Saturday, May 7, 2011


or are you just happy to see me?

Radio ShowYep--yesterday was Sigmund Freud's birthday.  What a perfect time to discover an essay in Stephen Marche's How Shakespeare Changed Everything detailing how Shakespeare influenced Freud.  "From Shakespeare through Freud came the idea that a healthy sex life is an unrepressed sex life," writes Marche.  "Was there a more powerful, a more vital, a more influential idea in the whole of the twentieth century?"

Marche goes on to explain that the "humanistic, unembarrassed approach to desire" was ahead of his time--and perhaps ahead of our time--in his open ideas about sexuality.  The most successful part of the essay, I think, is Marche's discussion of the complications of gender identity in the bard's plays.  Because of the theatrical tradition of boy actors playing female characters, "transvestitism is always in the background" of the plays.  But Shakespeare plays around with that convention until we get dizzy.  "How can you play Twelfth Night, with a woman dressed as a man (who is really a man dressed as a woman) and a woman falling in love with a woman who is dressed as a man (who is really a man), without taking into account the charged effects of its role-bending sexuality?"

Or as I wrote about in the post TransShakespeare a while back (when talking about As You Like It), "you have a male actor playing a female character (Rosalind), playing a male (Ganymede), playing a female (mock-Rosalind).  And when Phoebe falls in love with Ganymede, it was actually a male actor showing love to a male actor, even though on stage it was a female character showing love to a female character."

Does this kind of twisting gender play lead to Freud, or just leave the staid psychoanalyst baffled?

What Marche is referring to most directly when he links Shakespeare and Freud is how the Oedipus story gets reworked in Hamlet.  According to Marche, the original Greek telling of Oedipus has the desire to kill one's father and sleep with one's mother expressed openly.  In Hamlet, Shakespeare has that desire "hidden, repressed."  Our repressed desires "return to haunt us like the Ghost that haunts Elsinore."  Hamlet, in short, "is the original neurotic."

My ideas about this book have not changed after reading these additional essays: The book isn't particularly scholarly and Marche absolutely overreaches in his arguments--and yet I have not had such good nerdy fun reading a book in a long time.  See if your library has a copy!

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to thank you again for the heads-up on the Folger Library Macbeth with the DVD. I'm using it with my seniors, and we are all enjoying discussing it, especially how humor is used in the play. Thanks again!


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