constitution-although much of what he said
consisted of saying he had nothing to say. Nevertheless, although
psychoanalysis offers no final recipe for producing artistic talent
eugenically, it does suggest some of the ingredients. First, Freud
found in the childhood of the artist especially strong instinctual needs
of the same amiably polymorphous or perverse type as in any ordi-
nary person's childhood.3 The unique factor for the artist would seem
to be the sheer quantity of libido or energy; most artists, in other
words, are lively, energetic people. Balanced against this larger-than-
usual amount of drive are the normal processes of growing up: these
impulses are either frustrated by reality,4 or redirected through the
artist's "extraordinary capacity for sublimating the primitive in-
stincts" 5 or suppressed and reversed by reaction formation 0 or over-
compensation. Of these three endowments, the artist or writer seems

to have a special ability to sublimate. According to Freud, he seems
also to have "a certain degree of laxity in the repressions which are
decisive for a conflict," that is, the neurotic conflict which the artistic
sublimation has in whole or in part relieved.' It is this "laxity of re-
pression" which gives the writer or artist the sensitivity to perceive
the hidden impulses in the minds of others and the courage to let his
own unconscious speak.8
As Lionel Trilling has pointed out in "Art and Neurosis," these
remarks about the artist's special ability to sublimate and his flexibil-
ity of repression are the most striking of Freud's insights into art.
They make art a thoroughly normal-even normalizing-activity.
Repeatedly Freud said that art was an alternative to neurosis rather
than an outgrowth of it. The "sickness" or "health" of a work of art
stands collateral to, does not depend on, the sickness or health of the
artist. Freud devoted an entire essay, "Creative Writers and Day-
Dreaming," to the thesis that the prototype of literature is normal,
ordinary child's play. In most people, the impulse to play grows up
into the practice of daydreaming; the writer simply makes a career of
it, and we bless him for doing so. Art and literature are parts in the
whole continuum of activities which psychoanalysis identifies as wish
fulfilling: dreams and daydreams; parapraxes, such as slips of the
tongue or lapses of memory; various neurotic symptom formations;
and sublimations such as occupations or hobbies. Thus, "Dreams in-
vented by writers will often yield to analysis in the same way as genu-
ine ones." *
In short, art and literature are perfectly normal-or at least as
normal as anything else:
We no longer think that health and illness, normal and neurotic people,
are to be sharply distinguished from each other.... Today we know that
neurotic symptoms are structures which are substitutes for certain achieve-
ments of repression that we have to carry out in the course of our de-
velopment from a child to a civilized human being. We know, too, that
we all produce such substitutive structures, and that it is only their num-
ber, intensity, and distribution which justify us in using the practical con-
cept of illness... .1
Freud found in general that the highest productions of culture assume
forms similar to those of the various neuroses: imaginative art resem-
bles hysteric fantasies; religious ceremonials and prohibitions look
like the symptoms of obsessional neurotics; and "the delusions of
paranoics have an unpalatable external similarity and internal kinship
to the systems of our philosophers." All human activities, in other
words, stem from the mind, and the mind is a continuum; there is no
sharp division between "higher" and "lower" activities or sick and

healthy. "Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alex-
ander, till he find it stopping a bunghole?"
One important conclusion from this view is that folk art, myths,
mirchen, or such ritual forms as early tragedy stem from the same
root as personal artistic creations-the wishes are simply those of a
whole people instead of an individual writer.12 Not only is the artist
no sicker than the "normal" person; he is perhaps less so; and also he
is restored to his primal role as the mythmaker.
Happy as these consequences may be, they do not tell us about the
artistic constitution. Freud mentions three factors: an unusual
amount of drive; an extraordinary capacity for sublimation; and a
special laxity of repression. These, however, only push the question
back a step. That is, where did they come from? Freud repeatedly said
he didn't know, and psychoanalysis did not provide an answer. For
example, in 1910, after defining Leonardo's special tendency to re-
pression and sublimation, he concluded:
Instincts and their transformations are at the limit of what is discernible
by psychoanalysis. From that point it gives place to biological research.
We are obliged to look for the source of the tendency to repression and
the capacity for sublimation in the organic foundations of character on
which the mental structure is only afterwards erected.'
But, in 1930, Freud wrote: "An artist's joy in creating, in giving his
phantasies body, or a scientist's in solving problems or discovering
truths, has a special quality which we shall certainly one day be able
to characterize in metapsychological terms." 14 Whether or not he
meant by this remark that he would be able to discover the source of
the artist's special gifts is a good question.
As for the next two "variables" in the statement of the process of
artistic creation, the infantile wishes and the adult experiences (which
the artist's skills mold together into art), since these two factors must
necessarily vary from one work of art to another, from one artist to
another, Freud has little to say about them in general terms. We must
get down to cases, or, at any rate, one case. The writer Freud
analyzed with most care qua writer is Dostoevsky.'
Writing in 1927, Freud concluded that Dostoevsky had been born
with an unusual intensity of emotional life, a predisposition to bisex-
uality, and an "unanalysable" artistic endowment. In infancy, Freud
deduced, the novelist had had the oedipal impulses common to all
men, to get rid of the father and possess the mother, but in Dos-
toevsky's case, he said, the matter was complicated by a tendency to
bisexuality. Dostoevsky did not resolve his oedipus complex in the
ordinary way; that is, he did not simply repress the wish to take his
father's place because he feared his father's retaliation. Rather, be-

cause of his bisexual disposition, Dostoevsky must have partly
wanted to put off the retaliation by identifying with the mother and
becoming the passive object of his father's physical love. But to do
so, the boy would have had to become a woman, be castrated, and so
the fear of castration ruled that solution out, too. Then two factors
were repressed: the oedipal wish to get rid of the father and have the
mother; second, the wish to be a woman to the father. The end result
of such a development is that the ego, the developing rational self,
became passive with respect to the incorporated influence of his fa-
ther, the conscience or superego; in other words, Dostoevsky would
have a great need for punishment, a great need to suffer the pangs of
guilt. Events in Dostoevsky's youth must have reinforced the infantile
situation Freud infers from Dostoevsky's adult behavior. In particu-
lar, the violent temper of the senior Dostoevsky would have increased
the boy's fears and his tendency to adopt a feminine, masochistic
position with respect to his father. Thus, Freud is seeing Dostoevsky
in terms of the defensive and structural considerations that assumed
importance after 1926 (not simply in terms of unconscious impulses
Freud is quite willing to concede that his description is unsavouryy
and incredible," but insists that general psychoanalytic experience
"has put these relations... beyond the reach of doubt." Freud's evi-
dence in the particular case of Dostoevsky comes from his biography,
the patterns of his adult behavior, in particular, the novelist's de-
fenses against the forbidden behavior. It is clear enough that
Dostoevsky had an exaggerated sense of guilt. He was also given to
exaggerated acts of kindness (attempts to act out a denial, Freud
says, of aggressive impulses). The latent homosexuality turns up in
the importance of male friendships to the writer and in his strangely
forgiving attitude toward rivals in love (particularly his first wife's
lover). Similarly, Freud argues, Dostoevsky's epilepsy should be un-
derstood as an identification with the dead father. In his early youth
Dostoevsky suffered from a great fear of death and deathlike seizures.
These, Freud says, constituted an identification with the father he
wished dead; that is, "you wanted to kill your father and become
him-now you are your dead father, and your father is killing you!"
The deathlike seizures satisfied both repressed wishes, the wish to be
the father, and the wish to be the passive object of his love. These
seizures eventually became epilepsy, a development undoubtedly
heightened by the fact that Dostoevsky's father was murdered when
the writer was eighteen. Freud sees Dostoevsky's later political con-
servatism as another strategy to abase himself before the father, now
the father in his role as ruler, the Czar. Similarly, Dostoevsky's wish


to play the part of Christ means, unconsciously, a wish to be the fa-
ther's victim and also to be the father. His compulsive gambling is
onanistic: both an acting out of the impulse to "play" and a defense
against it, busying the hands, the defense backed up by the terrible
fear of the father.
In The Brothers Karamazov, under the religious, political, and in-
tellectual concerns of the adult novelist, Freud finds the child-old
problem, the central motif in Dostoevsky's emotional life which
Freud inferred from the biographical data: a wish to kill the father
and suffer for it. In the novel, the wish is projected away from the
hero Dmitri onto another "son," Smerdyakov, although the real
criminal reveals himself through the murderer's epilepsy: it is as
though Dostoevsky "were seeking to confess that the epileptic, the
neurotic, in himself was a parricide." Because the murder itself is
projected onto another, the accompanying motif of sexual rivalry
can be openly expressed (as in Hamlet). Details of the son's child-
hood crises with his father turn up elsewhere in the novel, for example,
in the defense attorney's description of psychology as a double
weapon-we would say "a knife that cuts both ways"; the Russian
idiom is "a cudgel with two ends." The image is, as it were, bisexual
and the intellectual content, Freud points out, is: it is not the actual
guilt that counts but the feeling of guilt-exactly Dostoevsky's prob-
lem. Similarly, in the scene in which Father Zossima kneels to Dmitri,
he, in effect, identifies Dmitri as the Redeemer, the man who takes on
himself the guilt of others (particularly Dostoevsky).
Freud gave no more clues to what psychic matters the novel ex-
pressed than these, but his method of analysis is clear enough. From
the adult experience and behavior of the writer he extrapolates to his
infantile and hereditary situations, using whatever evidence he can
get, trying to fit it all together into a coherent picture of effect and
cause. The artist himself, or his biography, at least, appears as the
first three variables in Freud's explanation of artistic creation: artistic
constitution, infantile wishes, and the artist's experience. To get from
these first three, biographical, variables to the work of art itself,
Freud takes into account the fourth variable: artistic transformation
or disguise.
Aristotle saw this fourth variable as central to the nature of art:
How is it that artistic productions "do not spare the spectators (for
instance, in tragedy) the most painful experiences and can yet be felt
by them as highly enjoyable?" Freud's first three variables do not
sharply distinguish art from dream; what does? Artistic works, Freud
concluded, differ "from the asocial, narcissistic products of dreaming
in that they [are] calculated to arouse sympathetic interest in other

people and [are] able to evoke and to satisfy the same unconscious
wishful impulses in them, too. Besides this, they [make] use of the
perceptual pleasure of formal beauty as what I have called an
'incentive bonus.' 17 Freud describes this transformation of the day-
dream variously, sometimes as comprising two changes, sometimes,
in his fuller remarks, as comprising three. First, the artist disguises
and elaborates his fantasy, a special part of this disguise being the
removal of its egotistic quality. Second, the artist molds his material
so that it expresses the ideas of his fantasy and involves his audience
in them. Third, he makes the work of art conform to the aesthetic
"laws" of formal beauty.
Of these three transformations of daydream to art, Freud had
much to say about the first and relatively little to say about the other
two. Freud's interest centered on the artist's method of disguising the
wish because that, he said, took place by the prelogical laws of uncon-
scious thought, primary-process thinking. In other words, the artist's
disguising of his wish fulfillment poses a psychological problem
analogous to defensive mechanisms in general. The other two factors
in transforming dream to art, the artist's involving his audience or
obeying the canons of his art, these, Freud seems to have felt, do not
truly fall within the province of psychology.
Freud gave two very full and elaborate descriptions of these pre-
logical, primary processes of disguise or defense, in Chapter 6 of The
Interpretation of Dreams and with more immediate relevance to
artistic problems, in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. It
is, of course, from the study of defenses that psychoanalysis took its
new direction after Freud changed his theory of anxiety and devel-
oped the structural hypothesis of id, ego, and superego in the early
twenties. Nevertheless, in discussing works of art, he tended to use,
not the elaborated defenses of Anna Freud's The Ego and the Mecha-
nisms of Defense (1936), but rather his original formulation in The
Interpretation of Dreams (1900) in terms of two kinds of disguise:
condensation and displacement. By displacement, we transfer intense
feelings from their real objects onto less revealing substitutes. In con-
densation, we form fresh unities out of elements our conscious and
logical minds would keep separate. Together, these two mechanisms
result in dreams being overdeterminedd." That is, a single element in
the dream as we remember it (the manifest dream) will express sev-
eral elements in the latent thoughts giving rise to the dream. Con-
versely, a single latent thought will find expression in several elements
of the manifest dream.
Thus, condensation plays a key role in the language of literature:
most of Freud's examples of the process occur in Jokes and Their

Relation to the Unconscious-descriptions of particular lines in
Shakespeare or Heine or Goethe. He does mention, too, in his analy-
sis of Jensen's Gradiva the condensation involved in some of the
hero's speeches which have double meanings.'8 Condensation, to the
extent it is confined to language, corresponds roughly with what a
literary critic would call "ambiguity," or, if the condensation is sharp
and sudden, "wit." Condensation, however, is not limited to the lan-
guage of literature. As in dreams, plot elements and characters usu-
ally express more than one element in the pattern of wishes and
defenses giving rise to the finished work. For example, Old Karama-
zov is not only "the father," but also a sexual rival; still further, he is
the living embodiment of a harsh, irrational source of guilt (the
superego or, more properly, the author's feelings toward it), the guilt
itself being represented in the novel as a money debt.
Condensation is basically a contracting, particularly suited to
focusing intense feelings on a single image, person, phrase, or event.
Displacement operates in the direction of expansion, and hence is
perhaps easier to see in the development from impulse to work of art.
In his analyses of particular works, Freud tends to speak almost en-
tirely in terms of one or another kind of displacement, that is, the
transfer of attributes and emotions associated with one thing onto
another. He seems to distinguish (in his analyses of works of art)
four major kinds of displacement, depending on the qualities stressed
in the object to which the transfer is made.
If the important thing about the object displaced onto is that it is
outside of, separate from, the object displaced from, Freud speaks of
projection. Typically, an internal impulse becomes a perception of the
external world. For example, in Oedipus Rex, the hero's (axiomatic)
wish to kill his father and marry his mother becomes the prediction
of an oracle. In Hamlet, the villain acts out the hero's oedipal wish.
In The Brothers Karamazov, the villain, not the hero, carries out part
of the hero's oedipal wish, namely, to kill his father.19
If the important attribute of the thing displaced onto is that it is the
opposite of the thing displaced from, Freud speaks of reversal or rep-
resentation through the opposite. For example, Freud describes the
role of the chorus in Greek tragedy as a reversal. Originally, he
argues (on the basis of Andrew Lang's and E. B. Tylor's now-
obsolete comparative mythology), tragedy was the ritual re-enacting
of a primal crime in which the horde of brothers slew the father. By
reversal, "one might even say, as the product of a refined hypocrisy,"
the slain father becomes the suffering (and rebelling) hero; the horde
of brothers becomes the chorus who advise against the crime.20
If the essential factor in the displacement is the breaking up of one

thing into several, Freud speaks of decomposition or splitting. He
mentions it in one of his earliest literary analyses, that of a story by
C. F. Meyer in which the good and bad aspects of both mother and
father are split off, displaced onto four figures, two for each parent.21
The same thing takes place in E. T. A. Hoffmann's tale, "The Sand-
Man": the father is split into a bad father who threatens to blind the
hero and a good father who intercedes for him.22 Again, in the early
Greek tragedies: at first there was only the hero and the chorus.
"Later, a second and third actor were added, to play as counterpart
to the hero and as characters split off from him." 23 There are so
many examples of splitting, I suppose, because nothing will quite so
quickly elaborate a simple wish into an elaborate work of fiction as
the doubling or splitting of characters.
The only form of artistic disguise (or defense) of which there are
more examples analyzed in Freud's works is symbolization, which,
for the purpose of this somewhat oversimple classification, we can
consider a displacement from one thing to another based on a physi-
cal or psychic similarity between the two. Phallic symbols are fairly
notorious, for example, Autolycus'
Pins and poking-sticks of steel;
What maids lack from head to heel,
but there really are other kinds, too; the examples Freud gives in his
works are legion. In Jensen's Gradiva, for example, an archaeological
past symbolizes one's own infancy." Leonardo depicts his mother's
supposedly ambivalent feelings toward him as an enigmatic smile.23
In Oedipus Rex and in various spooky tales, blinding, particularly
tearing out the eyeballs, symbolizes castration.20
Freud's neat little explication of the story of the Medusa's head
will serve to suggest the ways symbols come together to serve multi-
ple functions, that is, are overdeterminedd." The legend tells of a
woman with snakes for hair, the sight of her face being so horrible
that any man who looks upon her turns to stone; even when the head
is cut off, it has this terrible power, as when it is worn on a shield.
Obviously enough, the legend concerns sight, particularly horrifying
sight, and things being cut off. Freud links the story to the child's hor-
ror, as he "sees" the facts which put an end to his earliest state of
sexual naivet6. That is, at first the child (boy or girl) believes that all
adults are physically masculine. At some point in development he will
see an adult woman's genitals (usually his mother's), and the sight
will terrify him. He interprets her lack of masculinity as a threat that
his own could be taken away. Some people are castrated-I could be,
too. The legend, Freud says, serves the wish to avoid this sight-or to

master it. The taboo against looking suggests that the Medusa is
taboo, thus a symbol for the mother.
The frightening event is handled by "displacement upward" (trans-
ferring emotionally charged events below the waist to relatively
safer territory above the waist). The face serves, he says, as a symbol
for the genitals, and the terror is displaced onto the snaky hair, which
in turn symbolizes the body hair around the genitals, thought of as
biting or stinging. On another level the snakes are a wish-fulfilling
reversal. That is, they are phallic symbols, and the fact that there are
so many of them says, in effect, "Not only is the woman (or mother)
not without a phallus; she has lots of them." The Medusa's victims
become as stiff as a stone. On one level this symbolic erection says in
a mythic way, "See? I still have a phallus despite the terrifying fact
that some people don't." On another level, becoming a stone symbol-
izes castration-"I become dead; I become the now-dead part of me
which has been taken away."
Lurid as Freud's descriptions of unconscious contents are, once one
begins to look, one can find similar contents in work of art after work
of art. One finds, too, the same processes of defense or disguise-
condensation, displacement, symbolization-all rendering the lurid
wish palatable, eliminating its personal and egotistic quality.
As for the other two ways, besides disguise, for transforming day-
dream into art, Freud had little to say about them. The second, the
artist's molding his material into an objective reality in which the
audience becomes involved, also serves to remove some of the egotis-
tic quality of the daydream by simply objectifying it-although at the
same time sharply distinguishing it from "real" reality.28 Yet he, the
artist, and we, the audience, give to this fake all the emotional impact
of actuality. The reason apparently is, Freud implies, that both he
and we regress in art to that stage of magic or infantile thinking (the
"omnipotence of thoughts") in which wishes, conscious or uncon-
scious, control reality-we wish things into being; we wish the work of
art, like the sleeping beauty, into life.29 Furthermore, within this
merely psychic reality, "the storyteller has a peculiarly directive
power over us; by means of the moods he can put us into he is able to
guide the current of our emotions, to dam it up in one direction and
make it flow in another, and he often obtains a great variety of effects
from the same material. All this is nothing new, and has doubtless
long since been fully taken into account by students of aesthetics." 30
This dry and wily reference to scholars takes us to the third factor
in transforming daydream to art. With a truly Germanic faith in
wissenschaft, Freud calls it "obeying the laws of beauty." The
writer "bribes us by the offer of a purely formal, that is, aesthetic

pleasure in the presentation of his phantasies." This formal pleasure
Freud terms an "incentive-bonus" or "fore-pleasure"; 32 he is using a
theory of G. Th. Fechner's. Earlier, he had applied it to the formal
appeal of wit which triggers the deeper unconscious release, and he
had applied it, too, to sexual activity." Yet he did not try to analyze
the operation of any of these so hopefully regarded "laws."
Freud was always careful to spell out what he considered within
psychoanalysis' province and what was not, sometimes running to ex-
tremes as in his blanket caveat at the beginning of the essay on
Dostoevsky: "Unfortunately, before the problem of the creative
artist, analysis must lay down its arms"-the rest of his thoughts on
art hardly bear that one out. As we have seen, however, he more
or less exempted two factors in artistic creation from psycho-
analytic investigation: the artistic gift and artistic technique. What
psychoanalysis could tell us, he said, was the way the author's
personality determined the characteristics of a work of art, the factors
that awakened his creative genius, the subject matter it was destined
to choose.84 In addition, psychoanalysis suggested the function of
the various genres in the psychic economy of artist and audience
(lyric poetry giving vent to intense feelings exhibitionistically; epic
enabling us to feel the triumph of a great hero; tragedy letting us play
the triumphing rebel and then-masochistically-triumph in defeat
as well).8'
Essentially, literature allows the ungifted reader to re-experience,
re-enjoy the more gifted writer's act of creation; the writer's act of
creation and the reader's of re-creation are parallel. Freud sees the
process of artistic creation as involving four factors working together.
The first, naturally enough, is the artist himself, his constitution and
personality, in which four things are crucial: a strong libido; strong
forces of repression (today we would say "defense"); an "extraordi-
nary" capacity for sublimation; and an unusual "laxity" of repres-
sion. The second and third factors in artistic creation are the experi-
ences of the artist (either infantile or contemporary with the work of
art) and his infantile wishes which give experience an emotional
force. Contemporary experiences, naturally, vary greatly from artist
to artist. Infantile wishes (primal scene fantasies, castration fears,
oedipal wishes, and the like) will vary, too, but not so greatly from
individual to individual--indeed, their relative constancy makes art
possible by enabling the artist's unconscious to speak the same lan-
guage as his audience.
These first three factors in artistic creation set it in the continuum
of man's wish-fulfilling activities, everything from neurotic symptoms
to philosophies, but, in particular, artistic creation is like playing or

daydreaming. It is the fourth factor, defensive disguise (in more aes-
thetic terms, form), that sets artistic creations off from the rest of our
wish fulfillments. With his constitutional gifts, the writer transforms
his experiences and his infantile wishes (which persist in his adult
unconscious) into a fantasy which, in turn, he transforms into art by
three more or less simultaneous processes. First, the artist, the shape-
shifter, disguises the wish, hiding its egotistic character by such non-
logical primary processes as condensation and displacement (projec-
tion, reversal, splitting, symbolization). Second, he embodies the
wish in a sensuous form, a conventionally accepted reality that offers
something with which the audience can identify or otherwise become
involved. Third, the artist works out this sensuous, conventional rep-
resentation according to the "laws of formal beauty."
Of these three processes of transformation Freud felt that psycho-
analysis could deal with the artist's subject matter (i.e., his uncon-
scious wishes) and with the genre he chose, that is, the first and
second of the three. Sometimes, though, Freud spoke as though
psychoanalysis could contribute to the understanding of the third as
well, the "laws of formal beauty" (as in the conscious mechanisms of
jokes). Similarly, Freud sometimes excluded the artistic gift from
psychoanalytic investigation (particularly the capacity for sublima-
tion); sometimes he did not.
For Freud, then, the one basic, unchanging, irreducible factor in
art is the artist himself, his impulses and his disguises of or defenses
against them. It is fitting that Freud's clearest expression of the point
came in 1931 in two charming little notes to Yvette Guilbert and her
husband, "Uncle Max." The celebrated disease was about to write
her life story, explaining the secret of her acting as the "transpar-
ency" of her own ego, her ability to obliterate her own personality
and replace it with an imagined character. "I rather suspect," Freud
gently suggested, "that an element of the opposite mechanism is in-
dispensable ... that one's own person is not obliterated but that parts
of it-repressed desires and traits that haven't had a chance to
develop-are employed to represent the chosen character and in this
way find expression and give it the stamp of realistic truth." And he
confirmed his explanation with an analysis of that "especially simple,
transparent case," Charlie Chaplin, playing always the one part, a
"weak, poor, helpless, clumsy boy," thus compensating for his own
grim youth.
It would be possible, in an age reacting against Romanticism so
sharply in so many ways as ours is, to look down on Freud's concep-
tion of the creative process as "mere" self-expression. Today, in liter-
ary history, we stress contemporary conventions, intellectual back-

ground, and social concerns as "influences"; in criticism, myths and
archetypes funnel through a seemingly helpless poet, and the intricate
interrelations of theme and image in the finished work are to be con-
sidered utterly separate from the artist's "intention." While these
statements of the artist's passivity are all at least partly correct, they
need to be balanced by the psychoanalytic view (demonstrably cor-
rect) in which art is, in the deepest sense, the artist's making. Freud's
view of the creative process makes art both product and proof of the
dignity of man.


Freud on the Work

FOR Freud, in discussing art and literature, the artist counted most. He
had much less to say about the audience or about the work in isola-
tion (as, say, a New Critic would consider it). Psychoanalysis, after
all, deals with minds, and in art or literature the most obvious mind
to look at is the artist's. Nevertheless, Freud showed on occasion a
modem critic's formalist interest in the significance of textual details
and at other times a quite classical interest in the work of art as a just
representation of general nature and the poet as vates or seer. "Crea-
tive writers," he wrote, placing himself on the side of "the ancients,"
are valuable allies and their evidence is to be prized highly, for they are
apt to know a whole host of things between heaven and earth of which
our philosophy has not yet let us dream. In their knowledge of the mind
they are far in advance of us everyday people, for they draw upon
sources which we have not yet opened up for science.'
What prompted this remark was the fact that writers (in this case
Wilhelm Jensen) attribute to dreams the same importance that
psychoanalysts do.
Similarly, writers "for thousands of years" have depicted for us the
reasons people fall in love with the people they do: "The writer can
indeed draw on certain qualities which fit him to carry out such a
task: above all, on a sensitivity that enables him to perceive the hid-
den impulses in the minds of other people, and the courage to let his
own unconscious speak." a To analyze "Some Character-Types Met
with in Psycho-Analytic Work," Freud turned not "to cases of clini-
cal observation, but... to figures which great writers have created
from the wealth of their knowledge of the mind," Richard III, Lady
Macbeth, and Ibsen's Rebecca.3 As these quotations should suggest,
Freud even when he looks at the work of art by itself looks again for
a mind, in this case, not the artist's, but the character's; one could
instance almost indefinitely Freud's and later psychoanalytic critics'
uses of literary characters to get at traits of human nature in general.
At the same time, however, Freud insists that these links between
the artist's work and the classical critics' "nature" are weak links, not

to be trusted. "One has scarcely the right to expect a poet to present
us with clinically perfect examples of mental illness," he wrote to a
correspondent.4 What lessens "the evidential value" of the artist's in-
sights are "the privileges of what is known as 'poetic license.'"
"Writers," Freud not unreasonably notes, "are under the necessity to
produce intellectual and aesthetic pleasure, as well as certain emo-
tional effects. For this reason they cannot reproduce the stuff of
reality unchanged, but must isolate portions of it, remove disturbing
associations, tone down the whole, and fill in what is missing." 5
Even, or perhaps especially, in portraying character, the writer must
distort. In reality, people show a complication of motives, overdeter-
mination, a combination of mental activities, while the writer "sim-
plifies and abstracts when he appears in the character of a
psychologist." 6
The Master seems to have come to a contradiction: on the one
hand, the psychologist should rate the storytellers' testimony high; on
the other, its "evidential value" is weak, particularly when the writer
is playing the psychologist. The contradiction is, however, illusory.
The writer's testimony is strong when it deals with his special com-
petence, which, in a psychoanalytic sense, is his insight into and
access to his unconscious mind, and, through it, the unconscious
minds of others. His testimony is weak on particular details of objec-
tive, external reality, because art is a bridging of the contradiction be-
tween man's search for pleasure and his awareness of reality. "Art,"
in other words, "is a conventionally accepted reality in which, thanks
to artistic illusion, symbols and substitutes are able to provoke real
emotions. Thus art constitutes a region halfway between a reality
which frustrates wishes and the wish-fulfilling world of the imagi-
nation-a region in which, as it were, primitive man's strivings for
omnipotence are still in full force." Nevertheless, they must not be
given full rein. Freud admitted he was conservative in the matter of
"poetic license" versus "historical reality."
Where there is an unbridgeable gap in history or biography a writer may
step in and try to guess how things were. An uninhabited country he
may well settle with the creatures of his imagination. Even if the hap-
penings are known but are far removed and alien to common knowledge
he can disregard them.... On the other hand he should respect reality
where it is established and has become common property. Bernard Shaw,
who makes his Caesar gape at a stony Sphinx as if he were a Cook's
tourist, and forget to take leave of Cleopatra when he sails from Egypt,
shows what a clown he is who puts jesting above everything else.8
In a curious way Freud's attitude seems somewhat like Aristotle's:
the poet must "make like" the things of reality, not necessarily as


they are, but either as they are or as they ought to be. He is going
beyond his own Romantic tendency to treat the work of art solely as
an expression of the artist's self; he is stressing, as a classical or
neoclassical critic would, the importance of the dialogue between the
work of art and the world.
Similarly, Freud strseses, as a modem critic would, the importance
of examining the details of form and structure in the work rather than
taking merely a general impression of it. With all the glee of a positiv-
ist beating a metaphysical carpet, he dismisses maunderings about
beauty: "The science of aesthetics investigates the conditions under
which things are felt as beautiful; but it has been unable to give any
explanation of the nature and origin of beauty, and, as usually hap-
pens, lack of success is concealed beneath a flood of resounding and
empty words." 9 And as for connoisseurs of art, "They are eloquent
enough, it seems to me. But usually in the presence of a great work of
art each says something different from the other; and none of them says
anything that solves the problem for the unpretending admirer." 10
This response of the solid scientist to the blue-and-white young
men occurs in what is perhaps the most puzzling of Freud's essays,
"The Moses of Michelangelo." One puzzling aspect is that it was first
published anonymously. The editors of Imago prefaced the article
with a note (apparently Freud's) to the effect that although the essay
was not psychoanalytic, the author belonged to psychoanalytic circles
(surely the understatement of the decade), and "his mode of thought
has in point of fact a certain resemblance to the methodology of
psychoanalysis." Coyness aside, Freud had written a purely aesthetic
attempt to account for the posture of the statue-psychoanalysis is
scarcely mentioned. His efforts, he says, "do not stop short at the
general effect of the figure, but are based on separate features in it;
these we usually fail to notice, being overcome by the total impres-
sion of the statue and as it were paralyzed by it."
His method, in other words, is not far removed from that approach
represented in the fine arts by W61fflin, Berenson, Bell, or Fry, and in
literature by the Russian formalists or the American and English
"New Critics." Freud went on to compare his efforts with those of an
art connoisseur who, in questions of authenticity, insisted
that attention should be diverted from the general impression and main
features of a picture, and [he laid] stress on the significance of minor
details, of things like the drawing of the fingernails, of the lobe of an
ear, of halos and such unconsidered trifles which the copyist neglects to
imitate and yet which every artist executes in his own characteristic
way.... It seems to me that his method of inquiry is closely related to
the technique of psychoanalysis. It, too, is accustomed to divine secret

and concealed things from despised or unnoticed features, from the
rubbish heap, as it were, of our observations.
Nevertheless, even if Freud's method of aesthetic analysis is some-
times like the modem critic's, he seems flagrantly guilty of what the
modern critic would call the intentional fallacy or the intentional
heresy (depending on whether the critic regards his efforts as science
or religion). "In my opinion," Freud writes,
what grips us so powerfully can only be the artist's intention, in so far as
he has succeeded in expressing it in his work and in getting us to under-
stand it. I realize that this cannot be merely a matter of intellectual com-
prehension; what he aims at is to awaken in us the same emotional
attitude, the same mental constellation as that which in him produced the
impetus to create. But why should the artist's intention not be capable of
being communicated and comprehended in words, like any other fact of
mental life? Perhaps where great works of art are concerned this would
never be possible without the application of psychoanalysis. The product
itself after all must admit of such an analysis, if it really is an effective
expression of the intentions and emotional activities of the artist. To dis-
cover his intention, though, I must first find out the meaning and content
of what is represented in his work: I must, in other words, be able to
interpret it. It is possible, therefore, that a work of art of this kind needs
interpretation, and that, until I have accomplished that interpretation, I
cannot come to know why I have been so powerfully affected. I even
venture to hope that the effect of the work will undergo no diminution
after we have succeeded in thus analyzing it.
There is some muddling in Freud's statement of emotional effect and
intellectual content, but he seems to distinguish two approaches to a
work of art. The first is what he calls "interpretation" (Deutung); it
seems to be intellectual and it gets at "the meaning and content" (den
Sinn und Inhalt). After interpretation comes "the application of
psychoanalysis" which reveals the "emotional attitude," the "mental
constellation" (die Affekilage, die psychische Konstellation). To-
gether, emotional attitude and intellectual content seem to make up
what he calls "intention" (die Absicht). The artist's mind speaks to
his audience's, the conscious to the conscious, the unconscious to the
For instance, Freud says the "intention" in Michelangelo's
"Moses" is "to make the passage of a violent gust of passion visible
in the signs left by it on the ensuing calm." Whether or not we agree
with the content of his statement, in form it is the kind of thing a
modern critic would say. Again, like a modem critic, Freud scrupu-
lously avoids the "heresy of paraphrase," and indeed, he ultimately
avoids the intentional fallacy. That is, he insists that intention (the
configuration of the artist's mind, conscious and unconscious) is to

be determined by examining in detail the work itself; the significance
of the work is not to be determined (limited) by some necessarily
speculative "intention" derived from outside the work.
He makes the same kind of answer to objections based on such a
hypothetical "intention" as, say, Brooks and Wimsatt might make:
What if we have taken too serious and profound a view of details which
were nothing to the artist, details which he had introduced quite arbitrarily
or for some purely formal reasons with no hidden intention behind? What
if we have shared the fate of so many interpreters who have thought they
saw quite clearly things which the artist did not intend either consciously
or unconsciously? I cannot tell. I cannot say whether it is reasonable to
credit Michelangelo... with such an elementary want of precision, espe-
cially whether this can be assumed in regard to the striking and singular
features of the statue under discussion.
Although in this essay, "The Moses of Michelangelo," Freud
seems to endorse the modem critic's interest in textual minutiae, this
is only a marginal essay, anonymous, unpsychological, atypical.
Much the strongest strain in Freud's approach to a literary text is the
Romantic one of the work of art as the expression of the artist. In all
his formal literary studies, of The Brothers Karamazov, Dichtung und
Wahrheit, Jensen's Gradiva, and assorted plays of Shakespeare, in all
these other comments, the work itself behaves more or less like a tele-
screen out of science fiction. That is, it first appears as a murky sur-
face, quite clearly there but not of primary interest; then, at a push
of the psychoanalytic button, the work seems to vanish and before us
stands the mind of the writer, the real aim of the inquiry. Freud was a
psychologist, not a critic. When he looked at a work of art, he saw it
oftener as a mental event than as an end in itself or as a just repre-
sentation of general nature.
Nevertheless, where the Romantic critics worked from relatively
primitive psychologies, the sophisticated psychology of psychoanaly-
sis offers the modern critic a sophisticated Romanticism: the work of
art expresses and stimulates both the conscious and the unconscious.
Freud's real contribution to literary criticism of the work by itself is
his insistence on "levels" in the work, or at least that different ele-
ments in the work stimulate different levels in the reader's and
writer's mind. After Freud, a criticism that considers only one level is
only half a criticism. Freud has made art an imitation of nature in a
fuller sense than any classical critic. Art is, society and each of us is,
an amphibian. The work of art lives half on the visible shore, half in
a submnemonic sea.


Freud on the Response

IN GENERAL, Freud (and subsequent analysts) preferred to talk
about writers rather than readers. As a result, a comprehensive psy-
choanalytic theory for the response to literature remains to be writ-
ten. And yet, as we shall see in the conclusions to this book, the part
of the literary process that psychoanalysis can and should tell us most
about is, in fact, response.
A psychoanalyst, I suppose, feels surest when he is dealing with a
real person's mind; perhaps that is why Freud is most ready to talk
about the artist's mind when he talks about art. In the analysis of par-
ticular works he turns to the audience's mind only when there is no
writer-as in myths and folk tales, for example, his analysis of "The
Medusa's Head" or "The Theme of the Three Caskets." From these
mythological subjects it is only a short step to his analyses of non-
artistic reactions based on the combination of infantile wishes and
current experience, "The Subtleties of a Faulty Action," "A Note on
the Prehistory of the Psycho-Analytic Movement," or, for that mat-
ter, The Interpretation of Dreams or The Psychopathology of Every-
day Life. Again, Freud's theory of art places it in a continuum of
human activity and leads us back to his general theory of human be-
havior and personality.
Unfortunately, though, Freud did not develop a general theory of
responses to literature to match his general theory of its creation.
He did describe audience response in some detail for certain specific
forms. In "The 'Uncanny'" (1919) he showed how horror stories
work because the artist manipulates unconscious mechanisms in his
reader. In "Psychopathic Characters on the Stage" (published
posthumously but written late in 1905 or early in 1906), an essay
which such post-Freudian dramatists as Arthur Miller and Tennessee
Williams would do well to read, he discussed audience responses to
tragedy. But these descriptions tend to be fragmentary. The art form
Freud lavished attention on is the joke. He devoted an entire book,
Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), and an im-


portant revising essay, "Humour" (1927), to our response to jokes.
One could wish he had picked a more respectable form.
Nevertheless, the joke can serve as a model for longer and more
aesthetic works of literature. Jokes, for example, have a "frame," as
serious literature does, that marks them off from ordinary experience
and leads us into an attitude of playful attention, a special combina-
tion of involvement and distancing, the aesthetic stance, just as the
appearance of a poem on the page does. Jokes present us with the
problem of form in an even more acute way than poetry does: no
form, no joke, but clearly form alone is not what makes a joke funny.
Jokes have content, that is, rational thought, social and moral pur-
pose, but, clearly, editorial content is not what makes a joke funny,
either. Rather, jokes get their response from some interaction of form
and content every bit as subtle as a poem's. Jokes call for a particular
emotional response, as more important literature does, and they suc-
ceed or fail-are "good" or "bad" jokes-according to whether they
achieve that response.
In short, we can use his general psychology to extrapolate from the
particular audience responses with which Freud dealt-to the joke in
particular, but also to tragedy and the uncanny-to arrive at a coher-
ent account of responses to literature in general. It is worth taking the
time and space for such an extrapolation, not just as a context for
psychoanalytic comments on Shakespeare, but as a starting point for
a better understanding of our responses to literature in general. We
shall work, as it were, from the outside in, from frame to form to

In a late writing Freud discussed something related to the
"frame" of art or literature: the defense mechanism of "isolation,"
that is, a marking off or separating of a particular experience from
the stream of experiences. Obsessional neurotics often put a "quiet
time" or other barrier around a significant act, the defense serving to
interrupt disturbing associations to the act, notably aggressive and
sexual impulses to "touch." Normal people, Freud pointed out, also
use isolation to pay attention and to hold off distracting thoughts. The
"frame" of a work of art (that is, entering a theater or concert hall,
recognizing on the printed page, that "this is a poem" or "that is a
joke") seems to me to serve the same purpose. Our attention is held,
but our normal emotions are held off: we do not "touch" the actors,
musicians, or paintings. We perceive them as a separate segment in
the stream of our experiences.
Thus, isolation would seem to be the psychoanalytic term for aes-
thetic "distancing" (the term introduced by Bullough to describe the

separation of the affective self from a work of art). Isolation helps us
put aside our normal aggressive and sexual reactions in favor of some
other response. And perhaps this emotive substitution is itself the
elusive "aesthetic emotion" sought by philosophers in the past. Be
that as it may, literature does its work within our ability to isolate it,
to pay attention to it as literature separated from life.
We have already seen Freud's assertion that both the artist's act of
creation and the finished work exist on two levels like a dream: there
is a manifest form and a latent content In the same way he divides
the response to a work of literature into two phases. In the first, the
reader is responding to what Freud calls variously the "perceptual
pleasure of formal beauty," the "incentive-bonus," or the "fore-
pleasure"-he is speaking, not of form as such, but of a pleasure in
form which draws the audience in deeper. In the second phase the
reader so drawn in responds to the text in terms of his own uncon-
scious feelings, fantasies, and fears.
Of the first stage in reader response Freud had relatively little to
say, preferring to leave the matter (somewhat optimistically) to pro-
fessors of aesthetics. This is the fore-pleasure, the pleasure we take in
such purely formal elements of technique as structure, rhyme, or, in
Aristotelian terms, diction, song, spectacle, and the skillful presenta-
tion of plot, character, and thought Freud discusses this fore-
pleasure (in narrower terms) in connection with "innocent jokes,"
that is, jokes in which little or no unconscious content is involved.2
Freud, by this point in the essay, has discussed twenty-three joke
techniques-he now brings them into three large groups. (1) Those
in which words substitute for things. He notes that children,
schizophrenics, hysterics, and aphasics often lose this distinction. As
normal adults we avoid such muddled thinking, and jokes of this type
represent a relief from our adult inhibitions against childish thinking.
(2) Jokes in which we rediscover something familiar. We expected
to have to cope with something new-instead, we find something we
already know and, as a result, we save effort. This technique, he
notes, applies not only to jokes, but also to rhyme, alliteration, or re-
frains, and it accounts for the use of allusions, particularly topical
allusions, in jokes. (3) Jokes based on pleasure in nonsense, that is,
illogic, absurdity, faulty thinking, representation by the opposite,
and, in general, displacement. Again, he points out, in normal adult
life we are not supposed to jumble things up (displace them). Yet
children who are just learning to talk take great pleasure in babbling,
and so do adults under the influence of alcohol.
In short, all three of these kinds of techniques give us pleasure by
economizing. They relieve us of psychic expenditures we ordinarily

make. (1) and (3), replacing things by words and the use of ab-
surdity, relieve us from psychic expenditures we are already making
to keep ourselves on the straight-and-narrow path of reason. (2), the
rediscovery of the familiar, saves us an expenditure in responding to
something new.
This psychic economy, however-or psychic sloppiness-is not
enough to make wit or art. Confronted with raw play alone, as with
children's jabber, the talk of psychotics, or descriptions of uncon-
scious fantasies like dreams, we draw away from them; we experience
unpleasant feelings of defense. What turns play into art is the pres-
ence of logic, of meaning, of "sense in nonsense." We are all familiar
with the way jokes use the cleverest operations of the mind to supple-
ment the psychic short circuits that make the punch line. In other
words, mental "play" becomes a true joke when the senseless combi-
nation of words or the absurd linking of thoughts makes sense after
all. "The pleasure of wit arises from word play or the liberation of
nonsense, and... the sense of wit is meant only to guard this pleas-
ure against suppression through reason."
"Meaning" or "content," then, in jokes (and, by extension, in all
art) is, with respect to form, a defense rather than a source of pleas-
ure in itself. The real pleasure in artistic form comes from illogic
and nonsense, which, in turn, represent "the economy of psychic
expenditures or alleviation from the pressure of reason." Our sense of
pleasure comes from releasing or economizing on energy normally
used to keep ourselves logical; we experience a sudden sense of psy-
chic energy to spare, a feeling of sudden psychic profit from cutting
down expenses.
Similarly, Freud writes, "It is also generally acknowledged that
rhymes, alliterations, refrains, and other forms of repeating similar
verbal sounds which occur in verse, make use of the same source of
pleasure-the rediscovery of something familiar." As in a child's bab-
bling, the word becomes a thing in itself; there is an element of multi-
ple use or condensation. But we would not enjoy this babbling if it
did not offer a "sense in nonsense" by coming at logical points in the
thought, either at measured intervals or on key words.
The "discovery of the familiar" plays another part in the fore-
pleasure of art because of "the close connection between recognizing
and remembering." That is, the cognitio or anagnorisis, our sense of
the "rightness" of a denouement should also be considered a "discov-
ery of the familiar." (Aristotle's example of events having the ap-
pearance of design comes to mind: Mitys' murderer, while watching
at a public spectacle, was killed by a statue falling on him-Mitys'
statue. The poetic justice has the same kind of multiple use or con-

densation as a simple rhyme or le mot juste) One suspects that all
works of art in which we are aware that things are less complicated,
more structured and ordered than in real life, in other words, all
works of art having an organic unity, give us pleasure through this
sense of recognition or condensation which is akin to "the act of
remembering [which] in itself is accompanied by a feeling of
pleasure...." If we give Freud's view its broadest statement (as
some later theorists have done) we can say that we react to any work
of art as though we were remembering it. Poetry, Keats said, and I
think Freud would agree, "should strike the Reader as a wording of
his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance." That
is, with both a memory and a work of art we have the same feeling
that we are in control, can give or withdraw our attention as we wish;
we have the same feeling that the details have a greater-and richer
-coherence than ordinary events.
Freud thus sees form and content bound together in a complex
interplay. Having accepted the "frame" or "isolation" of the poem,
play, or whatever, we feel or guess that it "means something." Bribed
by this promise of "sense in nonsense," we (preconsciously) relax
our thinking inhibitions to take pleasure in the illogic or unrealism of
formal order. That initial pleasure in form then serves as a trigger to
unbalance other inhibitions, opening up still deeper sources of pleas-
ure from our own unconscious wishes and impulses. The writer, in
creating, disguised his raw fantasy by various defensive maneuvers
-we, his audience, unmask his fantasy, at least preconsciously.
Thus, for Freud, the "art in art" becomes the essential thing: without
this conscious, intellectual organization and disguise we cannot get
down to the even deeper sources of pleasure in the content of the
work of art.
In short, the fore-pleasure in form bribes us into becoming still fur-
ther involved. In part, we become involved by being in the mood, in
the right state of mind for, say, a joke. In part, too, we sense a
license, either from the artist (for example, the teller of the joke) or
from other members of the audience-we feel we are entitled to "let
go," to give ourselves over to the work of art.

The most important factor, however, for Freud (as for Aristotle)
is identification.
If, as has been assumed since the time of Aristotle, the purpose of drama
is to arouse "terror and pity" and so "to purge the emotions," we can
describe that purpose in rather more detail by saying that it is a question
of opening up sources of pleasure or enjoyment in our emotional life, just

as, in the case of intellectual activity, joking or fun open up similar
sources, many of which that activity had made inaccessible.... And the
playwright and actor enable [the spectator] to do this by allowing him
to identify himself with a hero.3
Drama serves the spectator as play serves the child. It enables him
"to be a hero," "to stand in his own person at the hub of world
affairs," "to feel and to act and to arrange things according to his
desires." At the same time, because he acts the hero vicariously, and
because he sees the situation is isolated, gamelike, he is freed from
the pains, fears, and qualms he would suffer if he were really to do
what the stage hero does. Most important in tragedy, he is freed of
the fear of actual death. Thus, the essence of dramatic identification
is that the spectator is simultaneously at one with and distanced from
his protagonist on the stage,4 or, for that matter, the protagonist of a
book or poem. Drama, in other words, depends not just on "form,"
but on the whole atmosphere or context of being "in a theater."
The spectator at a drama, of course, presents the clearest instance
of identification, but Freud insists that other forms of creative writing
work by identification also. In the epic or the novel the spectator
identifies with the hero; in a cheap novel he enters a world of good guys
and bad guys, that is, people who help him or people who oppose
him. In more sophisticated novels, the ego, the character with whom
we identify, is likely to be split up among several characters. When we
identify, we vicariously act through our internal conflicts projected
into this community of interacting parts of a single personality.5 In
the case of lyric poetry, we identify with the poet, and in dance, with
the dancer." In the case of a ghost or horror story we feel fear only if
we identify with the person in the story who fears; if we see the events
from the point of view of the one creating the fear or if we know how
the fear is being created and so feel superior, then there is no identifi-
cation to produce in us a feeling of fear.1 We have already seen how
Freud's discussion of the "Moses" of Michelangelo proceeds on the
assumption that the artist is trying to waken in us the same "mental
constellation" as his own.8 Even in the lowly joke there must be a
sort of rudimentary identification: for the joke to come off, the hearer
must have the same kind of inhibition as the teller. Only then does
the joke release the energy tied up in the inhibition so that we laugh.9
In short, though Freud, I believe, never makes the blanket state-
ment that all artistic effects depend on identification, when he talks
about drama, epic, novel, dance, sculpture, the uncanny, wit, and the
comic-in all of them he treats the effect as stemming from identifica-
tion. Unfortunately, "identification" is a difficult concept in or out of

art, and Freud's discussion of it in Group Psychology and the Analy-
sis of the Ego does not shed much light on aesthetic issues. Freud's
discussion of the creative process, however, does.
That is, our "identification" matches the artist's softeningn] the
character of his egoistic daydreams." In general, we have been look-
ing at Freud's theory of artistic response from the outside in, whereas
we considered his theory of artistic creation from the inside out. But
the two match.
At the outermost level the artist has presented his work to the pub-
lic, not as his self, but as his creation, distanced from his self. We, his
public, accept this "frame" or isolation by our aesthetic attitude. The
artist has disguised his raw fantasy by giving it aesthetic form. We,
bribed by the promise of meaning (and how angry we are when we
don't get "meaning"!), take a slightly illicit pleasure in the illogic and
unrealism of form. The artist disguises the egoistic character of his
work; we, in unwrapping the form, accept that egoistic character by
identifying with him (perhaps through his protagonists).
Identification, however, is only a means, not an end in itself. It is a
gate, in effect, through which we let strong feelings emerge which
would otherwise be inaccessible to us. At his innermost level the
artist was gratifying his deepest wishes in fantasy; at our innermost
level we do the same. In discussing these unconscious sources which
art taps, Freud dealt in detail with (again) tragedy, the uncanny
story, and the joke.
In the basic action of tragedy the hero rebels, is punished, and
suffers. Because the tragedy tends to concentrate on the suffering, our
pleasure, Freud says, is "due to masochistic satisfaction as well as to
direct enjoyment of a character whose greatness is insisted upon in
spite of everything." 10 This tragic suffering may come about because
the hero opposes something divine or something social or someone of
strong character or even where one impulse in the hero struggles
against another. In every tragedy, however, whether it is religious,
social, characterological, or psychological, the drama gains its effect
by getting us to identify with the hero, to experience for ourselves his
impulses to rebel against authority, to suffer, and masochistically to
enjoy our suffering for that rebellion. Finally, with the tragic resolu-
tion, we re-repress the rebellious impulse. Thus, when in October,
1897, Freud hypothesized love of the mother and jealousy of the fa-
ther as general phenomena of early childhood, he wrote:
If that is the case, the gripping power of Oedipus Rex, in spite of all the
rational objections to the inexorable fate that the story presupposes, be-
comes intelligible .... Every member of the audience was once a budding
Oedipus in phantasy, and this dream-fulfillment played out in reality

causes everyone to recoil in horror, with the full measure of repression
which separates his infantile from his present state."
Later, Freud mentioned with approval Otto Rank's Das Inzest-motiv
in Dichtung und Sage (1912), citing it for the proposition that the
choice of subject matter "especially for dramatic works," comes
mostly from the oedipus complex.'2
In other words, if I may broaden Freud's remarks, literary works,
be they fiction or drama, which concentrate on real interactions of
love and hate between people (as opposed to, say, lyric poetry), such
works draw on the audience's earliest childhood experience with
other people, namely the family. When the tragic hero rebels against
fate or society or God, these abstractions take on some of the quality
of the father, the original against whom we all rebelled. Later
analysts (particularly Ludwig Jekels) and nonanalysts (notably
Northrop Frye) have suggested that dramatic comedy also has an
oedipal root, although the "happy ending" foists the punishment and
guilt off on the father-villain, whereas tragedy thrusts it on the son-
In lyric poetry and the dance Freud seemed to consider the basic
unconscious appeal to be exhibitionistic. We identify with the artist
who is freely and publicly airing his feelings, and therefore we feel
free to do the same.13 Since the significance of watching theatrical
performances in dreams generally means watching the parents in the
act of love, presumably such genres as theater, dance, film, or televi-
sion, in which watching plays an important part, gratify in part un-
conscious scoptophilic impulses.14
Freud's extensive analysis of wit showed that the "tendentious
joke"-that is, the joke that gives us pleasure not only through the
intellectual activity involved in joking but also through its content-
such a joke, Freud said, allows the expression of unconscious
impulses, either sexual or aggressive. In obscene jokes, where the sex-
ual content is not unconscious, Freud found still another source of
laughter-the releasing of exhibitionistic impulses."5
In his analysis of "The 'Uncanny,'" Freud concluded that we
experience the feeling when some childish way of thinking which we
have either repressed or outgrown turns up again either in reality or
in a fiction in which the writer makes us feel the events are really
happening. Thus, stories in which telepathic communication takes
place, in which omens and presentments are valid, stories of the "evil
eye" and the like, these all use the childish or primitive habit of mind
called "omnipotence of thought," the feeling that thoughts are as
good (or bad) as deeds, that we can wish things into reality. Stories
of blinding or of severed hands and feet that take on lives of their

own, these draw on both the omnipotence of thought and the fear of
castration. Stories of inanimate objects coming to life or the dead re-
turning impinge on the old feeling that "I can never die"-they sim-
ply carry out the idea that death does not exist. Doppelganger stories
of twins and doubles suggest the same idea (as does the Egyptian
ka); they also hark back to a kind of thinking appropriate to the
earliest stages of childhood when the child is just beginning to distin-
guish himself from the rest of reality. Stories in which things recur, a
number keeps turning up, the hero keeps coming back to the same
place no matter how hard he tries to go elsewhere, or in which we feel
that all this has happened before, such stories carry into actuality the
"repetition compulsion," the tendency that neurotics (and all of us)
have to go through the same thing over and over again."1

Freud's point is that various kinds of literature, narrative, drama,
poetry, jokes, the uncanny, achieve their effect by bringing to con-
sciousness unconscious or preconscious impulses, wishes, fantasies,
or ways of thinking. There are three things we should note. First,
Freud has described a continuum, not an either-or, either conscious
content or unconscious; rather, literature in his description seems to
play up and down a psychic gamut. Second, literature achieves its
basic effect by alleviating an existing psychic tension in the uncon-
scious material. We experience pleasure from a feeling of psychic
over-plus; we suddenly feel in possession of that energy we had been
using up in inhibiting the unconscious or preconscious material in
real life. Thus, pleasure in art depends on our ability to accept the "as
if-ness" of the artistic situation. Third, in most cases (most jokes,
most tragedies) we get a kind of actual pleasure from gratifying by
identification or fantasy aggressive and sexual impulses that had been
unconscious or preconscious.
So far we have been talking generally. To speak of specifics we
would have to look at the events, language, and images of the particu-
lar work of literature in question. In doing so we would proceed by
the same method as for the analysis of The Brothers Karamazov or
the Medusa's head legend. We could, for example, analyze the joke at
the opening of this section (p. 4).
Nothing seems to provoke so angry a response from lovers of literature
as the application of psychoanalysis to the world of letters. As one
cannibal said to the other, "Did you ever eat a psychoanalyst?" "Eat one!"
replied the other, "Did you ever try to clean one!"
The almost formulaic clause, "As one [blank] said to the other,"
serves as the frame. It signals us that a joke is coming and isolates the

joke from the discourse around it. We "set" ourselves for a special
combination of tightening and relaxing our normal inhibitions.
This joke, like any other, promises a point or meaning, and this
meaning is a point indeed-the joke needles psychoanalysts. This
"sense in nonsense" enables us to take pleasure in what would other-
wise be a quite pointless series of displacements. The first operative
word in the joke, "cannibal," conjures up, not unnaturally, the notion
of a savage who devours human flesh. For most of us such an act is
surrounded by the strongest taboos, but it was not always thus. Psy-
choanalysis aside, common experience tells us that children bite, and
the cry, "I'm gonna eat you up" is not unknown in nursery or play-
ground. The word "cannibal" draws on whatever vestiges of this
infantile oral sadism still reside within us; the word at the same time
mobilizes a defense against any such impulse: "I don't want to eat
anybody-he does."
The cannibal's casual question, "Did you ever eat a... ," contin-
ues to play on our unconscious impulse and continues our projection
of it onto the cannibal. The word "psychoanalyst," which must come
as somewhat of a shock, gives an object for the sadistic impulse, a
quite appropriate one, for psychoanalytic experience demonstrates
that the child's impulse to devour somebody usually is directed to-
ward a parent: eating them up would not only get rid of someone
who keeps saying no, it would also make a loved person forever part
of the child. The admonishing, threatening figure of the analyst can
evoke at least the hostile feelings toward a parent, which are pro-
jected onto the primitive (childish) figure of the cannibal. At this
point the joke has generated in its hearer a tense balance between
unconscious impulses (oral sadistic) and defenses (projection and
symbolization). We feel this "damming up of psychic energy"
(Freud's phrase) as intellectual puzzlement-How will the joke bring
these disparate ideas of cannibal, psychoanalyst, and eating together?
The punch line triumphantly does bring them together in an idea
almost poetic in the sharpness of its condensation, "A psychoanalyst
would be dirty food for a cannibal." The open phrasing, "Did you
ever try to clean one?" suggests that the cannibal did not, in fact, get
around to eating a psychoanalyst-we perhaps breathe a sigh of re-
lief: my impulse to devour a loved one's innards was not acted out.
(The analyst, however, seems not particularly better off.) The joke
conjures up (in my mind, anyway) an eviscerated chicken or cow or
a particularly bony fish-and certain diagrams of Elizabethan disem-
bowellings. One's hostile feelings get gratified, but with a certain safe
distancing from the impulse actually mobilized.
At the same time the word "clean" brings to consciousness and

acts out the precise nature of the feelings the joke drew on, hostility
toward the analyst as parent. "He makes me feel dirty or guilty." And
the punch line asserts, "He's the guilty-dirty one." The psychoanalyst
is pre-eminently that kind of adult who makes my secret dirt show;
the joke, however, grants me a reversal-it reveals his hidden dirt. At
the same time the black figure of the cannibal (who seems "dirty")
stands as yet another buffer in the chain of displacements between me
and dirt. The dirt visible in the analyst's belly or the cannibal's mouth
or skin replaces any secret dirt an analyst might have heard from my
mouth. Also, mental dirt has become bodily dirt, as though one could
"clean out" one's mind as easily as one's body, another wish fulfill-
ment. And we can guess that the joke may also evoke the thought, "I
would have been clean food" for those whose devouring impulse
masks a still deeper wish, to be devoured.
Our approach being a scientific one, we could now even essay ex-
periments to test the reading. Would the joke work with "lawyer"?
Probably, but probably not with "engineer," except perhaps among a
group of engineers. How would the joke go over with a group of
psychoanalysts? (That was where I first heard it, and it went over
very well-perhaps the unconscious feeling was, "We're dirty and we
like it.") Suppose the second cannibal answered, "Yes, but he was
sure hard to clean." And so on.
In short, although Freud has spoken only of certain special types,
he has, between the lines, as it were, set out a general theory of litera-
ture in terms of form and content, impulse and defense. And with the
theory goes a method of analyzing the audience reaction to a work of
literature (if the humble joke be allowed to stand as the model for
more complex types). First, one should consider the nature of the
pleasure provided by the outstanding features of the genre: What un-
conscious impulses does this genre gratify? Jokes gratify sexual and
aggressive impulses, while in tragedy, the answer would be masochistic
impulses to suffer, oedipal feelings toward the father, and in so far as
we think of the tragedy as a staged play, scoptophilic impulses. Sec-
ond, we would consider form and ask what combination of sense and
nonsense, what intellectual "play," loosens the psychic bonds, for ex-
ample, the displacements and condensation in our joke. Third, we
would go on to the unconscious significance of the broad patterns of
action m the particular work in question, devouring the dirt in the
joke, or the theme of parricide in The Brothers Karamazov. Finally,
one would consider the individual details of the work, particular little
events, specific images. What unconscious or preconscious things
does a word like "clean" stir up? One could, I suppose, go even fur-
ther and consider the separate reactions of individual spectators. That


is, younger men presumably identify more easily with Hamlet than
with King Lear. It is in such considerations that both the audience's
and the artist's individualities will emerge. Usually, however, an anal-
ysis of the effect of literature, although it proceeds from the general
to the particular, from outside to inside, would draw the line at the
general unconscious effect on most of the audience or, more properly,
what aspects of the work stimulate that effect.
The effect itself is the discharge of emotions, or, as Freud para-
phrased Aristotle
The prime factor is unquestionably the process of getting rid of one's
own emotions by "blowing off steam"; and the consequent enjoyment
corresponds on the one hand to the relief produced by a thorough dis-
charge and on the other hand, no doubt, to an accompanying sexual ex-
citation; for the latter, as we may suppose, appears as a by-product when-
ever an affect is aroused, and gives people the sense, which they so much
desire, of a raising of the potential of their psychical state."
On the one hand, there is the satisfaction of the impulse; on the other,
there is the feeling of psychic wealth from the release of energy used
in maintaining psychic order, and this feeling of release, Freud says,
has a sexual element
There is no guarantee, however, that such a discharge will take
place; in fact, certain conditions must be rather carefully observed for
there to be an affective response. Having considered the process of that
response and a method of analyzing it, completeness asks that we now
consider these conditions for the response. Freud spells them out for
the special situations of the joke, the uncanny, and tragedy.

For the joke he notes three conditions: first, since wit involves the
release of energy used to inhibit a forbidden impulse, the joke will not
raise a laugh unless the person to whom it is told, either has or can
raise that inhibition. (In Huxley's Brave New World the citizens who
have no sexual inhibitions cannot understand Othello or Romeo and
Juliet.) Second, the energy must really be released; that is, it must be
discharged (in laughter), not reassigned to another psychic task. (A
worried man does not enjoy a play so much as a man who is easy,
who can spare his psychic energy.) Third, to get the most out of the
joke, the inhibition in the person to whom it is told must be height-
These conditions, although formulated for wit, obviously apply to
other artistic processes as well. For example, the second, the demand
that the energy released be put to no other psychic use, bears on a
spectator's involvement with a drama; if he cannot get his mind on
the play, he cannot enjoy it. Yet if he gets his mind too much on the

play, if it gets too touchy for him (the man who knows his wife is
deceiving him will probably not enjoy Othello), his reactions will be
seriously distorted. Freud suggests the best procedure for getting the
audience's mind on the joke is the use of form. Ambiguities, a rid-
dling quality, a logical or syllogistic facade, all have the effect of focus-
ing the hearer's attention on the joke but diverting his attention from
the process of the joke. (Thus, we rarely know when we are laughing
at a joke why we are laughing.) Form would play a similar role in any
artistic work; in particular, the narrative device of the "frame" (now
I am going to see a play) would both focus and divert attention.
Similarly, for the third condition, the teller of the joke tries to build
up suspense, creating a kind of psychic damming. So, too, any work
of literature will try to build up suspense or re-create the inhibition
which the resolution of the work will break down.
In jokes, Freud points out, there is a rudimentary process of
identification involved. That is, the man who tells a joke does not
laugh; only the man who hears it laughs-and then the teller can
laugh as if by ricochet. That is, the teller seems to seek the release of
his own inhibitions by seeing the hearer release his, just as artists in
general receive satisfaction from seeing their audiences receive satis-
faction.'s If the hearer does not laugh, then the teller suffers a sharp
feeling of embarrassment and failure as his inhibitions (or his super-
ego) clamp down again; there are few things in the world that create
as much nervousness as a joke that falls flat.
Another special case for which Freud spelled out the conditions for
the satisfying emotional discharge was the uncanny story. There, he
pointed out, we get the feeling of the uncanny only if we are made to
feel that the buried modes of thought are really coming into existence.
The writer can control our reactions by joking about the horrifying sit-
uation, by explaining it, or by using point of view to let us see it
through the eyes of the horrifier rather than the horrified. Freud thus
makes an important point about unconscious content, namely, that the
emotional effect can be quite independent of unconscious content if
the writer handles his material to make it so-or, as literary people
have long said, form and content are inseparable.1
Considering tragedies based on neurotic conflicts in the hero,
Freud analyzed the way Hamlet succeeds in its effect on the audience
by contrasting Hamlet with an unsuccessful contemporary tragedy he
had recently seen. His analysis led him to posit three preconditions
necessary if the spectator was to identify with the hero and experi-
ence the same psychopathic conflict between a conscious impulse and
an unconscious. First, he said, the hero must not be psychopathic at
the outset; he must become psychopathic in the course of the action.

Otherwise, "we shall be inclined to send for the doctor... and pro-
nounce the character inadmissible to the stage." Second, the re-
pressed impulse must be one which all of us similarly repress (the
oedipus complex, for example), for it is this repression which is
loosened by the situation in the play, and without it the play will have
no effect. Freud, in other words, is prescribing here a criterion of uni-
versality. Third, "it appears as a necessary precondition of this form
of art that the impulse that is struggling into consciousness, however
clearly it is recognizable, is never given a definite name; so that in the
spectator, too, the process is carried through with his attention
averted, and he is in the grip of his emotions instead of taking stock
of what is happening." In our own day, now that such words as sib-
ling rivalry or oedipus complex are part of any cocktail party's lingua
franca, the demand on a playwright like Tennessee Williams or
Arthur Miller is greater: not only must he not name the unconscious
impulse himself; he must not draw it so obviously that every member
of the audience who has had an introductory course in psychology
can name it.
These cautions about wit, tragedy, or the uncanny lead us to cer-
tain rules, the violation of which will spoil the effect of the work.
Thus, it is not true that psychoanalytic criticism, as people sometimes
say, does not concern itself with aesthetic value, that the psycho-
analyst can point to no difference between Hamlet, Helen Trent, and
Hopalong Cassidy. On the contrary, Freud's essay, "Psychopathic
Characters on the Stage," deals directly with the question why Ham-
let succeeds and Hermann Bahr's Die Andere fails. No criticism can
make judgments of aesthetic value rigorous (the naturalistic fallacy),
and it would be idle to pretend that psychoanalysis has laid this
philosophical side of the problem to rest. Nevertheless, psycho-
analytic criticism sheds some new and important lights on questions
of value, and we can conclude "Freud on the Response" by bringing
together his remarks on some of the larger issues involved in audi-
ence reaction: the question of literary value; the moral and social
function of literature; the feeling of sadness beauty evokes.

In general, psychoanalytic psychology makes it possible to give
rigor to what Professor Monroe Beardsley classifies as "affective rea-
sons" for aesthetic value judgments, for example, the statement that
"Titus Andronicus is good because I like it," or, more fully, "The
majority of sensitive persons, past, present, and future enjoy (did en-
joy, will enjoy) it aesthetically, and would enjoy (or have enjoyed) it
aesthetically if they were (or had been) brought into repeated contact
with it" Professor Beardsley notes that such reasons for judgments

of aesthetic value present two difficulties: first, one cannot point to
what in the work we like; second, one cannot distinguish the pleasure
given by a work of art from that, say, of a well-mixed martini.2
Psychoanalytic criticism offers answers to both questions. The spe-
cial quality of artistic pleasure lies in the transformation of uncon-
scious impulses; it differs, therefore, from sensuous pleasure much the
way any sublimation like a job or a hobby does. Art differs from jobs,
hobbies, or what other intellectual pleasures reality offers, for art pro-
vides a steady flow of satisfying "shifts in cathexis," that is, shifts in
what our mind is accenting, different identifications, a stress first on
pleasure, then on morality, and so on. Art, in other words, is con-
trived and formed, unlike random reality or everyday experience.
Second, psychoanalysis enables us to see in considerable detail ex-
actly what it is we like in, say, that joke, or Macbeth, exactly what
unconscious impulse is being transformed (that is, evoked and de-
fended against, aroused and purged), how it is being transformed as
the work progresses, even perhaps how it is being transformed in a
single line or word.
Speaking about evaluation in general, Freud argued that "man's
judgments of value follow directly his wishes for happiness-that,
accordingly, they are an attempt to support his illusions with argu-
ments." 21 Psychoanalysis, as the science of the "pleasure principle,"
can show how certain objective factors in the work of art are likely to
satisfy a certain audience's unconscious needs (be they of id, ego, or
superego). The psychoanalytic view of literature offers, in other
words, canons which bridge affective and objective reasons for
aesthetic value judgments. Psychoanalysis can show how "I like"
criteria grow out of specific things in the work of art itself. Such
canons, moreover, will be, not merely statements of value, but factual
predictions based on psychological "laws" having a scientific claim
on our belief. We have seen, for example, Freud's statement that a
tragedy will fail of its effect (we will not feel it-like it-as a
tragedy) if it names the unconscious impulse it liberates. A ghost
story will not produce its uncanny effect unless the writer so handles
his material as to make us feel that a childish process of thought is
actually happening in reality. A joke will not make us laugh unless it
evokes the inhibition it then breaks down, and so on. Such canons
allow for the personal and cultural variability of "I like" judgments at
the same time that they state general and universal laws about art
which refer to objective factors in the work of art itself.
Professor Beardsley names three canons that a great many critics
have settled on to back up value judgments: unity, complexity, and
intensity. We have already seen the psychoanalytic justification for


the first: unity gives us a sense of "the discovery of the familiar." All
those loose ends, slightly disturbing and unsettling, fall into place.
Freud offers an affective justification for a second traditional canon
of aesthetic value: complexity. In effect, Freud treats complexity as
the work's creating a span of "higher" and "lower" satisfactions. For
example, Freud notes about jokes:
When we laugh at a refined obscene joke, we are laughing at the same
thing that makes a peasant laugh at a coarse piece of smut. In both cases
the pleasure springs from the same source. We, however, could never
bring ourselves to laugh at the coarse smut; we should feel ashamed or it
would seem to us disgusting. We can only laugh when a joke has come
to our help.V
Curiously, the Renaissance critic, Castelvetro, anticipates Freud's
remarks on the role of joking in obscenity:
But it is to be noted that [indecencies] do not make us laugh when they
are set openly before the eyes of the body or of the mind in the presence
of others; rather they overcome us with shame.... Then the aforesaid
things make us laugh when they are presented ... under a veil, by means
of which we are able to give the appearance of laughing not at the in-
decency but at something else.23
In effect, although he speaks of the process as though it were con-
scious, Castelvetro has hit upon Freud's point: that complexity in
jokes serves a defensive, disguising function, easing our inhibitions.
And not just in jokes.
In discussing the general relationship of creative writing to day-
dreaming, Freud distinguishes kitsch from better fiction (tactfully, he
speaks of "the less pretentious writers of novels, romances, and short
stories who nevertheless have the widest and most eager circle of
readers of both sexes"); these, he says, are hero centered-we
identify with a single figure who undergoes all the perils of Pauline
(or Marina) and comes through invulnerable. More complex works
-and, Freud seems to imply, "better"-split up the ego "into many
part egos, and in consequence... personify the conflicting currents
of... mental life in several heroes." Thus, Freud seems to take
complexity as itself a value in art.
As for Beardsley's third canon, intensity, that seems to correspond
to Freud's general view of literature as satisfying (under the right
conditions) unconscious desires or resolving unconscious tensions.
Freud's theory of literature is essentially a pleasure theory, not a
moralistic one. For Freud, the moral and social purpose of literature
is to satisfy unconscious desires, although literature can have a
"moral" in the crude sense: a literary work, he says, can inculcate

"wise lessons." 2 Fundamentally, however, literature serves simply
to give pleasure, the fore-pleasure of artistic form or the yet greater
pleasure it triggers by the release of unconscious tension. These
pleasures involve much more than a mere "happy ending" a la Holly-
wood. Art, particularly tragic art, turns the most painful experiences
of life into enjoyment. Such painful experiences, however, can be
turned into pleasure only if they are not real. This is not to say that
literature cannot deal with reality and give insights, but only that art
is illusion or symbolization; not action, but imitation of action.
The effect of art, its ability to be both moral and pleasurable,
hinges on a fact that was one of the earliest psychoanalytic discover-
ies, "that there is no 'indication of reality' in the unconscious, so that
it is impossible to distinguish between truth and emotionally-charged
fiction." 2B And this fact remained a central insight: "The substi-
tutive satisfactions, as offered by art, are illusions in contrast with
reality," Freud wrote in 1930, "but they are none the less psychically
effective, thanks to the role which phantasy has assumed in mental
life." 27 Art, precisely because it is an illusion, can serve as the "mild
narcotic," the substitute gratification for "the oldest and still most
deeply felt cultural renunciations." Thus, literature serves a com-
munal social and moral purpose; it eases the dissatisfaction felt by all
the community at renouncing pleasures in the interests of society as a
From a social point of view, then, the important satisfactions in
literature are not of the ego's wish for mastery nor the moral de-
mands of the superego, but rather of the dark impulses of the id, the
wildest drives of our earliest childhood, whose dissatisfaction neces-
sarily lingers on. In participating as a group in the substitute gratifica-
tions offered by art and literature, we gratify these impulses licitly,
and we repeat their renunciation (as the work of art resolves itself);
we identify with our cultural group and we recall the ideals of our
particular culture.28 In a very real sense, in our responses to litera-
ture, ontogeny repeats phylogeny; the individual reaction repeats the
cultural subservience to reality.

In sum, although it comes in a fragmentary form as separate
psychological problems touch on literature, Freud presents a quite
coherent account of the response to literature from a psychoanalytic
point of view. In all works of literature he found two levels, manifest
and latent, a conscious content and an unconscious. To see both
levels, he insisted, one must look closely at the text, as a modem
critic would, in order to grasp the "mental constellation" of the
whole. The reader confronted with the work experiences it on these

two levels, just as the writer creating it was acting on two levels.
First, there is the "fore-pleasure," the enjoyment of literature as
form, as intellectual "play" (condensation and displacement and their
resulting gambols in mental energy). Second, the reader identifies or
otherwise becomes involved in the work of art, and, when he does,
the work calls out certain of his unconscious impulses and he gratifies
them vicariously and in fantasy. Some of these the genre itself satisfies;
some are satisfied by broad patterns of action which evoke those un-
conscious impulses all the members of the writer's audience share;
and, finally, some unconscious impulses satisfied by literature will be
highly personal, and they account for our preferences.
In order for a writer's audience to experience the literary work in
this dual, latent-manifest way, the writer must obey certain rules as
he creates. These rules, then, act as canons for judging the value of
works of art by showing relations between objective factors in the lit-
erary work and the subjective or affective reactions of its audience.
Finally, in gratifying unconscious impulses in a world of strong
imagination, literature and art perform social and moral functions; in
them we re-enact the original capitulation to society we made when
we grew up. And the work of art does the same, simply because the
illusion must come to an end, the great globe itself dissolve and leave
not a rack behind.
In a little paper called "On Transience" (1916)2" Freud discusses
this elegiac sense that beautiful things pass away, perhaps the most
pervasive of all literary themes: ubi sunt, mutability, where are the
snows of yesteryear? He recounts a conversation one summer in the
Dolomites with two friends, one of them a poet, whose enjoyment of
the beauty of the mountains was disturbed by the feeling that it would
all fade away with the coming of winter. He was reacting in one of
the typical ways of poets, and all of us, to this sense of mutability: a
great feeling of sadness and a sense that impermanent things are
valueless. The other typical reaction is to say that beautiful things
cannot pass away; they are immortal. (I am reminded, naturally, of
the Sonnets where these two reactions constantly interplay.) Freud,
ever the apostle of rationality, reasoned with his two friends: "Since
the value of all the beauty and perfection is determined only by its
significance for our own emotional lives, it has no need to survive us
and is therefore independent of absolute duration." But his argument
was of no avail, whereupon he concluded that "some powerful factor
was at work which was disturbing their judgment." He found his an-
swer in the phenomenon of mourning, the conservatism of our love
which will not leave the lost object. Both reactions are a foretaste of
the defensive stratagems of mourning: one, a denial of the loss,

"These things will not fade away; they are immortal"; the other, an
attempt to detach oneself from the lost object by devaluing it, say-
ing, in effect, "It is not worthy of my love; I need not love it; I do not
love it."
Freud pointed to the similarly painful renunciations caused by the
great war. And yet, he concluded, "When once the mourning is over,
it will be found that our high opinion of the riches of civilization has
lost nothing from our discovery of their fragility. We shall build up
again all that war has destroyed, and perhaps on firmer ground and
more lastingly than before." It is a good remark with which to close
this long summary of Freud's theory of art and literature, which
should indeed build up "on firmer ground" our love of beauty.


And Beside Freud

Tmis far we have been considering only Freud's views on art, which,
indeed, have often been summarized before (though, if we wish to
use psychoanalysis to study Shakespeare's works, it is a part we can-
not be too perfect in).' Freud's account of the creative process ap-
pears at scattered points in his writings, in both the earliest and the
latest development of these theories. But, like the theory of dreams,
his theory of literature changed relatively little; his explanation of
Hamlet's delay, for example, comes out much the same in 1897,
1928, or 1938. Other analysts have extended and worked out Freud's
ideas, a few contemporaries of Freud's in the terms of the earliest
versions of psychoanalysis, most second-generation analysts in terms
of the later developments, the structural constructs of id, ego, and
superego, and the discoveries and emphases of ego psychology, de-
fenses, adaptive maneuvers, the notion of neutralized energy as well
as libidinal and aggressive. Where Freud's remarks on art are brief
and scattered, these other writers have tackled the various problems
individually and in detail.
Strangely, the problem that seems to have nagged most at Freud,
the writer's innate gifts, the artistic constitution, has received the least
attention from other analytic writers on art.2 Ernst Kris, however,
has given a comprehensive account of artistic inspiration-the artist
responds passively to the drives of the id, then actively masters and
reproduces them at the ego level. Thus, the artist must be, not a help-
less neurotic, but a man with an unusually strong ego (as, indeed,
was implicit in Freud's view).
Many of the psychoanalytic writings after Freud on the theory of
art have tried to find a sort of lowest common denominator which
will define the literary impulse. A. A. Brill has suggested simply that
poetry satisfies oral or sucking needs through the rhythmical expres-
sion of pleasurable sounds. Other writers, notably Ludwig Jekels and
Hanns Sachs, have turned to the more mythic aspects of psycho-
analysis and identified the creative impulse as Eros, the drive to unite
oneself with reality, and the impulse toward form as Thanatos, the

drive to destroy, the work of art representing a fusion of the two.
Still others have treated literature as a defense on the part of the
writer as well as a direct gratification. Edmund Bergler, for example,
has treated writing as the writer's defense against very early childish
wishes to become passive and suffer by being completely dependent
on the mother; Hanns Sachs suggests that literary productions relieve
the writer's feeling of guilt about his fantasies by embodying them
(and himself) in what he hopes is a perfect form. Dr. Harry Lee has
tried to explain the compulsive quality of literary production, the
writer's feeling that he must create, as an attempt magically to undo
aggressive impulses. Under the influence of Melanie Klein, a number
of analysts in England have developed the "restitution" theory, the
idea that the artist tries to rebuild in his works the loved ones he de-
stroys in his fantasies." There is little need, though, to choose among
these theories, for any particular writer probably has a combination
of such impulses and defenses. As so often in aesthetic theories,
either-or must give way to both-and.
Other psychoanalytic writers have treated in a general, theoretical
way the work of literature by itself (in so far as we can ever con-
sider it apart from writer or reader). Ludwig Jekels and Edmund
Bergler have suggested that artistic unity serves both artist and reader
by balancing and resolving competing psychic tensions. Other writers
have considered the problem of "pure form" as an attempt to dis-
tance the artist and his audience from raw reality. Plot splitting and
doubling have been treated by both analytic and nonanalytic writers
as attempts to isolate and project conflicting psychic impulses.4 Par-
ticularly important to future psychoanalytic criticism is the recent
work in England and by Lawrence S. Kubie in this country on sym-
bolism and its relation to ego psychology and the preconscious. The
theories evolved suggest that symbols play a very basic and gen-
eralized role in all our adaptations to reality; thus literature again, as
with Freud, becomes central to human life.5 Other writers have dealt
with language (obviously a crucial factor in the future of any literary
criticism), both generally but also with respect to particular kinds of
language: ambiguity, obscene words, figures of speech (particularly
useful in considering Shakespeare), cliches, and rhythm (with sug-
gestions ranging from the ingenious notion that rhythm re-creates the
jouncing of our prenatal state to the blunt behaviorist view that
rhythm is "reinforcement").
With respect to the problem of reader response, later analytic the-
orists have tended to start with the idea of identification. In this area
of literary criticism (as in many others), Edward Bullough's study of
psychic "distancing" in art has proved remarkably fruitful. Ernst Kris


has gone on to suggest that unconscious impulses represent another
kind of reality from which the artist establishes the reader's "dis-
tance" through form; thus he gives form a key role in enabling us to
take pleasure in representations of the unpleasant, that is, to experi-
ence catharsis. Ludwig Jekels has studied pity and shown its relation
to fear, and Dr. Daniel Schneider has expounded the dynamics of
catharsis as a sequential process.7 A speculation by the art critic
Roger Fry (nonanalytic, even anti-analytic) leads to the idea that
form in art represents an abstract recurring pattern of emotional life.
His suggestion finds support in recent psychoanalytic studies of
identification, particularly the apparent growth of identification from
its most childish form, simply eating the object, to a much more
sophisticated process of identifying with a pattern of satisfaction and
nonsatisfaction.8 "I know," T. S. Eliot wrote of his method of com-
position, "that a poem or a section of a poem tends to appear first in
the shape of a rhythm before developing into words, and that this
rhythm is capable of giving birth to the idea and the image."
Finally, very little psychoanalytic writing on art and literature,
even that which looks primarily at the audience, attempts to set the
work in relation to a historical audience, for psychoanalytic theory
(up until quite recently) saw our earliest family relations as deter-
mining culture and therefore as prior to historical setting in determin-
ing our reaction to works of art. An exception to this general
ahistoricity is Walter Abell's study of the changing conventions of a
medieval monster image; his book itself is based on Ernst Kris's study
of the growth of caricature as an art form. Also, Franz Alexander has
studied modern art as the unconscious expression of a cultural
zeitgeist. Possibly the psychoanalytically oriented anthropologists
may open a way to look at a work of art as an expression both of an
individual psyche and of the "psyche" of an entire culture (as the late
Clyde Kluckhohn did for myth and ritual).9

Despite these lacunae, analysts other than Freud have elaborated a
highly sophisticated-and scientific-theory of the creative process,
one to which traditional or even "new" literary critics have paid en-
tirely too little attention. Perhaps the best way to see the tenor of post-
Freudian psychoanalytic literary theory is to consider e pluribus
unum some of the ideas of the late Ernst Kris. An art historian turned
psychoanalyst, Kris proved a brilliant theorist of psychoanalysis in
general and the finest of psychoanalytic literary theorists after Freud.
Some of his work on particulars I have already alluded to above; for
general purposes, we can consider his broad essay "Approaches to
Art" (1952).10 In it Kris brought Freud's early discoveries about

jokes and art into the framework of modem ego psychology, an ap-
proach opened up by Freud in the Dostoevsky essay but developed
considerably further after his death.
By 1895 Freud had discovered the dynamic unconscious with its
freight of drives and fantasies pushing for expression in dreams, neu-
rotic symptoms, and works of art. In the early twenties certain clinical
phenomena led Freud to posit a part of the unconscious that behaved
more like a conscience or a parent than like a child wanting. This new
element was the superego, which then required him to posit an ego
from which it sprang and an id for the drives. What Freud had called
"the Censor" in his early writings became the defenses operating in
the unconscious part of the ego. What we think of as our conscious,
intellecting selves was assigned by later ego psychology to a "conflict-
free sphere of the ego" or the "autonomous ego." Needless to say
(were it not for misunderstandings by critics of psychoanalysis),
these terms, "id," "ego," and "superego," are not (probably) parts of
the brain, but abstractions or constructs defined so as to bring clinical
experience together in a meaningful way.
The result of this "structural hypothesis" has been a shift in point
of view: the modem analyst sees psychic phenomena, not simply as
expressions of the id and its biological roots, but from the point of
view of the ego with its social and cultural tasks of adaptation, syn-
thesis, and integration. Seen from the ego, a work of literature cannot
be regarded simply as the expression of the writer's wish fulfillment;
rather, it represents a complex synthesis of id strivings, ego defenses,
and formal elements wrought by relatively autonomous ego activities.
As Kris puts it, early psychoanalysis stressed the generality of the
basic drives, while "psychoanalytic ego psychology has sharpened our
eyes for the specific within the general." One needs, therefore, to ask
how the traditional themes (from the id) have varied in different cul-
tural and socioeconomic conditions (expressed by the ego). For
example, if we grant Freud's notion that Leonardo's painting of
Christ with two mothers has its roots in infantile conflict, we should
go further and say why Leonardo puts the three figures in a pyramidal
form. Instead of accepting Freud's early division of form from con-
tent (but see above, p. 30), we should deal with their interaction.
To consider this interaction, Kris uses a case history of a girl's fan-
tasy plus the equally pathological story of Baron Corvo to show how
a work of art grows from an illicit and solitary fantasy through the
ego activities of delay, translating the visual fantasy into words, and
wooing the self-esteem of others as a way of warding off unconscious
self-criticism (from the superego). The artist as artist has invited his
audience to a "common experience in the mind" (as against a call to

common action or a common spiritual experience-the artist as
propagandist or priest).
Such a call does not succeed with everyone. When the aesthetic
illusion ("situation," I suspect, might be a better word for what Kris
is describing) breaks down or never takes hold, we realize that the
aesthetic illusion ordinarily serves as a protection or defense. Aes-
thetic pleasure, then, is not simply the discharge of repressed emo-
tions; the discharge must also come under the protection of the
aesthetic illusion-we take pleasure, too, in our feeling of being in
control. Response can be overcontrolled or distanced, too "thin," if
there is no point in the work of art for identification and, through
identification, energy discharge. On the other hand, control can fail,
the illusion or situation break down, when not enough energy is
neutralized by artistic convention. (Kris, here, is drawing on later
developments in libido and instinct theory: that there are two basic
drives, one to unite with and one to destroy the object, and two basic
kinds of energy, libido and aggressive energy. The task of the ego is,
in part, to neutralize these energies and so make them available for
relatively conflict-free activities.)
The artist himself has a feeling of control, which makes art for him
an almost magical activity. In magic, though, by a social agreement
we and the artist hallucinate or project onto the object as if it is some-
thing else, the god or soul it represents. Art, however, presupposes
the loss of this convention. Art must communicate in such a way that
we recognize the object for itself. Thus, the artist passively takes in
the reality he wishes to represent, then actively reproduces it, master-
ing it by ego and motor actions, which by a sort of feedback enable
him to take more reality in, reproduce more, and so on.
The artist first receives passively (enabled to do so by his precon-
scious expectation that the audience will approve); then he actively
creates the work of art as an extension of himself. His audience does
the same. After recognizing the work of art, we receive it passively,
then actively elaborate, "understand," and master it in a way parallel
to the artist's. We should understand catharsis, then, as the work of
art's opening the way for a neutralization of energy. And the shifts in
distribution of psychic energy, the cathexes themselves, give pleasure
as we move from recognition and passive stimulation to active ego
control and mastery.
Among the questions Kris raises from this account are: What
kinds of cathexes are involved in the different genres, the comic, for
example, or the sublime? In connection with imagination and intui-
tion, how can the ego give an id impulse not simply complete expres-
sion, no expression, or a compromise, but an expression which is

overdetermined, and which, in art, gives us the feeling of a multi-
plicity of meanings? As for the artistic "gift," Kris notes, the original
notion was of an endowment which the artist's environment either
fostered or smothered. A more modem approach would ask the re-
versed and more sophisticated question: How did endowment change
life experience? How did endowment manage to detach certain ego
functions from conflict? Instead, then, of speaking of "flexibility of
repression" and "sublimation" as Freud did, Kris wants to look at
"neutralization" as creating conditions for the fusion of sexual and
aggressive energies leading to mastery of the material. Conversely,
how does the degree of pathology affect the success of an artist in his
particular cultural environment? For example, the pathological artist
seems to "go" in the Romantic era, but not in classical periods. How,
then, is "style" an adaptive device? And what do we do with the post-
Freudian artist who knows his unconscious in an intellectual, not a
feeling, way?
Kris's essay, quite properly, asks almost as many questions as it
answers, since he is not only using psychoanalysis to throw light on
artistic problems but also our familiar reactions to art to illuminate
psychological processes. Kris points particularly to "regression in the
service of the ego," that is, the ability to loosen the psychic bonds and
to become as a child again, not in a neurotic way, but in order to re-
ceive passively either external reality or reality from within so that
the ego can then actively master it (as in jokes, art, dreams-and
psychoanalytic therapy).

Kris's work is highly technical, written for the psychoanalytic
sophisticate. A no less accurate book, but one much more accessible
to the layman, is Professor Simon O. Lesser's Fiction and the Uncon-
scious (1957)." A literary scholar with extensive psychoanalytic
training, Professor Lesser writes in such familiar terms as form, lan-
guage, point of view, and so on. He begins with the "narcotic" view
of literature, the earliest psychoanalytic view that fictions give us
gratifications life deprives us of, but goes on to show "fiction provides
us with images of our emotional problems expressed in an idiom of
characters and events." Thus, he moves from the original view that
literature simply expresses an impulse to the more modem one, that
literature expresses both an impulse and its adaptation.
In life, he notes, conflict is painful, yet in fiction it gives us
pleasure-why? Because a successful fiction achieves a real balance
between the claims of id, superego, and ego. Fiction at least expresses
and often grants repudiated unconscious desires, albeit in a disguised
form. The disguise itself is a concession in the direction of the super-

ego, and a further superego satisfaction is the way fiction customarily
metes out to its characters punishment and retribution for their for-
bidden drives. For the reader, his superego behaves like a forgiving
parent after a confession (expression) of these forbidden impulses.
In this sense a good fiction gives "punishment-with-love."
In fiction, form (Lesser defines it as "the whole group of devices
used to structure and communicate expressive content") gives pleas-
ure in itself, simply the pleasure of using all our minds. Form enables
us to "spy on" the characters better, at the same time that it protects
us in this slightly illicit activity. Form also relieves guilt or anxiety by
expressing particular defenses. In general, by keeping the unconscious
materials of the story masked with order and control, form binds the
unconscious material through the synthesizing and integrating func-
tions of the ego-it gives us a sense of our own mastery and almost a
child's pleasure in watching a parent (the author) doing a stunt
The language of fiction is close to primary-process thinking: it
tends to be pictorial, to tell its story in juxtaposed images. This kind
of language is ideal, therefore, for putting our own problems into an
external world, giving them order but at the same time preserving
ambiguities. The swift movement of fiction (as against the real time
our egos live in) involves less anxiety and, again, lets us "spy" better.
Fictions distance material by objectifying it. They also "bind" the
material by tying it down to the story so that flights of fantasy do not
go too far. At the same time, the story opens up fantasies; it busies
our conscious egos, and the less conscious parts of ourselves are free
to enjoy rapid, pre-verbal associations. We identify with and mentally
act out the different competing elements in the story. We "analogize,"
that is, we invent quick little fantasies relating material to our own
lives and thus we link ourselves further to the story's hero. Then, late
in the story, if it has an unhappy ending, we, in effect, release our-
selves and, distanced, watch the hero's punishment-our own egos re-
establish control over our unconscious reactions. This is the meaning
of "catharsis."

Control must take us back, too, to what is, after all, our real sub-
ject, Shakespeare, for whom this opening theoretical overview is only
a context. This survey has, I hope, justified its length by putting aside
the Vulgirfreudismus that so many literary people take for the psy-
choanalytic theory of literature; "the notion that psychoanalysis
regards the artist as the prisoner of his emotions and the victim of his
conflicts and that it reduces his art to 'nothing but' the automatic,
helpless response to them"-so Professor Louis Fraiberg has phrased
it in contrasting the older and newer psychoanalytic views.12 The

modem psychoanalytic critic does not simply pounce on an oedipus
complex or a phallic symbol. Rather, modem psychoanalysis sees the
creative process as, like everything else in life, a complex dialectic of
impulse and defense. To some extent such an approach was implicit
in all of Freud's work, even his very earliest comments on literature.
It is, nevertheless, only with the emergence of ego psychology that the
full usefulness of psychoanalysis to literature becomes clear.
Psychoanalysis offers a comprehensive view of the literary process
as a whole and of each of its stages, writer, work, and reader, of
many details such as the role of particular genres, and of such basic
issues as the question of aesthetic value. Such a view of literature,
moreover, has scientific backing, not perhaps the niceties a philoso-
pher might demand, but the principles, after all, do stem from the
experience of hundreds of working analysts and their patients. Fur-
ther, the psychoanalytic view stands not far from the traditional
views of, say, Aristotle or Keats or Castelvetro. Its notions of value,
catharsis, the moral function of literature, the role of details in the
work, the productive madness of the creative process, these are all
highly traditional ideas. The psychoanalyst, after all, looks at the
same nature that critics and artists have always viewed, and psycho-
analytic criticism has no radical disagreements with traditional ideas
about literature. Rather, her principles are, as good criticism has al-
ways been,
discovered, not devised,
Are Nature still, but Nature methodised.

[ Part II ]




Freud on Shakespeare

WE CAN start this survey of psychoanalytic views of Shakespeare on
very solid ground by noting that Sigmund Freud was not a literary
critic or scholar, but a psychologist. Freud's comments on Shake-
speare are scattered through his works, not systematic, but inci-
dental to his real study, the mind of man. Only five times did Freud
set out to analyze systematically a work by Shakespeare. Mostly, the
psychologist used the poet's insights as evidence for his own. To use
Freud's remarks on Shakespeare for literary purposes we must turn
them inside out, making his inductions deductive applications of gen-
eral psychological principles to particular aspects of Shakespeare's
plays and poems. When we do, we find his remarks are not without
purely literary interest. Further, if we take all of Freud's remarks on
Shakespeare, from his fairly extended analyses of Hamlet, Macbeth,
and King Lear to his unglozed quotations, they establish him as a
Shakespearean commentator of more than passing importance. Con-
versely, the student of psychoanalysis will find in these comments
much that illumines the workings of Freud's own mind, particularly a
curious ambivalence in his attitude toward Shakespeare, although
Freud admired the poems and plays greatly.
Freud thought Shakespeare purely and simply "the greatest of
poets," and used him as a touchstone with which to test the status
of other writers, Dostoevsky, for example,2 although he thought the
cultural level of Shakespeare's England, which he measured by its
standards of cleanliness, low: "We read that there was a big dung-
heap in front of his father's house in Stratford." s He felt, moreover,
that Shakespeare's genius should not be placed above examination,
that genius "should not be called upon as an explanation until every
other solution has failed." Freud's biographers tell us that he began
reading Shakespeare at the age of eight and read him over and over
again; he was always ready with a Shakespearean quotation. He ad-
mired particularly Shakespeare's power of expression (Freud himself
was no mean stylist) and his insights into human nature. Dr. Jones
says that Shakespeare was Freud's "favorite," 5 and Joan Rivibre, in

speaking of "his astonishing knowledge of literature," noted "his
memory, especially for Shakespeare."6 He knew English well (and
French, Italian, and Spanish),7 and most of his quotations from
Shakespeare are in English rather than German; he urged his fiance
Martha, if she could not understand some of his quotations in Eng-
lish, to "consult none other than A. W. Schlegel's translation." 8
Among his psychoanalytic friends, "Shakespeare," Hanns Sachs
writes, "was the most frequent topic of our discussions when they
turned to literature." Sachs also recalled Freud's showing him how
Shakespeare could display or conceal his characters' motivations at
will, throwing logic to the winds and courting contradictions if they
suited the emotional situation.9 The Minutes of the Vienna Society
record Freud's saying that incest, as such, occurs comparatively
rarely in Shakespeare's plays because "most of his plays are adapta-
tions of old texts and that the texts are therefore not really his
own." 10 Ludwig Binswanger remembered Freud's stating it was a
well-known idea that Shakespeare's extensive use of disguise, one
person masquerading as another, was a dramatic device correspond-
ing to substitution of setting in dreams."

In spite of his admiration of Shakespeare's works, Freud enter-
tained doubts about their authorship, not unnaturally in a way, for
Freud was often interested in people or things not being what they
seemed to be, dreams of slips of the tongue, for example. He did,
however, reject the Baconian hypothesis,1 albeit on the doubtful
grounds that, "in that event Bacon would then have been the most
powerful brain the world has ever borne, and it seems to me that
there is more need to share Shakespeare's achievement among several
rivals than to burden another man with it." For a time he flirted
with the notion that Shakespeare's face seemed more Latin than Eng-
lish, "could therefore not be that of an Anglo-Saxon but must be
French, and he suggested that the name was a corruption of Jacques
Pierre." Freud later told Jones that he had gotten this idea from
"Professor Gentilli of Nervi." Even so, Freud greatly admired the
English and rather disliked the French-changing Shakespeare's na-
tionality meant no compliment to the poet.
Finally, however, Freud settled down with the notion that the plays
were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. About 1923
he read J. Thomas Looney's Shakespeare Identified (London: C.
Palmer, 1921) and in 1926 expressed his enthusiasm for the idea to
Jones. A year later he reread the book, and in 1928 he asked Jones
(whose essay on Hamlet had already established him as the Shake-
spearean in the circle) to investigate the psychoanalytic conclusions


that would result from assigning the plays to Oxford. He was disap-
pointed at Jones's skeptical reply.' In 1930 he wrote Theodore Reik,
"I have been troubled by a change in me ... I no longer believe in
the man from Stratford." 5 and in that year he began to state his
doubts about the authorship of Shakespeare's works publicly.
In a speech accepting the Goethe Prize he announced, "It is unde-
niably painful to all of us that even now we do not know who was the
author of the Comedies, Tragedies, and Sonnets of Shakespeare;
whether it was in fact the untutored son of the provincial citizen of
Stratford, who attained a modest position as an actor in London, or
whether it was, rather, the nobly-born and highly cultivated, pas-
sionately wayward, to some extent dtclasst aristocrat Edward de
Vere." (Either way, his description is hardly flattering.) Also in 1930
Freud added a footnote to the new edition of The Interpretation of
Dreams stating that he had "ceased to believe that the author of
Shakespeare's works was the man from Stratford."
In complimenting Dr. Richard Flatter on his translation of the
Sonnets, he referred him to Gerald H. Rendall's Shakespeare's Sonnets
and Edward de Vere (London: J. Murray, 1930) and said, "The son-
nets become much more understandable" with the realization that the
Earl of Oxford wrote them.8 In another letter Freud related Lear's
three daughters and the relative dates of their marriages to Oxford's
three daughters and the dates of their marriages; he described King
Lear as a play symbolically compensating for the fact that Oxford was
a wretched father. If Oxford was Shakespeare, Freud said, he had
suffered the miseries of Othello, too. Freud accepted the identification
of Lord Derby, Oxford's first son-in-law, as Albany in Lear and
Horatio in Hamlet. He went on to deduce from the discrepancy be-
tween the dates of publication and performance and the date of
Oxford's death (1604) that "the poet did not finish one play af-
ter another," but worked on several at once, so that when he died he
left several unfinished. These, Freud concluded, were finished by
In 1935, in an addition to his autobiography, Freud withdrew the
observation (so useful to an oedipal reading of the play) that
"Shakespeare wrote Hamlet very soon after his father's death," and
announced, instead, that he was "almost convinced" that Oxford
was the author, and for the first time mentioned Looney by name.'0
James Strachey, Freud's translator, pointed out that the connotation
of the name had the unfortunate effect of strengthening the scholarly
view that the Oxfordian hypothesis was crackbrained, but Freud in-
serted the name in the American edition anyway." In 1938, on
Freud's arrival in England, Looney wrote him a note of welcome;

Freud replied in a letter expressing admiration for Looney's "remark-
able book, to which I owe my conviction about Shakespeare's
identity, as far as my judgment in this matter goes." 12 Even in his
last writings, Freud clung to the idea, relating Hamlet's oedipus com-
plex to the fact that the Earl of Oxford's beloved father had died
when the supposed playwright was still a boy, and his mother (whom
he later repudiated) had quickly remarried. "The name William
Shakespeare is very certainly a pseudonym, behind which a great
mysterious stranger [ein grosser Unbekannter] is hidden." s1
Freud's Oxfordian views on authorship have always presented a
troublesome dram of eale to anyone trying to gain Freud a hearing in
literary circles. Elsewhere I have tried to pull the thorn by showing
that Freud's doubts about authorship are part of a general pattern of
ambivalence in his personality, of which he himself was well aware
(although he did not alter his views because, I suppose, there are al-
ways enough Oxfordians around to keep one another convinced).
Freud noted, for example, in his Goethe Prize essay the importance
for all of us of affective relations with great men but noted, too, that
such feelings-as toward a father-will be ambivalent: we will ad-
mire and emulate, but we will also resent. And Freud's phrasing in
his last published words on authorship, "ein grosser Unbekannter,"
suggest that his own feelings toward Shakespeare were not devoid of
such filial ambivalence.
Ernest Jones interprets Freud's doubts about Shakespeare's iden-
tity, along with his interest in telepathy and the occult, as showing a
wish that "a certain part of reality could be changed," presumably by
just thinking it changed. I believe Jones's interpretation can be sup-
plemented by recognizing that, for Freud, the artist was pre-eminently
the man who wishes a changed reality into being through the "poetic
license" that so concerned Freud in his writings on literature in gen-
eral. We can see these feelings in a variety of Freud's writings about
artists from his pre-psychoanalytic days to the very end. "Poets are
irresponsible beings; they enjoy the privilege of poetic license." The
artist "is actually a being of a special kind, exalted, autocratic,
villainous, and at times rather incomprehensible." In his artistic fan-
tasies "he actually becomes the hero, king, creator, favorite, he de-
sired to be without pursuing [like the scientist] the circuitous path of
creating real alterations in the outer world." He is the "great man,"
more powerfully endowed sexually, who "got there before the other,"
who "has the master key to open with ease all female hearts, whereas
we stand helpless at the strange design of the lock," who, "with
hardly an effort," gets at "the deepest truths, to which we others have
S"Freud and the Poet's Eye," Literature and Psychology. XI (1961), 36-45.

to force our way, ceaselessly groping amid torturing uncertainties."
Much as we may regret Freud's Oxfordian vagary, we need to rec-
ognize that it stems from an ambivalence we probably all feel to some
degree toward Shakespeare; also, that this ambivalence was, for
Freud, adaptive in an important way. Had he not seen the artist as a
kind of totem whom he both resented and emulated, he might very
well not have created psychoanalysis which bridges science and art.

Happily, Freud did not confine his remarks on Shakespeare to
eccentric views on authorship, and when he talked about the plays he
had better things to say. Hamlet was his favorite; he would, he said,
include it and Macbeth in a list of "the ten most magnificent works of
world literature." The ghost caught his attention in this play as the
supernatural elements did in Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest,
and Midsummer Night's Dream.2 Although he was himself an un-
compromising materialist, he respected (and, I think, envied) the
poet's "right" to the unreal. "We adapt our judgement to the imagi-
nary reality imposed on us by the writer, and regard souls, spirits and
ghosts as though their existence had the same validity as our own has
in material reality." s
Freud's most famous statement about Hamlet, indeed, his most
famous contribution to Shakespeare scholarship generally, was to
point out Hamlet's oedipus complex. Perhaps, though, it is not so
much that Freud brought the oedipus complex to Hamlet as that
Hamlet brought the oedipus complex to Freud. In the very letter
(dated 15 October 1897) in which Freud first said, "I have found
love of the mother and jealousy of the father in my own case, too,
and now believe it to be a general phenomenon of early childhood,"
he immediately went on to apply the concept to Oedipus Rex and
Hamlet. It is almost as though the two plays guided him in his self-
analysis. Indeed, as he wrote a month later, "I can only analyse my-
self with objectively acquired knowledge (as if I were a stranger);
self-analysis is really impossible." He related his discovery to the
effect of Oedipus Rex: "Every member of the audience was once a
budding Oedipus in phantasy, and this dream fulfillment played out in
reality causes everyone to recoil in horror, with the full measure of
repression which separates his infantile from his present state." He
treated Hamlet differently, however, referring the complex to Shake-
speare's unconscious and showing that the character and hesitation of
Hamlet are lifelike. He used the oedipus concept to explain Hamlet's
hesitation (despite his readiness to act in the cases of Laertes,
Rosenkrantz, and Guildenstern), his pangs of conscience (guilt), his
coldness to Ophelia, his sexual distaste, and his final destruction.4

(In a curious Freudian slip, Freud had substituted Laertes' death for
the impetuous killing of Polonius.)
After some hesitation 0 Freud first publicly stated his reading of
Hamlet in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). He said, first, that
in Oedipus Rex the wish is acted out while in Hamlet it is repressed.
This, he said, showed "the secular advance of repression in the emo-
tional life of mankind." Second, he pointed out that Hamlet hesitates
in avenging his father, although he can act resolutely in other things,
because "Hamlet is able to do anything-except take vengeance on
the man who did away with his father and took that father's place
with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his
own childhood realized." Third, Freud argued that his reading of
Hamlet explained Shakespeare's distaste for sexuality at this period
(giving Timon as an example) and fitted in with Georg Brandes'
statement that Hamlet was written after the death of Shakespeare's
father and his son Hamnet. (As we have seen, Freud's Oxfordian
fancies made him withdraw these two corroborations in 1930.)
Freud related his oedipal or father-and-son reading of Hamlet to
Macbeth ("written at approximately the same period"), which, he
said, dealt with the theme of childlessness. "It can, of course," he
concluded, "only be the poet's own mind which confronts us in
Hamlet." 0
In this first period of discovery Freud wrote a highly significant
(and much-neglected) essay, "Psychopathic Characters on the
Stage," which, as we have seen, amounts to a psychoanalytic rework-
ing of the traditional idea of dramatic catharsis. He discussed the
preconditions for the enjoyment of a psychopathic character on the
stage, using Hamlet as the example of a successful characterization:
(1) The character must not start out psychopathic, he said, but
must become psychopathic in the course of the play. (2) The im-
pulse the character represses must be one common to all of us, if we
are to identify ourselves with him. (3) The impulse struggling into
consciousness must never be named, so that the spectator is carried
along unaware. This is the most important condition (and one almost
invariably disregarded by post-Freudian dramatists); if it is not ob-
served, the spectator's resistance is mobilized. "The conflict in Ham-
let," he somewhat haughtily said, "is so effectively concealed that it
was left to me to unearth it"
At a 1907 meeting of the Vienna Society Freud used Hamlet to
explain a patient, again asserting that Hamlet cannot carry out his
vengeance because he sees his own image in his rival.8 At a later
meeting he stated again that the play was Shakespeare's reaction to
the deaths of his father and his son, giving Brandes as his authority.9

In a seminar in 1910 a student labored the hypothesis that Hamlet's
splitting of his attitude toward his father between Claudius and
Polonius was like the splitting up of a personality in dreams. Freud
dismissed the matter as a "well-established fact." 10
After this first period of discovery Freud added little new to his
oedipal explanation of Hamlet, although he repeated it often: in his
American lectures," in his analysis of Michelangelo's "Moses" 12
(where he did, however, make it clear that the oedipus complex ex-
plained the effect of Hamlet, as well as Hamlet's hesitation and
Shakespeare's choice of subject), in the Introductory Lectures, t in
his autobiography,14 and in his analysis of The Brothers Karamazov.1'
A comparison of this 1928 version with his original formulation in
1897 shows-slightly-the intervening development in psychoanaly-
sis. The early insight stresses the portrayal of a neurotic crisis: Ham-
let's unconscious impulse acted out by another and his unconscious
sense of guilt for it. Hence, Hamlet delays; he is sexually cold toward
Ophelia-a displacement of his hostile wish from his father to her:
"Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?" "And," says Freud,
"does he not finally succeed, in just the same remarkable way as my
hysterics do, in bringing down his punishment on himself and suffer-
ing the same fate as his father, being poisoned by the same rival?"
The 1928 version, however, accents the defenses against the impulse:
it is projected onto Claudius, allowing the sexual rivalry then to
emerge. The projection enables Hamlet to displace his guilt, trans-
forming the guilt for the impulse to take his father's place into self-
reproach for delay and into a sense of the rottenness of all men.
In a still later reference to his insight, Shakespeare's use of the
oedipus complex in Hamlet, Freud said, was evidence for the general
principle that poets are more sensitive to unconscious attitudes than
most people.16 In An Outline of Psychoanalysis, which he was work-
ing on up to his death, he rather wryly commented on his discovery
about Hamlet, "The general lack of comprehension displayed by the
literary world showed how ready is the mass of mankind to hold fast
to its infantile repressions." 17
One would expect a psychiatrist to be interested in the vexed ques-
tion of Hamlet's madness. Freud, however, seems to have taken it for
granted that Hamlet was not mad, and refers to Hamlet's madness
only to suggest by analogy that the madness of dreams, like Hamlet's,
is not without method.18 Dreams, too, conceal the truth under "a
cloak of wit and unintelligibility." They are "but mad north-north-
west." ,
Pretty clearly Hamlet seems to have been Freud's favorite play; at
least he quoted from it more than from any other. For example, he

used, "Thrift, Horatio, thrift [sic]" to epigrammatize the economy of
wit; 2o "the funeral baked meats" furnished a metaphor for jokes
where one element serves two purposes.21 "There needs no ghost
... come from the grave / To tell us this," said Freud, as he made an
obvious point.22 On the other hand, Theodore Reik recalls a lecture
in which Freud urged his audience not to dismiss prematurely the dis-
tinctly unobvious point he was raising "from the tomb of the past, like
the Ghost in Hamlet," but, rather, "As a stranger give it welcome." s
Freud's favorite quotation (from any source), says Dr. Jones,
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.24
Apparently Freud used it frequently in conversation; in his writings,
it turns up at least five times. In his analysis of wit, he quoted
Lichtenberg's joke, "But there is also in philosophy much which is
found neither in heaven nor on earth." 25 He quoted the couplet to
say that storytellers, those "valuable allies" for the psychoanalyst,
know much "that our academic wisdom does not even dream of." 26
He compared Hamlet's words to Leonardo's "La natural & piena
d'infinite ragioni che non furono nai in isperienza." 27 He used the
quotation to state his own surprise at one difficult case; 28 he also
used it to define occultism 29 (a subject in which he was much inter-
He used, though, many quotations from Hamlet besides I.v.166-
167. False constructions in analysis he compared to Polonius' "bait
of falsehood," s and from Jean Paul who, in turn, was quoting
Polonius, he noted, "Brevity is the soul of wit." 3a Hamlet's love
verses to Ophelia served to illustrate the idea that the obsessional
neurotic's universal doubts are in reality a doubt of his own love,32
and with "words, words, words," he dismissed a controversy.33 He
used "madness" with "method in't" to discuss delusions; we have
already seen him use this phrase and Hamlet's "mad north-north-
west" in discussing the madness of dreams." In one of his own
dreams he came across caviaree to the general" as an association.36
Freud twice commented on Hamlet's remark, "Use every man after
his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?" The first time he said,
"There can be no doubt that whoever holds and expresses such an
opinion... that man is ill." 37 Yet twenty-one years later he himself
wrote to Arnold Zweig to dissuade him from writing Freud's biogra-
phy, "Wasn't Prince Hamlet right when he asked who would escape a
whipping if he had his just deserts?" 8S
More pleasantly, he complained to Martha that a Jewish holiday

kept them from speaking because centuries ago Jerusalem was de-
stroyed: "But what's Hecuba to me?" 89 In the "to be or not to be"
soliloquy Freud pointed to the oddity of having Hamlet wonder about
a life after death when he has just spoken to a ghost.40 "That undis-
covered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns," served him
as a euphemism for death,41 and "Thus conscience does make
cowards of us all," he used to illustrate the discontents and inhibi-
tions civilization must impose on us.* He analyzed a joke about
Arthur Schnitzler based on holding "the mirror up to nature." '4
Calling Hamlet "a world-famous neurotic," he quoted against over-
hasty analysts, "You would pluck out the heart of my mystery," "
and to show man's faith in the omnipotence of thoughts, he recalled
Claudius' "My words fly up." 4 Freud misquoted Hamlet's "the
readiness is all" as "to be in readiness"; his translators, however,
changed Freud's already English phrase to "ripeness," thus confusing
it with King Lear, V.ii.11.48 Finally-all too finally-on fleeing
Vienna in 1938, he wrote leaving his brother the good cigars and,
evidently referring to his troubles with the Gestapo, said, "The rest
-you will know what I mean-is silence." 4

Although Freud quoted (and misquoted) Hamlet far more than
any other of Shakespeare's plays, he did have interesting things to say
about the rest. In the Henry IV plays, the humorous effect of Falstaff
(like that of Don Quixote) illustrated his formula, "economized ex-
penditure of affect" or feeling. That is, we expect to feel indignation
at the knight (the fat one) for his gluttony, cowardice, and dishon-
esty, but we don't because of his shape, the harmlessness of his activi-
ties, the comic lowness of those he deceives, and the fact that he
ultimately becomes a puppet in Hal's hands. We "turn all we econo-
mize in him in indignation into comic pleasure." Like many another
comic character, "Sir John's own humor really emanates from the
superiority of an ego which neither his physical nor his moral defects
can rob of its joviality and security."
Freud quoted Falstaffs "if reasons were as plentiful as blackber-
ries,"2 not once, but twice,3 and in his self-analysis the misquotation
of I Henry IV, V.i.127, as "thou owest Nature [it should be 'God']
a death" played an important part in one of his chains of associa-
tion.' Ernest Jones explains the misquotation as derived from
Tristram Shandy, Book V, Ch. 3, although the phrase also occurs in
Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, B. VI. Anyway, Freud did not change
it when he included the analysis in The Interpretation of Dreams,5 or
when he repeated the phrase in his 1915 paper on war.6 "Discharge
thyself of our company, Pistol" was an example of "the double mean-

ing of a name and of a thing denoted by it." 7 In analyzing one of his
own dreams he noted, "Wherever there is rank and promotion the
way lies open for wishes that call for suppression. Shakespeare's
Prince Hal could not, even at his father's sick-bed, resist the tempta-
tion of trying on the crown." 8 The implication is that Hal's speech,
which consciously deals with the cares of kingship, masks an uncon-
scious wish for his father's death (as, indeed, Henry IV says).
Unlike most readers Freud did not neglect the Henry VI plays. He
was familiar enough with them to find an association in analyzing
one of his own dreams between the putting of a flower in his button-
hole with the scene in I Henry VI (II.iv), "which represented the be-
ginning of the Wars of the Red and White Roses." 1
Another play Freud knew well enough to dream about (although
he discounted the supernatural elements)1 was Julius Caesar. The
part that seems to have affected him most was Brutus' speech justify-
ing himself to the crowd in III.ii. In the antithetical structure of
Brutus' sentences Freud found a pattern of ambivalence in his own
emotional life: "I had been playing the part of Brutus in the dream."
He had actually, as a child, played the part of Brutus in a duologue of
Schiller's, although, Jones points out, he failed to mention its "pro-
nouncedly parricidal content." In further analyzing this dream, Freud
returned to the phrase, "As he was ambitious, I slew him," which he
associated to Prince Hal's putting on the crown (see above).2 This
same speech with its juxtaposition of "as Caesar loved me" and "I
slew him" served to describe a patient, "Rat Man's," repressed hatred
for his father.3 (Although Freud did not say so, this psychological
reading could be said to throw some light on Brutus' repressed feel-
ings, too.)
He used Antony's ironic "for Brutus was an honorable man" as an
example of representing an idea through its opposite, as in wit and
dreams; 4 another phrase from Antony's speech, "My heart is in the
coffin here [sic]" served as a way to say his own real interest was not
in medical practice, but in the study of neurosis.5 Finally, he gave the
murdering of Cinna for his name as an instance of the practice, com-
mon to magic, dreams, forgetting, and lapsus linguae, of using the
name in lieu of the person.8
Although Freud found the opening love contest in King Lear "an
improbable premiss," I he devoted a large part of his most polished
literary essay, "The Theme of the Three Caskets" (1913), to eluci-
dating it. Cordelia's behavior, he said, reminds one of other stories
(for example, Cinderella, Psyche, or the choice of Paris) in which the
third of three women surpasses the other two. Often this third woman
is mute, and muteness in dreams or stories frequently symbolizes


death. Freud therefore concluded that Cordelia, the third, the mute
woman, as in the tradition of triple mother goddesses, stood for
death. The fact that she is the most attractive and loving, he said, is a
case of "replacement by the opposite" which often occurs in dreams
and stories where the reality is too grim. Lear's initial rejection of
Cordelia, then, signifies his resistance to death and his longing for the
love of woman. His final entrance is also a reversal: Lear's carrying
Cordelia symbolizes his own being carried away by the ultimate
mother, Mother Earth. Only in these terms, said Freud, could the
effect of the tragedy be accounted for.2
There are some personal sidelights to this essay. In 1883, long be-
fore his discovery of dream symbolism, he wrote Martha calling her
Cordelia, apparently because she had a sore throat. Laughingly he re-
counted to her a conversation with Breuer in which he told Breuer that
he called his sweetheart Cordelia, although in reality they could say
anything to each other. Breuer replied that he, too, always called his
wife Cordelia-because she was incapable of displaying affection,
even to her own father.3 At the time of writing the essay itself (a year
before it was published), he dismissed it (to Ludwig Binswanger) as
a "trifle," "pleasant to discuss... at length during a walk along the
lake, but not important enough to write about." A year later he
commented to Ferenczi that a man's fate "assumes the form of one
(or several) women," noted that he was particularly close to his
daughter Anna, and hinted, "You will long ago have guessed the sub-
jective condition for the 'Choice of the Three Caskets.'" '
As for Lear's madness, in response to a question by Dr. Richard
Flatter, Freud replied that Lear's insane behavior did not "justify a
diagnosis of hysteria" or "represent a consistent psychosis." The
clinical inaccuracy, however, he dismissed as unimportant: "It should
be enough if our instinctive reaction is nowhere upset." As always,
Freud was acutely aware of poetic license.
Lear's insanity, however, proved important in another context. In a
letter to J. S. H. Bransom about his book, The Tragedy of King Lear
(Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1934), Freud agreed that "the secret meaning
of the tragedy" lay in Lear's "repressed incestuous claims on the
daughter's love." The older married sisters have outgrown and re-
pressed any sexual love for the father; Cordelia has not, nor can she
bring herself to speak of this forbidden love. Lear's insanity in this
context signifies "a forceful rejection of the content of the dream"
(i.e., play) both by Lear and by Shakespeare, who, he noted, had
added Lear's insanity to the sources. Lear's madness says, in effect,
"Only a madman would have such desires." Freud found reinforce-
ment of this aspect of the theme in Shakespeare's curious silence

about the mother of the three girls. Freud went on to explain that his
earlier discussion of Lear dealt with "the mythological content of the
material." This new psychological angle, he said, put the earlier
meaning in the background, although "I hope to show," he wrote,
"that in Shakespeare's Lear the old meaning glimmers at times
through the new one."
He never did, but it is possible to see how they relate, anyway.
Lear's desire for Cordelia (indeed, all his behavior in the love con-
test) is regressive and childish. His angry rejection of Cordelia,
throwing her away to her suitor, repudiates his regressive desires, but
it also repudiates her for not responding to them. Mythologically, as
Freud's earlier essay showed, Lear is also childishly rejecting death.
His final union with Cordelia ("Have I caught thee?") represents on
the mythological level a mature acceptance of death; psychologically,
it is a further regressive attempt to "have" his daughter. This ambiva-
lence between child and wise old man is, as the Fool points out,
Lear's folly throughout; it persists even to his final words, the mad
insistence that Cordelia must be alive even as death is gathering them
both in. This ambivalence, indeed, is not only the basis for the char-
acter of Lear (and his daughters); it is also a unifying theme of the
play, the divorce of what is from what ought to be, the schism be-
tween earthly fact and heavenly value-as in the idealizing of the
third, mute woman, Mother Earth, in the triad of the mother goddess.
Such a combination of the early essay and the later letter would
make Lear the play that Freud most fully analyzed, although he
quoted from it only once-in analyzing a joke about a fat lady,
"Every fathom a queen." 8 Love's Labour's Lost was another play
Freud quoted only once, for the proposition that,
A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it,
a point that Freud's theory of wit explains.1
After Hamlet, Macbeth seems to have been the Shakespearean
play that most interested Freud. In his first public statement of Ham-
let's oedipus complex, he mentioned simply in passing that "Macbeth
... is concerned with the subject of childlessness." 1 Freud himself did
little more with the point, but other analysts, notably Ludwig Jekels,
developed it, and showed how basic the ideas of parenthood,
progeny, and procreation are in the play. At the Vienna Society
Freud said the play gave proof of what a poet can do with a drama
written for a special occasion,2 and compared what he took to be the
immediate stimulus behind Macbeth, the desire to pay tribute to


James I, to the "whole content of the drama," "its grandeur and its
mystery." In the same way, he said, the immediate stimuli behind a
dream give no insight into the whole content of the dream.3
Despite Freud's overweening respect for reality and despite the
supernatural elements in Macbeth, Freud said he would include it in a
list of "the ten most magnificent works of world literature." 4 Mac-
beth's unreality even prompted him to a defense of the poet's power
to tamper with reality: "It is no valid criticism of Shakespeare that
about the year 1000 Macbeth was a just and benevolent King of Scot-
land. On the other hand [the poet] should respect reality where it is
established and has become common property." Freud used the
"hallucinations" of Macbeth and Richard III to illustrate Sir James
Frazer's theories about ghosts.6 These ghosts represent the poet's
privilege; although they are not frightening, we consider them as real
within the play.8
The character of Lady Macbeth seems to have been the most inter-
esting part of the play for Freud. In 1895 he described the case of a
woman with mysophobiaa," a fear of dirt, who would touch door
handles only with her elbow and who washed her hands constantly.
"It was the case of Lady Macbeth. The washing was symbolic, de-
signed to replace by physical purity the moral purity which she re-
gretted having lost." A few months later the same case appeared
in Studies in Hysteria, but was described by Freud's coauthor Breuer.'e
In 1907 the gentlemen of the Vienna Society were discussing a case
of somnambulism and nocturnal delirium in which the patient would
talk in her sleep but without betraying the secret at the root of her
neurosis. Again, Lady Macbeth seemed apposite, and Freud sug-
gested that talking in sleep never betrays the really important secret,
only a substitute for it. Lady Macbeth, it is true, does betray the se-
cret of the murder, but this, Freud argued, is her husband's secret,
not hers, only connected to her." In an unpublished paper (de-
scribed by Dr. Jones) he compared the Empress Charlotte to Lady
Macbeth: "Charlotte's husband, Maximilian, had been completely
impotent.... So she, like Lady Macbeth, had turned all her energies
into ambitious plans." 12
Finally, in 1916, relying on Ludwig Jekels' two essays on Macbeth
(see his Selected Papers [New York: International Universities
Press, 1952]) Freud gave a full analysis of the character."1 What
piqued Freud was the following problem: Since neurosis is caused by
frustration, why does Lady Macbeth break down when she achieves
success? All through the play it is she who is resolute; even in the
sleepwalking scene she repeats the words she used to put heart into
her husband. Yet remorse finally breaks her. Why?

In answer Freud first noted the importance of parents and children
in Macbeth. The recent death of the childless Elizabeth provided the
occasion for the play; the witches' prophecies gave the crown to
Banquo's children; Macbeth's hope of children (Freud cites Ivii.
72-74) is defeated; and finally there is Macduffs shattering cry: "He
has no children!" Macduff himself is a "sinister" exception to the
laws of generation. Freud concluded,
It would be a perfect example of poetic justice... if Macbeth could not
become a father because he had robbed children of their father and a
father of his children, and if Lady Macbeth had suffered the unsexing
she had demanded of the spirits of murder. I believe one could without
more ado explain the illness of Lady Macbeth, the transformation of her
callousness into penitence, as a reaction to her childlessness, by which she
is convinced of her impotence against the decrees of nature, and at the
same time admonished that she has only herself to blame if her crime has
been barren of the better part of its desired results.
Similarly, the reaction to childlessness could also explain "the change
in Macbeth to a sanguinary tyrant." Inexplicably, however, Freud
assumes that the events of the play take place in one week, and he
rejects this line of explanation.
Alternatively, Freud goes on to suggest another motive, a struc-
tural one (taken from Jekels), namely, that Macbeth and Lady Mac-
beth "are the divided images of a single prototype," and neither
character makes psychological sense until recombined with the other;
she finally fulfills the madness his pangs of conscience had anticipated
earlier. "She is incarnate remorse after the deed, he incarnate
defiance-together they exhaust the possibilities of reaction to the
crime, like two disunited parts of the mind of a single individuality."
Finally, Freud hinted (after discussing other things) that, since the
sense of guilt seems to be derived from the oedipus complex, the
reason the forces of conscience induce illness on attaining a forbidden
end may well be simply the basic pattern taken over from the oedipus
situation: we would break down were we ever to fulfill our oedipal
wishes. Certainly, this explanation would have some bearing on Lady
Macbeth's remorse for helping kill a man who resembled her father.
As with Hamlet, Freud used quotations from Macbeth to explain
his own ideas and feelings, the prophetic character of childhood
fantasies,14 or (in a letter of 1878)" his feeling that the vision of
his collected works startled his prescient mind as Macbeth was star-
tled by seeing the line of English [sic] kings "stretch out to the crack
of doom." In his paper trying to straighten out the priority of the
cocaine discoveries he repeated his statement, again using it to ex-
press his wealth of ideas. (No wonder in the Leonardo essay he


would say the creative man thought of his works as his children.)
Freud likewise drew on Macbeth to express his own hope that he
would die in harness.17 He noted the symbolic significance of
Macduffs Caesarean birth: "Birth is both the first of all dangers to
life and the prototype of all the later ones that cause us to feel anx-
iety, and the experience of birth has probably left behind in us the
expression of affect which we call anxiety. Macduff of the Scottish
legend, who was not born of his mother but ripped from her womb,
was for that reason unacquainted with anxiety." I8
We have already seen Freud's points about Lear which he made in
"The Theme of the Three Caskets." Oddly enough, the essay did not
say a great deal about The Merchant of Venice. Bassanio's speech
choosing the lead casket he found unconvincing enough to suggest
concealed motives. Following the Miller-like solar mythology of
Eduard Stucken, Astralmythen (Leipzig: E. Pfeiffer, 1896-1907),
he compared the Prince of Morocco and the gold casket to the sun,
the Prince of Aragon and the silver casket to the moon, Bassanio and
the leaden casket to the stars. Behind this astrological folklore, how-
ever, the three caskets are "symbols of the essential thing in woman,
and therefore of a woman herself." (He might also have mentioned
the three rings associated with Portia, Nerissa, and Jessica.) The
choice among three women relates in turn to Lear's choice among his
three daughters and other such choices among three women in
mythology. The third woman, being pale and silent or else most
lovely, represents-ultimately-Death (see above).' We can relate
Freud's idea to the play as a whole through the theme of venturing,
which links the romantic plot to the mercantile one. This third
woman, Death (lovely, rich, and merciful in a Christian view), stands
for the investor's return in the great venture of life itself.
Freud twice quoted with approval Otto Rank's description (in
Zentralblatt fiir Psychoanalyse, I, 109-110) of Portia's slip of the
tongue in the casket scene:
One half of me is yours, the other half yours-
Mine own, I would say-but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours.
" The poet with exquisite fineness of feeling'" lets Portia's real
thought slip through. "'It shows that the poets well understand the
mechanism and meaning of such slips and assume that the audience
will also understand them.' 2
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, although Freud regarded the
fairies as mere poetic fiction,1 he found a larger significance in
Titania's actions. "In the neuroses belief is transposed: it is withheld

from the repressed material if it forces its way to reproduction [con-
sciousness?] and-as a punishment, one might say-is transposed on
to the defensive material. So Titania, who refused to love her rightful
husband Oberon, was obliged instead to shower her love upon Bot-
tom, the ass of her imagination." 2 (Such a reading would apply to
the transpositions of the lovers, too, and to dreams, thus giving a
richer significance to the play's title.) Theodore Reik recalls two
other comments Freud made on A Midsummer Night's Dream. At a
lecture in Vienna (unpublished) he suggested that the play was con-
cerned with "the maliciousness of objects," a particular case of the
magical, animistic thinking of children and primitives.2 In a conver-
sation with Reik in the thirties Freud said, "Look how impoverished
the poet's imagination really is. Shakespeare, in A Midsummer
Night's Dream, has a woman fall in love with a donkey. The audience
wonders at that. And now, think of it, that a nation of sixty-five mil-
lions have. ." 4 Very early in his analytic thinking Freud found a
true account of the creative imagination in Theseus' description of
"the lunatic, the lover, and the poet." 5 Josef Breuer (probably at
Freud's suggestion) applied the description of Peter Quince's play
("The best in this kind are but shadows") to physiological explana-
tions of psychic processes.9 Freud himself compared the lion that
concealed Snug the joiner to lions in dreams which do not frighten the
dreamer; such figures, he said, refer to superiors of whom one is not
Much Ado About Nothing gave him just one quotation, Dogberry's
advice to the watch to avoid thieves, which Freud applied to physi-
cians who thought it dangerous to bring complexes to consciousness.1
Othello, we have seen, served to confirm the Oxfordian hypothesis.'
Also, in the Moor's outbursts over the lost handkerchief, Freud found
an example of displacement,2 and similarly, he quoted Desdemona's
song, "I called my love false love," as an example of "projected jeal-
ousy." That is, the jealous one is often projecting his own im-
pulses on his partner.$ (Possibly the song serves by reflection, as it
were, to illuminate part of Othello's motives.)
Freud made one curiously oblique reference to Pericles. In describ-
ing earliest childhood, he came up with the phrase, "O inch of na-
ture!" (in English). A bit puzzled himself, he wrote to Theodore
Reik asking if he could locate it. On Reik's (understandable) failure
to do so, Freud urged him not to trouble himself further. "No one
was able to locate it. Where I could have picked it up remains a mys-
tery, for it is hardly likely to be of my own coining. Since, besides
Shakespeare, I used to read only Milton and Byron, there is still the
possibility that it might be found in Byron." (Evidently Freud is list-


ing the English authors which were his favorites.) In the Standard
Edition, Freud's editors did turn up the elusive quotation, not in
Pericles itself, but in the novella based on the play, George Wilkins'
'The Painfull Adventures of Pericles Prince of Tyre" (1608). The
editors point out that Freud probably knew the phrase (addressed by
Pericles to his infant daughter), not from stuffing his head with all
such reading as was never read, but because the phrase appears in
Georg Brandes' book. The incident suggests not only the workings of
Freud's memory but also his extraordinary familiarity with this one
He caught a "Freudian slip" in Richard II, the Duke of York's
addressing the Queen: "Come, sister-cousin I would say-pray
pardon me." 1 York has just learned of his sister's death, and surely
that must have something to do with his lapsus linguae, but Freud
said simply that this was an example of a slip of the tongue used by a
writer to reveal character and explained no further.
In discussing neurotics who consider themselves "exceptions" to
the ordinary rules of life, Freud gave the example of Richard III's
opening soliloquy. It seems to say that since Richard cannot prove a
lover, he will play a villain. "So wanton a cause of action," Freud
said, "could not but stifle any stirring of sympathy in the audience,"
and for the play to succeed "the writer must know how to furnish us
with a secret background of sympathy for his hero." "The bitterness
and minuteness with which Richard has depicted his deformity" have
a hidden effect; they make us feel "that we ourselves could be like
Richard." "Richard is an enormously magnified representation of
something we can all discover in ourselves," namely, the tendency to
reproach nature and destiny for our own lack of perfection and to
"demand reparation for early wounds to our narcissism, our self-
love," in short, the tendency to consider ourselves "exceptions."
Shakespeare, however, has very subtly not revealed this aspect di-
rectly, and so he keeps us identified with his hero without our quite
knowing why. Had he let us know Richard's appeal, Freud said, "our
cool, untrammelled intelligence... would preclude any great degree
of illusion." 1 Another aspect of the play, Richard's wooing of Anne
beside the bier, touched on a topic of recurring interest to Freud-the
poet's "right" to alter reality. The dramatist, he said, is free to
shorten the natural timing of events to enhance dramatic effect so
long as he only affronts probability; such a shortening is not justified
"when it breaks the causal connection" (as in his supposition that the
events of Macbeth took only a week).2 The unreal ghosts in Richard
III simply represented for Freud "a superstitious fear" of the slain.3
Romeo and Juliet served him with one quotation to describe the

two political possibilities for Austria in 1934: "A plague on both
your houses." He illustrated the dominant influence on dreams of
the wish to sleep with Juliet's "It is the nightingale and not the lark"
-in dreams, only interpretations of somatic stimuli "are admitted
which are consistent with the absolute censorship exercised by the
wish to sleep."2
As we have seen, Freud felt that the Sonnets gave further proof
that Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford; 1 he did not say, though
Shakespeareans often seem to think he did, that the Sonnets showed
Shakespeare was a homosexual. Curiously, although he thought The
Tempest autobiographical like the Sonnets, he never analyzed, he
only quoted it. (The supernatural elements he took to be, again,
poetic license.)1 When he was shown a hostile book (Charles E.
Maylan's Freud's Tragischer Komplex [Munich: Ernst Reinhardt,
1929]), which purported to give a psychoanalytic description of
Freud's own personality, he simply repeated Caliban's "You taught
me language; and my profit on't is, I know how to curse." 2 Ariel's
song, "Full fathom five," with its notion of a sea change, he used to
illustrate the substitutions which must have arisen for the real
memory of killing "the primal father." 3
Timon of Athens, he said, showed the same distaste for sexuality
that Hamlet did and so proved it could only be "the poet's own mind
which confronts us in Hamlet." At the Vienna Society he said this
period of embitterment (on the basis of the Brandes' dating) raised a
suspicion of venereal infection.2 A much more satisfying reference
with which to conclude this long listing is his use of Twelfth Night in
a letter to his future wife; he quoted Feste's "frolicsome lines":
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.
What is love? Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.1
And beyond that there are only trivia.1

Freud was indeed a lover of Shakespeare, an amateur in the finest
sense. It is true that his views on authorship were at least eccentric if
not downright hostile. It is true, too, that, quoting from memory
rather than from a text, he often misquoted and that he was fre-
quently mistaken about the facts of Shakespeare's life or of the plays;


he was far too ready to accept without questioning the vagaries of
continental scholars such as Darmstetter or, in particular, Brandes.
Nevertheless, a summary of Freud's remarks on Shakespeare shows
two things. First, he had some extraordinary insights into Shake-
speare's works; second, his treatment of Shakespeare-much greater
in bulk than his comments on any other writer-established the basic
methods of applying depth psychology to literature.
Freud's method was to take a pattern of mental life (which had
been established scientifically) and hold it up, as it were, against the
play to discover a congruous pattern. Merely establishing the con-
gruity was not enough; Freud did not simply play (as some of his fol-
lowers have) here-a-phallic-symbol-there-a-phallic-symbol. Rather,
he went on to draw conclusions either about psychoanalysis or about
the author, the play's effect, the probability of some or all of the plot,
the structure, or the language. If about the author, Freud would point
to two things: first, an infantile wish common to all men embodied in
the play; then some event in the author's biography that would reac-
tivate the wish at the time of writing the play (Hamlet's oedipal feel-
ings at the time of John Shakespeare's death; the theme of childless-
ness in Macbeth and the English succession). If Freud's conclusion
was about the play's effect on an audience, he would speak in terms
of a common unconscious factor, explaining, for example, that a
villain like Richard III appeals to us because he plays on our own
wish to be an "exception."
Freud had relatively little to say about the play itself in isolation,
except with respect to character. His comments on Shakespeare's lan-
guage were almost entirely limited to showing that in wit and poetry,
not logic but the prelogical primary process of unconscious thought
operates. Freud remarked on structure only rarely and then in terms
of the psychic mechanism of decomposition or splitting; that is, vari-
ous attitudes toward the father are decomposed into the several father
figures of Hamlet; Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are splits of a single
Usually, if Freud was discussing the play itself, he would conclude
that a certain character or event was lifelike or probable in psycho-
analytic terms, that Hamlet's delay was natural under the circum-
stances, or that all of us make slips of the tongue as Portia does. On
the other hand, he would sometimes (where an event was obviously
unrealistic) find in it the truth of dreams, a psychological rather than
a literal truth, the love contest in Lear, for example, the various
ghosts, the choice among the three caskets, or Titania's showering her
love on Bottom. Thus, in Freud's writings at the very beginning of
psychoanalytic criticism we find the basic schism in method that has

persisted ever since: psychoanalysis used on the one hand to justify
the realism of the events; on the other, to find in unreal events a
psychological truth.
This split, of course, is intrinsic in Shakespeare's half-medieval
style, and it runs through the body of ordinary Shakespearean criti-
cism as well as psychoanalytic studies. Yet this mingling of realism
and fantasy clearly had a special relevance for Freud, bothered as he
was by "poetic license." The writer possessed powers of insight and
discovery that he himself wished for. At the same time the artist was
a daydreaming child conjuring up a world of illusions and fantasies
quite alien to the reality with which the hard-working scientist con-
cerned himself. It can scarcely be an accident that this basic ambiva-
lence in Freud's attitude toward the artist shows in his practical criti-
cism of Shakespeare's works. Nor is it strange that later psycho-
analytic critics should have come up against the same ambiguity, for
psychoanalysis does, after all, bring together art and science, fantasy
and reality.
Freud's remarks on Shakespeare also show a slight shift in his
approach to literature as the concepts of psychoanalysis developed
over the years. (The history of psychoanalytic concepts remains to be
written; my dates, therefore, are quite approximate.) In the earliest
period, from 1895 on, just as psychoanalysis in general was con-
cerned with infantile sexuality as expressed in particular neurotic
symptoms, Freud saw works of literature as essentially the working
out of a neurosis (as, for example, in Hamlet, either the prince him-
self, or Shakespeare's writing the play). We can date a formal interest
in myth and symbolism from about 1910 on, and the typical work of
this period is "The Theme of the Three Caskets," which represents a
second and somewhat contradictory approach to literature (contrast,
for example, Freud's two approaches to King Lear). In 1908 Freud
first approached the problem of character (in the sense of the endur-
ing aspects of personality rather than neurotic crises); his first literary
contribution in this field comes in the "Character-Types" essay of
1916 with its analyses of Lady Macbeth, Richard III, and Ibsen's
Rebecca. This approach, like the earliest, is essentially realistic, while
the intervening approach through symbol and myth is antirealistic,
treating the work of art as a dream.
The papers on instincts and other metapsychological concerns that
begin in 1914 have little bearing on practical criticism, but the shift
in the theory of anxiety and the development of the structural hy-
pothesis of id, ego, and superego in the early and middle twenties do
suggest a synthesis of the three earlier approaches. Unfortunately,
Freud's interest in studying particular works seems to have fallen off

quite sharply in this period: only the essay on Dostoevsky (1928)
with its passing remarks on Hamlet works out this later approach,
which was thus left to Kris and others to develop.
As for Freud's particular insights, some of these are well known:
Hamlet delays because reactivated oedipal wishes have precipitated
a neurotic crisis; Lady Macbeth washes her hands in an attempt to
wash off moral guilt; symbolically and mythologically the three
caskets in the Merchant of Venice and the three daughters in Lear
mean the three aspects of woman that represent man's fate. Others of
Freud's insights are less well known than they should be: his explana-
tion of the humorous appeal of Falstaff; the psychological approach
to King Lear; the sense of the Macbeths as a split protagonist; his
explanation of our empathy with the thoroughly unsympathetic Rich-
ard III. Readers of Shakespeare have already had to cope with a few
Freudian readings; confronted with more, as in the chapters to fol-
low, they may well cry, "Rest, rest, perturbed spirit." Freud, I am
sure, would have replied, "There are more things in heaven and earth,

A Note on Scope

Apr&s Freud, le deluge. The flood comes, of course, not just as
writings on Shakespeare but not all phases of psychoanalysis. Nor did
the flood come entirely after Freud. Long before his death in 1939
the volume of analytic writings had begun to bulk large on library
shelves. In part this bulk stems from theoretical developments; in
part, from differences in theoretical developments. These differences,
important as they are to psychoanalytic theory, generally do not
touch this present business of Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. They
do, however, give rise to certain troubles in the selection and ordering
of material.
So far as selection is concerned, what writers come under the head-
ing "psychoanalysis"? In the largest sense, almost any twentieth-
century intellectual does, for he has been affected. In the narrowest
sense, only psychoanalysts who are members of the International
Psycho-Analytical Association do. Freud himself defined the badges
of "psychoanalysis" differently at different times. In 1913, "Psycho-
analysis stands or falls with the recognition of the sexual component
instincts, of the erotogenic zones and of the extension thus made possi-
ble of the concept of a 'sexual function' in contrast to the narrower
'genital function'" (SE, XII, 323). In 1914, "The theory of repression
is the cornerstone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis
rests" (XIV, 16), while in 1920 the recognition of the oedipus com-
plex "has become the shibboleth that distinguishes the adherents of
psychoanalysis from its opponents" (VII, 226n.). Finally, in 1923,
he put them all together: "The assumption that there are unconscious
mental processes, the recognition of the theory of resistance and
repression, the appreciation of the importance of sexuality and of the
oedipus complex-these constitute the principal subject matter of
psychoanalysis and the foundations of its theory. No one who cannot
accept them all should count himself a psychoanalyst" (XVIII, 247),
or, I suppose, a writer of "psychoanalysis."
Writers who accept these assumptions constitute the hard core of
the chapters that follow, and I can say with some confidence that I

have included all writers and writings on Shakespeare up to 1964 that
meet these qualifications. Beyond this core matters get very fuzzy
very quickly, however. In order to present a complete picture, I have
included below writings by literary people who simply seem psycho-
analytically inclined, and I have also included writings by followers of
Jung, Adler, Rank, Stekel, Fromm, Sullivan, Homey, and so on, even
behaviorist or experimental psychologists from academia, when they
seem to deal with phenomena which an orthodox psychoanalyst would
consider as "unconscious," or even, simply, when their contributions
seem interesting or appropriate. My criteria, then, once we have passed
the boundaries of true psychoanalysis, are sufficiently subjective so that
I am unwilling to guarantee that the reader will find everyone included
-or excluded-that he might wish.
Myth-and-ritual readings presented a special problem. Historically,
I think, this approach to Shakespeare stems from a marriage de
convenance of Jungian psychology to folkloric anthropology (for ex-
ample, the Germanic successors to the brothers Grimm or such
writers as Sir James Frazer or Gilbert Murray). Such readings are
hardly "psychoanalytic," and I have excluded them except where they
seemed to relate explicitly to a conception of "unconscious mental
processes" even if the conception is one at which an orthodox
psychoanalyst would wince. I have excluded approaches to Shake-
speare through Elizabethan humours psychology and also, for the most
part, through ordinary medical psychiatry (those writers in the
tradition of Bucknill who classify the various insanities depicted in
Shakespeare's plays).
As for the quality or value of these studies and remarks on
Shakespeare, I find the percentage of "hits," real contributions, about
the same as that of ordinary Shakespearean criticism, which, in my
experience, has about the same batting average as a good major-
league hitter. The psychoanalytic critic, however, when he strikes out
seems to do a far more bizarre job of it than his literary counterpart
-when psychoanalytic criticism is bad, it is horrid. Nevertheless,
because my aim is to put all psychoanalytic criticism of Shakespeare
on view, I have not excluded any item on the basis of quality alone.
But since this is, or should be, a bibliographic raisonnie, I have
taken the liberty of abbreviating my account of some of the odder
items. As for my own position in all this, I am simply trying to make
a lucid presentation of all psychoanalytic writings about Shakespeare.
To that end I will sometimes suggest additional sources of support for
a given view, but you should not assume I agree with any of these
restatements and amplifications of others' positions unless I specifi-
cally say so (with the vertical pronoun).

No less a problem than selecting materials was the matter of order-
ing them. The psychoanalytic critic on Shakespeare may draw three
kinds of conclusion: first, something about Shakespeare the man, his
biography; second, something about a psychoanalytic theory, usually
of art; third, something about the work itself, a character or episode
in it, or its effect on an audience. According to the psychoanalytic
view of art, particularly the idea that in the work of art the uncon-
scious of the artist speaks to the unconscious of his audience, all
these three types of conclusion are intimately related, and a single
psychoanalytic study will often draw all three kinds. To the reader of
literature, however, there is quite a difference between them. There-
fore, I have sorted out these various conclusions, and where a given
study draws conclusions of different kinds I have mentioned it more
than once. The three chapters of this section, then, correspond to
those three kinds of conclusion the psychoanalytic critic draws from
Shakespeare: Chapter 9, conclusions about the work itself; Chapter
8, conclusions about psychoanalytic theory; and, in the next chapter,
conclusions about Shakespeare the man.



and the Man

FREUD himself, we have seen, had relatively little to say about Shake-
speare the man, except that he had great respect for Shakespeare's
abilities as a writer and for his insights into human nature. Freud did
suggest that the death of Shakespeare's father and son prompted
Hamlet and a period of depression marked by sexual distaste as in
Timon or Hamlet's harsh words to Ophelia. He found in Macbeth
Shakespeare's supposed concern with childlessness. Mostly, alas,
Freud in writing about the man Shakespeare simply insisted he
wasn't Shakespeare; and Freud expressed a variety of doubts as to
Shakespeare's identity, ranging from the common Oxfordian heresy
to the extraordinary notion that Shakespeare was really a Frenchman
named Jacques Pierre. As Jones points out in his biography, Shake-
speare was not the only great man whose personality interested
Freud; there were also Moses and Leonardo da Vinci, and for all
three men Freud introduced questions of identity. Evidently, as Dr.
Jones concludes, "something in Freud's mentality led him to take a
special interest in people not being what they seemed to be." Whether
because of a recognition that this was a mere idiosyncrasy of the
master's or because of Dr. Jones's own resolutely Stratfordian ortho-
doxy, or out of a simple respect for evidence, later Freudians have
been content to pass by in silence Freud's anti-Stratfordianism-with
one exception.
Dr. A. Bronson Feldman has brought forth an extended analysis of
the Sonnets to prove psychoanalytically they were written by the Earl
of Oxford.' The only truly psychoanalytic aspect of this study, how-
ever, is Freud's letter to J. Thomas Looney, the original Oxfordian,
which Feldman enthusiastically quotes. Feldman also has produced
analyses of Othello, Pericles, and The Comedy of Errors to the same
Oxfordian end (we shall consider them when we consider biographi-
cal readings of individual plays).

Much more interesting is Dr. Feldman's analysis of the psychology
of bardolatry.2 He notes two recurring themes: first, the use of reli-
gious imagery (Ben Jonson's loving the man "on this side Idolatry"
would be an early example); second, a tendency to point to Shake-
speare's financial success. He concludes that "the Stratfordian cult"
persists because it gratifies unconscious wishes. That is, by accepting
Shakespeare as the author of the plays, people work out through him
such things as oedipal wishes for the mother (Mary Fitton, he says,
was a surrogate for Shakespeare's mother; Shakespeare symbolically
took possession of his mother by acquiring what Dr. Feldman takes
to be the Arden coat of arms). Stratfordians also satisfy, he says,
wishes for financial success; wishes to dishonor the parents (as Dr.
Feldman says Shakespeare did); or wishes to attack the father
(through Shakespeare's supposedly slaughtering beef). Most impor-
tant, he says, Stratfordians symbolically kill their own fathers when
they "kill" the true author, who is a father figure, and substitute the
butcher's apprentice of Stratford (sic).
It would be interesting to see a similar analysis of anti-Stratfordian
"cults"; but then perhaps there needs no analyst come from the couch
to tell us the motives of those who wish to replace the bailiffs son
with an earl. Professor Gordon Ross Smith has most eloquently
pointed out that the evidence for Shakespeare's authorship is quite
overwhelming and that no psychoanalytic conclusions based on inter-
nal evidence from the plays can shake this fact, well established by
external evidence.3 Luckily, most psychoanalytic writers have been
content to accept the same documents the scholars do, and, having
considered the lone Oxfordian, we are free to turn to Shakespeare
himself-or his biography.
The analytic writer's use of biographical facts, though, differs
rather markedly from the ordinary biographer's; indeed, it is likely to
prove rather disconcerting to him. That is, the biographer is primarily
interested in writing the poet's life history; for him, documentary evi-
dence is the most reliable, internal evidence from the works the least
reliable. To the psychoanalytic biographer, documentary evidence
(while factually it may be the most reliable) is likely to be the least
valuable psychologically.
Indeed, I know of only one psychoanalytic comment on Shake-
speare which starts from an external biographical fact, a brief remark
by Otto Rank at the Vienna Society in 1907 to the effect that many
great poets start their careers with a kind of flight-in Shakespeare's
life, his move from Stratford to London. Rank suggested that for
most poets such a flight means an emancipation from the families of
their childhood, from parents and siblings. Shakespeare, however,

freed himself of wife and child, although Rank said they were dis-
placements from the parents.'
Such external biographical facts, however, simply do not give
much useful material from a psychological point of view. Documents
from our own day, let alone Shakespeare's, are hardly likely to pro-
vide the kind of information the psychoanalytic biographer would
wish about the infantile life of the poet, say, his feelings at the age of
two toward his mother. On the other hand, the poet's choice of words
and themes in his adult life, the internal evidence from his works,
tells more than any document can about the infantile wishes still
active in his unconscious, and one can infer the actual infantile situa-
tion. Thus, the typical psychoanalytic study of Shakespeare as a man
will start from the works, either ignoring the documentary evidence
or using it to confirm a family situation that agrees with the psycho-
logical pattern found from internal evidence. As the late Hans Sachs
said, the psychoanalytic biographer best utilizes external biographical
data, "not by accepting them as the raw material for the work, but by
using them to find and fixate the exact spot where the creative fantasy
was stirred, the spot where it deviated from the reality and replaced it
by a world of its own making."
At this point the Shakespearean scholar (even one who ac-
cepts the basic psychoanalytic proposition that infantile wishes still
nag the adult) is likely to object. Internal evidence, he would point
out, is necessarily mixed. Shakespeare could have put a given element
in a play for any one of a number of reasons: because it was in his
source for the play, because that was the way Elizabethans wrote
plays, because someone in the King's Men wanted it that way, and so
on. Reluctantly, the psychoanalytic critic (I suppose) would have to
agree, although (it seems to me) he is entitled to two caveats.
The first is against either-or thinking. The whole point of the
psychoanalytic view of art--and life-is that any given person must
be seen, as it were, in terms of geological strata. Today's outcropping,
be it choice of word or burst of rage, expresses a continuing growth
of personality from deepest, earliest infancy to the present time. Rec-
ognizing in a literary work the infantile, unconscious strata in the
author's mind does not exclude the importance of sources or conven-
tions; rather, it puts them at their proper late and adult level.
Second, in the matter of sources, the mere fact that a given element
in a play is in the source for the play does not rule it out of the au-
thor's mind. Where the writer invents the element outright or where
he deliberately alters the source, we are close to his fantasy life.
Where he takes over the element from a source unchanged, we are
further away, but the element of choice is still there: he could have

omitted it-and an author's omissions can be as revealing as his in-
clusions. In short, had Shakespeare wished to change his source he
could have done so; were the source not congenial to his artistic in-
vention, he would not have chosen it in the first place. Sources may
qualify our reading of the man in his works; they do not rule out such
In practice, Shakespeare's psychological biographers have been
fairly careful in the matter of sources; virtually every psychological
study of one of Shakespeare's plays that looks back through the works
to the poet considers the role of the source. Psychoanalytic writers on
Shakespeare have paid rather less attention to the formal exigencies
of Shakespeare's stage and acting company or the tastes of his audi-
ence. Even here, though, the same considerations apply: we do things
in life for many reasons at many levels; and surely Shakespeare was
successful enough financially and popular enough as an author to
vary convention or toss it aside where it suited him to do so. Shake-
speare, Jonson, Dekker, Marlowe, Heywood, Beaumont and
Fletcher-they were all writing for more or less the same stage and
audience, yet their works are as different as, presumably, their per-
sonalities. Even conventions and sources do not rule out the theoreti-
cal possibility of looking back through the poet's works to his mind.
In practice Shakespeare's psychological biographers have faced
just the opposite problem from his documentary biographers, a pleth-
ora of evidence rather than a paucity. There are three kinds of psy-
chological study, each based on a different segment of the works. One
group looks at Shakespeare's personality through extensive study of a
single character or a single work. A second group looks at Shake-
speare through over-all patterns of action in all his works or a group
of them. A third group of writers, mostly nonpsychoanalytic, looks
at images and metaphors rather than action or character. The
permutations and combinations possible in all this are bewilderingly
many, and, in hopes of keeping our course obvious, I offer at this
point a chart in the form of an outline. We have already considered the
lone Oxfordian and the one writer who begins with an external fact.
The remaining psychoanalytic biographers all work on the assump-
tions that Shakespeare was Shakespeare and that the proper place to
begin the psychological study of the man is in his works, either in

I. Single works or characters:
a. The Sonnets (notes 5-9)
b. Attitudes toward the father as shown in
i. Hamlet (10-18)
ii. Others: Caesar (19), Macbeth (20-21)

c. Attitudes toward the mother as shown in Coriolanus (22-25)
d. Attitudes toward siblings (26-27)
e. Miscellaneous: Henry IV (28), Merchant (29-30)
Merry Wives (31), others (32-38)
II. A group of works (39-53)
III. All the works (54-58)
IV. Diction and imagery (59-65)

For those psychoanalytic critics who have turned to one or more
isolated works for Shakespeare's psyche, the Sonnets have proved
most popular because they are-or seem to be-openly auto-
biographical. Many, many psychoanalytic writers mention them in
passing to show that Shakespeare had a homosexual side; only one
psychoanalytic writer has analyzed them in detail. Most simply note,
as Otto Rank does, two factors in the sonnet "story": first, that
woman is treated as "an evil, disturbing daemon"; second, that
Shakespeare's glorification of the "friend" functions in his mind as a
glorification of himself ("What is't but mine own when I praise
thee?")." H. McC. Young has argued very strenuously per contra
that the Sonnets themselves show that Shakespeare could not have
been homosexual (in particular, Sonnets 20 and 151, relied on rather
heavily by the pro-homosexualists).6 A homosexual, he says,
would not urge his love to marry, would find no appeal in a "woman's
face," and the "one thing" with which "nature prick'd thee out for
women's pleasure" would not be to his purpose nothing. But Young,
evidently, is talking of the overt homosexual, and what a latent
homosexual might or might not say had best be left to those whose pro-
fession requires that they know. From that medical vantage point,
however, Dr. W. I. D. Scott concurs: the last four lines of Sonnet 20
explicitly rule out any overt homosexual relationship,7 although he
does not discuss the Sonnets at length.
Dr. Conrad van Emde Boas is the only psychoanalyst who has
treated the Sonnets in great detail (some six hundred pages' worth)
-and with considerable caution.8 He makes it quite clear that look-
ing back through Shakespeare's works toward his life has sharp limi-
tations. First, he notes that the Sonnets and the "double-
disguise plays," Twelfth Night and As You Like It, show the same
pattern: a man and a woman are rivals over a "master-mistress." He
denies, however, that these writings imply that Shakespeare was
physically involved with some boy actor in the company; only an
"intrapsychic identification" is implied. Boas is quite willing to accept

the "conservative" view (represented, say, by the late Hyder Rollins)
that the Sonnets are more like formal set pieces or drama than auto-
biography. Boas, however, points out that the factual truth or falsity
of the poems does not matter; they reveal Shakespeare's unconscious
mind equally well whether they are true or invented. He sharply criti-
cizes earlier writers (such as Oscar Wilde) who have said Shake-
speare was an overt homosexual; such writers, he says, are motivated
by their own guilt rather than a disinterested quest after truth. He
agrees with the scholarly view that it is obvious from the documen-
tary evidence about Shakespeare's life and from the customs of
Shakespeare's England that he almost certainly could not have been a
manifest homosexual.
Dr. van Emde Boas approaches the Sonnets by analyzing those ele-
ments in the poems that refer to persons. He compares the descrip-
tions of the persons to the mechanisms that psychoanalysis has
found behind homosexuality. The first of these is the young boy's
shock at the discovery that there are people in the world (women,
usually his mother) who seem to lack his physical masculinity. Some-
times the boy reacts by preferring in love someone who is intact, as it
were, like himself. In the Sonnets Boas points to the poet's general
tendency to identify with the beloved youth and, in particular, to the
notorious Sonnet 20:
A woman's face, with Nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
And for a woman wert thou first created,
Till Nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure.
A second mechanism in homosexuality is the young boy's over-
identification with the "good mother" image, the mother as provider
and forgiver. Boas finds this mechanism pervading the sonnets urging
the lover to have a child, and also in Sonnets 21 and 40:
O let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother's child ...
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief...


The third mechanism is a boy's reaction to a brother who rivals
him in his mother's love. He gives over his beloved to the brother
against whom he feels a resentment so terrible he cannot face it con-
sciously; instead, he shows an exaggerated tenderness. In this connec-
tion Boas points to the general triangle situation in the Sonnets in
which the poet resigns his lady love to his friends.
In general, the homosexual elements Boas finds in the Sonnets are:
first, the poet's tendency to identify himself with the friend; second,
the poet's readiness to take the role of a mother toward the friend and
to regard a father as "decrepit"; third, the poet's encouraging the tri-
angle situation and resigning from it.
Finally, Dr. van Emde Boas turns to the facts of Shakespeare's
childhood for confirmation. He finds a parallel between the Sonnets,
the Freud-Jones view of Hamlet, and the birth of Shakespeare's
brother Edmund (although surely Gilbert would be a more logical
candidate) as a successful younger rival to the poet for their mother's
love. Hamlet in this view is a projection of Shakespeare himself
caught between a father figure and a successful younger rival. Boas
dates the triangle episode of the Sonnets after 1595 and traces to it
Shakespeare's "depression" after 1600. The fact that this depressive
period was also one of great creativity suggests that what was bother-
ing Shakespeare in his tragic period was not guilt about his love for
his friend or a sense of betrayal, but rather the final loss of his two
loves, and (against his friend) a resentment he could not face. Boas
supports his view by showing statistically that those sonnets in
which the poet adopts a mother role are not the same as those in
which he writes of depression.
The point of his book is that, first, it is perfectly clear from the
external evidence of the poet's life that he was not a manifest homo-
sexual; it is, however, equally clear from the Sonnets that Shake-
speare had unconscious (or, better perhaps, childish) impulses
which, had he acted them out instead of writing them out, would have
constituted homosexual behavior.
Probably no other psychoanalytic angle on Shakespeare has pro-
voked such an angry response from professional Shakespeareans as
the notion that the Sonnets are homosexual. In this controversy two
facts should be borne in mind. First, the psychoanalyst (if he is being
careful) is not talking about manifest homosexuality; he is talking
about unconscious homosexual impulses, which are quite a different
thing. He does not imply, when he says that the Sonnets reveal latent
homosexuality, that Shakespeare's actual sex life was in any way
abnormal-or, at least, unusual. Second, the psychoanalyst would
say that virtually all men go through a homosexual phase in child-

hood, that this is a normal part of a man's development, and that
most men carry a residue of this early stage all their lives. Some
strongly defend against it. Luckier are those who don't, for, paradoxi-
cally, a man needs to accept the feminine component in himself to be
a good heterosexual lover-if he cannot love the woman in himself,
he cannot love it in another.
In general, this feminine component in a man has to do with his
ability to wait, to be passive, to be sensitive and receptive to others
-and to inspiration. So far as a writer is concerned, it would be
almost impossible for him to create a realistic feminine character
unless there were at least some part of his mind that readily
identified with women. In short, such cogent defenses of Shake-
speare's manifest heterosexuality as Professor Edward Hubler's and
such careful probings of his latent homosexuality as Dr. van Emde
Boas' coexist quite comfortably: they are talking about two quite
different levels of the mind. The psychoanalyst who calls the Sonnets
homosexual is not implying either that Shakespeare behaved "un-
naturally" or that he was in this respect markedly different from other
If anything is odd about Shakespeare in this respect, it is his
writing about the theme so much; that would suggest he was not easy
in his mind about his love for the youth of the Sonnets. Such, anyway,
is the line Professor Leslie Fiedler takes, relying heavily on the juxtapo-
sition of poems in the collection that preceded the Sonnets, The
Passionate Pilgrim.9 Essentially, Professor Fiedler says, the theme
of the Sonnets is that of Two Loves, not in the form usual to our cul-
ture, Wife and Mistress, but rather Boy and Whore.
In the Sonnets, the dirty puns and double-entendres heap scorn on
sex with women; the boy is like a woman in his beauty, but not in infi-
delity or his genitals (Sonnet 20). The Passionate Pilgrim draws not
only on the Sonnets but on Venus and Adonis where the theme comes
out even more clearly. This Ovidian erotic poem, says Professor
Fiedler, shows exactly what Shakespeare feared most about sex: the
encounter of a passive male and an aggressive female. Elsewhere in
his works this meeting becomes shameless lust defeating modest rea-
son; Venus and Adonis and the Sonnets symbolize it as a boy and a
woman. Professor Fiedler guesses that Shakespeare longed for a way
of being conceived without heterosexual intercourse (as in the ban-
ishment of Venus from the wedding masque in The Tempest or
Posthumus' "Is there no way for men to be, but women/Must be half-
workers?"). Sex with a woman for Shakespeare, and, no doubt, for
many of his half-medieval audience, was something to fear and
distrust. At the same time it seems clear that Renaissance readers


and writers recognized the homosexual basis of a cult of friendship
(love) between man and man; certainly the theme shows clearly
enough in Ovid's widely read treatments of Hermaphroditus and
The Passionate Pilgrim also draws on Love's Labour's Lost, in
which woman (Rosaline) leads man (Berowne) away from a society
which is pure because it is purely male. In Two Gentlemen of Verona
and The Merchant of Venice women break up male friendships; in
Julius Caesar and II Henry IV political crises produce the same result.
In short, woman and the serpent are one, as in Posthumus' diatribe in
Could I find out
The woman's part in me! For there's no motion
That tends to vice in man, but I affirm
It is the woman's part: be it lying, note it,
The woman's flattering, hers; deceiving, hers;
Lust and rank thoughts, hers, hers; revenges, hers;
Ambitions, covetings, change of prides, disdain,
Nice longing, slanders, mutability,
All faults that may be named, nay, that hell knows,
Why, hers, in part or all; but rather, all.
(II.v.19-28) *
At the end of Love's Labour's Lost there is a kind of self-hatred as
the male community falls apart; the witty man, his wit denied, must
commit himself to the pain and impotence of those in hospitals as
though that were the penalty for heterosexual love.
Matching the Two Loves are Two Immortalities-one the immor-
tality of the body through breeding (the "procreation" sonnets); the
other the immortality of the soul through the poet's art (19 or 107
among others). These immortalities suggest a cultural context for the
male love celebrated in the Sonnets. Shakespeare, says Professor
Fiedler, was seeking an answer to the old problem of courtly love,
long under attack as adulterous and idolatrous. He rescues much of
the old apparatus by transferring the love for a married woman to a
young male: love still redeems and improves manners; the lover still
serves as a muse; and the love is still outside marriage, with sexual
consummation avoided. But his device fails: the boy-a woman's son
(41)-deceives him with a whore. And Shakespeare himself seems to
suffer a sense of guilt about such a love. And yet, although the Son-
Of course this speech is ironic in its context Posthumus' wife has not
been unfaithful to him, although he does not know that. Professor Fiedler's
point would be that the thought was a live possibility to Shakespeare, not that
he necessarily held such a view in daily life.

nets fail in their task of psychological and intellectual rescue, they
live as a permanent and beautiful achievement to psychoanalyst and
literary man alike. Perhaps that is the only point on which the two
agree, though, for Professor Fiedler's oedipal account of their psy-
chology is mostly inconsistent with Dr. Boas' more sophisticated in-
ferences based on the mechanism of conflicting identifications.

Of the plays, the one that psychoanalysts have treated as most
revealing of Shakespeare's psyche is Hamlet. We have already seen
Freud's view, with its elegant logic. (1) Over the centuries critics
have been unable to say why Hamlet delays in killing the man who
murdered his father and married his mother. (2) Psychoanalytic
clinical experience shows that every child wishes to do just that.
(3) Psychoanalytic experience also shows that the wish persists in
the unconscious mind of the adult, and that wish and deed seem the
same there. (4) Were Hamlet, then, to punish Claudius for murder-
ing his father and marrying his mother, he would condemn himself as
well; therefore he delays. (5) The fact that the wish is unconscious
in all of us explains why centuries of critics could not themselves ex-
plain Hamlet's delay.
Freud went on to assume that Hamlet was speaking for Shake-
speare himself, and that, in turn, raised a further question: Since
oedipal wishes are repressed after infancy, what had reactivated them
in Shakespeare's mind? Freud suggested that it was the death of the
poet's father, John Shakespeare, but later withdrew the suggestion
when he turned Oxfordian.
The late Ernest Jones's Hamlet and Oedipus began life as an
article in 1910, became the introduction to an edition of Hamlet, and
finally took the form of a book. It is generally regarded as a classic of
psychoanalytic criticism,10 but, in fact, Jones largely repeats Freud's
basic insight, rather more slowly, to be sure, and with a large if some-
what indiscriminate sampling of Shakespearean scholarship.
In essence, Jones added only three points. First, he showed in de-
tail how the son's conflicting attitudes of love and hate toward the
father were worked out in the play by splitting or "decomposing"
both father and son into different figures: the ghost, Claudius, and
Polonius on the one hand; Hamlet and Laertes, on the other. Second,
he added another version of the oedipal reading. Freud had argued
that Hamlet could not punish Claudius for doing what he, Hamlet,
had always wanted to do. Jones added, if Hamlet killed his mother's

husband, he would be acting out the first half of the oedipal wish to
get rid of the father and take his place with the mother. Hence,
against punishing Claudius there stands the whole force of Hamlet's
childhood development that put down this oedipal wish. Third, Jones
suggested some other reasons from Shakespeare's biography for his
infantile feelings about his father having become reactivated around
1601. There was the death of his father, of course, although Jones
admits that what evidence there is for the date of Hamlet makes it
rather more likely that the play was written before, not after, the
death of John Shakespeare. There was the death of Essex as a possi-
ble stimulus, but there, too, the dates are ambiguous. Finally, with
some reluctance, he settled on the hypothesis that Shakespeare had
been betrayed (as in the Sonnets) by Mary Fitton. "For a psycholo-
gist," he wrote, "it is hard to think that Shakespeare never passed
through the experience they [the Sonnets] describe, which accords so
well with the emotion he vividly portrays in all his great tragedies,"
namely, disillusionment through betrayal.
Another early Freudian who used Hamlet as a glass in which to
view Shakespeare's psyche was Otto Rank. After a period of twenty
years in the bosom of orthodoxy, Rank broke with Freud on the
issue of the importance of the shock of birth to later life. Many of his
writings on literature, however, date from his orthodoxy, in particu-
lar, the massive Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage," which first
appeared in 1912. (Rank added polemic to his later edition, after the
break with Freud, but left his original insights unchanged.) The book
originally sought to reinforce the Freudian hypothesis of the univer-
sality of the oedipus complex by a wide variety of examples of incest
themes from myth and literature. Rank proceeds further to show how
the forbidden oedipal relation of mother and son tends to accrete to
itself-or, more exactly, to express itself in-other taboo relations:
father-daughter, brother-sister, uncle-niece, and so on. His chapter,
"Shakespeares Vaterkomplex," considers several aspects of the poet's
character and also several plays. Of the plays which supposedly show
Shakespeare's feelings toward his father, Rank particularly stressed
Rank adopted the Freud-Jones view of the play, that Hamlet ex-
pressed Shakespeare's guilt for the normal childhood resentment of
his father which had been reactivated by John Shakespeare's death.
Rank's special view of the play, however, was that it expressed not only
Shakespeare's feelings as a child, but also his feelings on becoming
the father of his own family. So far as Shakespeare's feelings as a son
are concerned, the ghost, Rank suggested, represented a projection of
the father's accusation and the son's regret for his earlier resentment.

Gertrude, Rank said, represented Shakespeare's feelings as a child that
his mother was sinful with his father, and Rank posited a violent reac-
tion by the poet against his mother which led him to marry a woman
much older than himself and then to turn away from her and all
women toward his own sex (as implied by the Sonnets).
Rank also noted that three times in Hamlet a conversation between
Hamlet and a woman forbidden him is spied upon by father figures:
Polonius and the king spy on Hamlet and Ophelia; Polonius and later
the ghost spy on Hamlet and his mother. Rank saw these spying epi-
sodes as reversals of a common childhood fantasy, the "primal
scene," in which a son watches or wishes to watch or imagines him-
self watching his parents in the sexual act. These fantasies powerfully
stimulate the son's desire to "play" the father and also to avenge
himself on the father, in Claudius' situation, to kill him "in th' in-
cestuous pleasure of his bed."
At the same time that Hamlet projects Shakespeare's feelings as a
son, Rank points out that the play taken as a whole also represents
Shakespeare's feelings as he replaced his own dead father. Shake-
speare must have felt remorse over his dead son Hamnet; uncon-
sciously, he would, like most men, fear now that he himself was the
father, his children would resent him as he had resented his father.
Thus, in the play Hamlet, Laertes, the eager, loyal son, stands as an
example to Hamlet; unconsciously he acts out the poet's feelings of
remorse toward his own father, while Hamlet, in delaying, acts out
the hostile ones.
Rank selects as one of the most remarkable achievements of
Shakespeare's art his mingling in the figure of the ghost his own feel-
ings both as father and as son. As a son, spying on the king and
queen, the ghost tries to separate them; as a father, spying on his son
and his wife, he cautions Hamlet against harming Gertrude. The
ghost combines the son's hatred of the father and love of the mother
with the reaction against them-honoring the father, dishonoring the
mother. Hence, Rank suggests, Shakespeare with fine poetic intuition
altered his source to give both father and son the same name, Hamlet.
Finally, Rank laid great stress on the tradition that it was Shake-
speare who acted the ghost in performances of Hamlet and acted him
superbly. Rank argued that every time Shakespeare played the part,
he "became" his father and allayed his filial thoughts against the
father. Also as ghost, he identified with the son (as against Clau-
dius) and so vindicated his own infantile thoughts against the father.
Shakespeare played the ghost so well, Rank says, because he used the
role to sustain his own psychic balance.
The Freud-Jones view of Hamlet (with or without Rank) has


been repeated again and again by psychoanalytic writers, mostly just
in passing, occasionally at length.12 The basic point, that Hamlet's
problem (and through him Shakespeare's) is oedipal, seems to be
almost axiomatic in psychoanalysis. There have been remarkably few
changes in the theory at least as it is applied to Shakespeare the man.
One such change was provided by Otto Hinrichsen who in 1933
took a gestalt view of Hamlet.1s Hinrichsen made an eminently sens-
ible qualification on all such approaches to a Shakespearean play as
Jones's or Freud's-approaches that take Shakespeare's characters for
real people (Hinrichsen quotes with approval Schiicking's notion that
Shakespeare is a "primitive") or approaches that take one character
as "speaking for" the poet. No single character, Hinrichsen says, can
express the conflict in Shakespeare's psyche; only the choice and han-
dling of the material and the interaction of characters can speak the
poet's mind. "Hamlet is only the showplace of an inner battle." The
poet projects himself into all his characters. He breaks up the contin-
uum of his own psyche into the sharply defined conflicts of the
characters. Artistic characters thus exist only partially, as single
psychic factors; they simply do not have the many-sided existences of
real people. Hinrichsen's common-sense objection, however, has
found little sympathy among psychoanalytic critics.
Nevertheless, one psychoanalytic critic did produce a total view of
Hamlet, albeit a look through the tragedy to Shakespeare. An English
teacher before she became a lay analyst, the late Ella Freeman
Sharpe showed remarkable skill in bringing together large numbers
of details from a given play. In an early paper on Hamlet (1929) 4
she adopted the usual view, but offered a supplement based on
Freud's description of the mechanism of melancholia. In Mourning
and Melancholia Freud suggested that the loss of a loved person is fol-
lowed by a sort of psychic incorporation of his image which then be-
comes an aggressive, accusing, relentless force of conscience; all
kinds of earlier sins are dredged up and held against the ego. Hamlet,
she points out, has recently lost his father, and he is full of self-
accusation. Clearly, he is a victim of melancholia or, in a more
modern term, depression. But-and this is Miss Sharpe's con-
tribution-"The poet is not Hamlet. Hamlet is what he might have
been if he had not written the play of Hamlet." No single character
speaks for Shakespeare; they all do. They are all projections of his
mind. "He is the murdered majesty of Denmark, he is the murdered
Claudius, he is the queen, Gertrude, and Ophelia. He is Hamlet."
What aspects, then, of Shakespeare's mind (confronted with the
death of his father) do the several characters represent? The dead
king is the good image of the father; Claudius is the bad. The ghost

(entombed) is the father incorporated or buried in the mind, a super-
ego reproaching the self or ego. Laertes, she says, embodies the sadis-
tic energy of these reproaches from the superego. Gertrude is, of
course, the mother; Ophelia is the mirror image of Hamlet, the femi-
nine side of Shakespeare. The tragedy (both for Hamlet and
Ophelia) is a suicide according to the mechanism Freud posited for
melancholia. On the one hand, Hamlet tries to wait out the time
needed for the mind to adjust itself to the loss; he is trying, in effect,
to wait out the sadistic urgency of the accusing image of his father
represented by Laertes. At the same time, his mind has regressed to
the lowest level of infancy in which the father and the mother are
thought of as a single parent figure ("one flesh"); the child-and
Hamlet-tries to keep these treasures, to incorporate them in himself,
literally, to devour them. (This is the mechanism, she says, behind
Hamlet's reproaching his mother for her urgency and her appetite.)
Poised against Hamlet is Horatio, the man Hamlet wishes he could
be: slow, suffering all. The final tragedy is precipitated by Laertes'
sudden actions. In short, "Hamlet's death is a dramatized suicide,
superego and ego roles being allowed to different characters."
Miss Sharpe's achievement lies in restoring the sense of unity or
interplay within the poet's mind. Jones and Rank, working from
Freud's earliest insights, stressed the gratification of the poet's uncon-
scious wishes by a single character, Hamlet. Miss Sharpe builds on
Freud's later writings, particularly the tripartite structure of the
mind, id, ego, and superego. Thus she succeeds in relating the whole
play, not just a single character, to the poet's mind. In a later paper,
left unfinished at her death, she tries to go a step further in her link-
ing of Hamlet to Shakespeare's mind. She posits that the unity of the
play is to be sought not only in the purely psychic forces of its
creator's mind, but also in the bodily manifestations of those psychic
The theme of procrastination is already, she says, implicitly a body
metaphor. That is, the unconscious impulses of the adult Shakespeare
were disorganized by some oedipal crisis, the death of the father, be-
trayal by Mary Fitton, or cause unknown. His adult drives regressed
to the earlier strata of infancy when the child found his satisfactions
not in genital activity but in anal. Then, with a sense of release and
exhilaration, corresponding to Aristotle's catharsis, all the impulses
are discharged at once and the system cleared.
Miss Sharpe finds in support of this proposition a good deal of
imagery associated with anal processes: references to air, for exam-
ple, to smells and noises, and to the ear (a common "displacement
upward" of the anus). She finds also associated with Hamlet himself

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