Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shakespeare and Psychiatry

Here's an interesting article on Shakespeare and psychiatry from Psychiatric Times, a online publication that is worth reviewing regularly, even for clinical psychology types. You can also sign up for email news alerts without having a subscription. They even have online quizzes to test your knowledge of various topics (e.g., bipolar disorder, PTSD, suicide, etc.). There are also a bunch of great blogs located on the site, written by some of the most influential people in the mental health profession. It is great place to visit if you have any interest in the DSM-V controversies.

Some excerpts:

"American psychiatrists have enthused about Shakespeare from the very beginning of their profession. The early issues of the American Journal of Insanity (predecessor of The American Journal of Psychiatry) contain more than a dozen articles on Shakespeare. Isaac Ray, a president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) who pioneered forensic psychiatry in America, thought Shakespeare was essential professional education: “few men [I add women] . . . are so familiar with those adversities of mental character that are in any degree the result of disease, as not to find the spheres of their ideas on this subject somewhat enlarged by the careful study of Shakespeare.


Sigmund Freud...launched the practice of psychoanalyzing Shakespeare’s characters with his observations on Hamlet in the Interpretation of Dreams.8 We are told by Peter Gay9 (Freud’s biographer) that when Freud was 8, he was already reading Shakespeare and reciting in near perfect English some of the famous lines. There are quotes from Shakespeare scattered throughout the collected works, and in perhaps his most important insight, Freud recognized Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Sophocles’ Oedipus and formulated the Oedipus complex—the cornerstone of psychoanalysis and of his personal self-analysis.

Kurt Eissler10 one of Freud’s most loyal adherents (and the author of his own erudite study of Hamlet) believed that Freud got more of his ideas from Shakespeare than from his patients. That seems to me entirely believable. In my own retrospective judgment, once one gets past the Interpretation of Dreams and the Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, it is fair to say that Shakespeare saw more deeply and broadly into the human condition than Freud."

If you need any more encouragement to read your Shakespeare (and see the plays performed), this is an excellent essay.

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