From King Lear to The Tempest (London) : 6th February 1946 : Ella Sharpe

by Julia Evans on February 6, 1946

Read before the British Psycho-Analytical Society, February 6, 1946 and reprinted in International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1946, Vol XXVII, p19 :

Available here

Also published in ‘Collected Papers on Psycho-analysis’ by Ella Freeman Sharpe: Edited by Marjorie Brierley : No 36 of The International Psycho-Analytical Library : The Hogarth Press : 1950, Editor Ernest Jones. See below for details.

There are no references to Sigmund Freud’s texts in this paper.

For details of availability of other papers by Ella Sharpe, go to ‘Posts for the “Sharpe Ella” category’ here

Quoted by Jacques Lacan:

Seminar VI: Desire and its Interpretation: Cormac Gallagher’s translation, availability given Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar VI : Session of 4th March 1959 : Ch 13: p162 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : The theme of Hamlet, after Freud, was taken up on several occasions. I probably will not make the rounds of all the authors who took it up. You know that the first one was Jones. Ella Sharpe also put forward a certain number of things about Hamlet which are not uninteresting, Shakespeare’s thought and Shakespeare’s work being right at the centre of her formation. We may have an opportunity to come back to it.

Seminar VI : 18th March 1959 : Ch 15 : p189-190 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

You clearly understand me then. I am saying then that if Hamlet, this is the essential point, has a privileged import for us, I mean if Hamlet is really the greatest drama, or one of the greatest dramas of modern tragedy putting Faust on the other side, it is not simply because there is a Shakespeare who is as much of a genius as we suppose him to be, and a particular turning point in his life – because obviously we can also say that Hamlet is a point at which something happened in Shakespeare’s life. This can be summed up perhaps in the fact that all that we can say about it, because we know the thing that has happened, it is the death of his father, and to be satisfied with that means that we are satisfied with very little. And we also suppose that around this event there must also have been other things in his life, because the veering, the orientation, the turnabout of his production is really obvious. Before there was nothing except this succession of comedies, or these historical dramas which are really two genres that in both cases he pushed to their highest degree of beauty, of perfection, of ease. Up to then he is almost an author with two great specialties on which he plays with a mastery, a brio, a happiness which puts him among the authors enjoying popular success. From Hamlet on the whole skyscape has altered, and we touch things which are beyond all limits, which no longer have anything to do with any kind of canon, which are no longer of the same order. After Hamlet, we have King Lear, and still more things before we end with The Tempest.

We sense here something completely different, a human drama which develops on a completely different register. It is when all is said and done the Shakespeare who is the jewel of human history and of the human drama, who opens up a new dimension on man. Therefore something has certainly happened at that moment. But is it enough for us to be certain of that to think that that is what it is? Of course in some way. But let us observe all the same that if Hamlet is the play which most presents itself as an enigma, it is only too obvious after all that not every play which poses a problem is for all that a good play. A really bad play can be one also. And in a bad play there is probably, on occasion, an unconscious just as present, and even more present, than there is in a good play. If we are moved by a piece of theatre, it is not because of the difficulty of effort that is represented by it, or because of what the author allows to pass into it unknown to himself. It is because, I repeat, of the dimensions of development that it offers to the place to be taken up by us in what properly speaking the problematic of our own relationship with our own desire conceals in us.

Seminar VI : 11th March 1959 : Ch 14 : p172-173 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

Our precise goal being to give, or to give again its meaning to the function of desire in analysis and analytic interpretation. It is clear that this should not give us too much trouble because I hope to make you see, and I am making my statement here right away, I believe that what distinguishes the tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, is essentially that it is the tragedy of desire. Hamlet which – we cannot be absolutely sure, but according to the most rigorous studies – was first presented at London during the Winter season of 1601; Hamlet of which the first quarto edition, this famous edition which was almost what could be called a pirate edition at the time, namely that it was not done under the control of the author, but borrowed from what were called [actors copies], booklets used by the prompter. This edition – it is interesting all the same to know these little bits of literary history – was unknown until 1823, when a few filthy copies were found – ones which had been handled a good deal, probably taken to the performances. And the Folio edition, the great edition of Shakespeare, only began to appear after his death in 1623, preceding the great edition in which the plays are divided into acts. Which explains why the division into acts is much less decisive and clear in Shakespeare than elsewhere.

In fact it is not believed that Shakespeare intended to divide his plays into five acts. This is important because we are going to see how this play is divided. Winter 1601, is two years before the death of Queen Elizabeth. And in effect one may think approximately that Hamlet, which is of capital importance in the life of Shakespeare, reduplicates as one might say the drama of this joining up of two epochs, two aspects of the poets life, because the tone changes completely when James I comes to the throne, and already something is hinted at as one author says, which breaks the crystalline charm of Elizabeth’s reign, of the virgin queen, she who makes a success of those long years of miraculous peace after what constituted in the history of England, as in many countries, a period of chaos into which it will promptly return with all the drama of the puritan revolution.

In short, 1601 already announces the queen’s death, which one could not fail to foresee, with the execution of her lover, the Earl of Essex which takes place in the same year as the play Hamlet.

There is a point in evoking these reference points, since we are not the only ones to have tried to resituate Hamlet in its context. What I am telling you here is something that I have not seen stressed by any analytic author. These are nevertheless the kind of basic facts which are important.

To tell the truth, what has been written by analytic authors cannot be said to have been enlightening. And today I will not put forward my criticism of what a certain line-by-line interpretation of Hamlet has directed itself towards. I mean, I am trying to rediscover one or other element, without in fact one being able to say otherwise than that the more the authors insist the further we get from the comprehension of the totality, from the coherence of the text.

Quote from ‘Preface’ by Ernest Jones

from Collected Papers on Psycho-Analysis by Ella Freeman Sharpe: No 36 of The International Psycho-Analytical Library : The Hogarth Press : 1950

Quote: Ella Sharpe (1875-1947), who had been a teacher of English literature, first made contact with psycho-analysis through working under James Glover at the Brunswick Square Clinic. She joined the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1921 after spending some time in Berlin being analysed by Hanns Sachs. He and she belonged to the galaxy of brilliant lay analysts who demonstrated that, however desirable a medical qualification may be, it is possible for exceptional persons from other callings not only to master the theory and technique of psycho-analysis but to make important contributions to our knowledge of it. Both became leading teachers in that subject (“training analysts”).

Contents of Collected Papers on Psycho-Analysis by Ella F. Sharpe:

Edited by Marjorie Brierley :

Preface by Ernest Jones

For details of availability go to ‘Posts for the “Sharpe Ella” category’ here


I Contribution to symposium on Child Analysis (1927)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1927, Vol VIII, p380

II The Technique of Psycho-Analysis. Seven Lectures (1930)

1. The Analyst

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1930, Vol XI, p251

2. The Analysand

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1930, Vol XI, p263

3. Survey of Defence-Mechanisms in General Character-Traits and in Conduct: Evaluation of Pre-Conscious Material

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1930, Vol XI, p361

4. The Dynamics of the Method – The Transference.

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1930, Vol XI, p374

5. Anxiety : Outbreak and Resolution

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1931, Vol XII, p24

6. Variations of Technique in Different Neuroses. Delusion. Paranoia. Obsession. Conversion Types.

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1931, Vol XII, p37

7. Technique in Character Analyses.

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1931, Vol XII, p52

III A Note on “The Magic of Names” (1946)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1946, Vol XXVII, p152

IV The Psycho-Analyst (1947)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1947, Vol XXVIII, p1


V Certain Aspects of Sublimation and Delusion (1930)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1930, Vol XI, p12

Probably posted to

VI Similar and Divergent Unconscious Determinants Underlying the Sublimations of Pure Art and Pure Science (1935)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1935, Vol XVI, p180

Probably posted to

VII Psycho-Physical Problems revealed in Language : an Examination of Metaphor (1940)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1940, Vol XXI, p201

VIII Cautionary Tales (1943)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1943, Vol XXIV, p41


IX Francis Thompson : a Psycho-Analytical Study (1925)

Brit. J. Med. Psychol., 1925, Vol V, p329

X The Impatience of Hamlet (1929)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1929, Vol X, p270

Probably posted to

XI From King Lear to The Tempest (1946)

Int J Psycho-Analysis, 1946, Vol XXVII, p19

Probably posted to

XII An unfinished paper on Hamlet : Introduction and Extracts

Published posthumously in 1950

List of Publications by Ella Freeman Sharpe (p267)

1924. Chapter VI, “Vocation” – Social aspects of Psycho-Analysis: Williams and Norgate, London

1925. “A Psycho-Analytical Appreciation of the Life and Work of Francis Thampson,” The British Journal of Medical Psychology, Vol V

1927. “Symposium on Child Analysis,” Int. J. Psycho-Anal., Vol VIII

1929. “The Impatience of Hamlet,” Int. J. Psycho-Analy., vol. X

1930. “Certain Aspects of sublimation and Delusion.” (Read at the Eleventh International congress of Psycho-Analysis), Int. J. Psycho-Anal., Vol. XI

Probably posted to

1930-1. “The Technique of Psycho-Analysis,” Int. Jl Psycho-Anal., Vols XI, XII. (Seven lectures delivered to candidates tin training at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.)

1935. Dream Analysis. The International Psycho-Analytical Library. (Published by the Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.)

Information of availability of Chapter V: Analysis of a single dream : 1937 : Ella Sharpe or here

1940. “Psycho-Physical Problems Revealed in Language : an examination of Metaphor,” Int. J. Psycho-Anal., Vol XXI

1943. “Cautionary Tales,” Int. J. Psycho-Anal., Vol. XXIV

1945. “What the Father means to a Child,” New Era, Vol 26, No. 7.

1946. “From King Lear to The Tempest,” Int. J. Psycho-Anal., Vol XXVII

1947. “The Psycho-Analyst.” Int. J. Psycho-Anal., Vol XXVIII. (The first chapter of a book in preparation at the time of death entitled “Talks to students of Psycho-Analysis.”)

Please note:

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