“The conflict in ‘Hamlet’ is so effectively concealed,” he wrote, “that it was left to me to unearth it.”Freud’s hilarious (and no doubt self-conscious) boast is doubly resonant in “Stay, Illusion!
,” the thoughtful, fascinating, and difficult new book about “Hamlet,” by Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster.
If the essence of love is wanting, it’s no wonder that shame and narcissism are so often part of love.
It’s intrinsically shameful to need and need and need, and the bottomlessness of this need breeds anger and resentment. We’re all just living in our own heads, chasing after impossible fulfillment.
The first is that Hamlet waits because he is a sane person in an insane world.
To begin with, he is unsure about trusting the ghost and must stage “The Mouse-Trap,” the play within the play, to verify Claudius’s guilt.Perhaps there’s something a little unhinged about the whole problem.In the nineties, in a brilliant essay called “Hamlet’s Dull Revenge,” the writer René Girard faulted critics for writing as though “no more was needed than some ghost to ask for it, and the average professor of literature would massacre his entire household without batting an eyelash.” Our response to “Hamlet,” he thought, said more about our bloodlust (and about the roots of theatre in religious sacrifice) than it did about Shakespeare.Rather, it’s that the possibility of being violent fills him with shame.In “Hamlet,” they write, shame is pervasive; it has settled on Elsinore like a fog.Then, later, Hamlet must confront his own thoughtful, nonviolent nature.After Hamlet tells Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery!Your love is genuine, but so are your perpetual feelings of emptiness and of powerlessness. We claim to love one another, but it’s just “words, words, words.” If this is what love is, then Hamlet doesn’t want it.What’s most galling, perhaps, is the realization that the people whom you love are similarly empty. Perhaps all they want is the outward show of his love for them. It may be that Hamlet is seeing the truth about love.Around 1905 or 1906, Sigmund Freud wrote an essay, unpublished in his lifetime, called “Psychopathic Characters on the Stage.” The essay addressed the question of what we, as spectators, get out of watching people go crazy.Freud’s theory was that we’re fascinated by crazy characters because they help us express our own repressed impulses.