An unfinished paper on Hamlet: Introduction and extracts : 1950 : Ella Sharpe

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1950


From p242 of 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

Available here

Although Ella Sharpe refers to both Ernest Jones’s texts on Hamlet, 1910 & 1923, there do not appear to be any references to Sigmund Freud’s texts. 

Quoted by Jacques Lacan:

1) Seminar VI Desire and its Interpretation: Session of 4th March 1959 : Ch 13 : p164 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation, published Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here :

“The distaste for sexuality … fits in very well with this‟ (symptom) „the same distaste that was destined to take possession of the poets mind more and more … and which reached its extreme expression in Timon of Athens.” I am reading this passage to the end, because it is important, and in two lines opens the way for those who subsequently tried to organise the whole of Shakespeare’s work around the problem of personal repression. This effectively is what Ella Sharpe tried to do; which is indicated in what was published after her death in the form of  “An Unfinished Paper”, in her Hamlet which first appeared in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and which is something like an attempt to take the whole evolution of the work of Shakespeare as signifying something which I believe that by wanting to give it a certain schematic form Ella Sharp certainly did something imprudent, and in any case something which can be criticised from the point of view of method, which does not exclude that effectively she discovered some valuable things.

2) Seminar VI Desire and its Interpretation: Session of 11th March 1959 : Ch 14 : p173 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation:

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.

I must also say that Ella Sharpe, whom I esteem greatly, in this respect, in her essay which it is true is unfinished, which was discovered after her death, greatly disappointed me. I will mention it all the same because it is significant. It is so much along the line that we are trying to explain regarding the tendency which we see being taken by analytic theory, that it is worth highlighting it. But we will not begin with it.

We will begin with Jones’ article, which appeared in 1910 in the American Journal of Psychology which gives us a date and a monument, and it is essential to have read it, it is not easy to get hold of it nowadays. And in the little rendition that he made of it Jones has I think added on something else, some complements to his theory of Hamlet in this article: “The Oedipus Complex as an Explanation of the Hamlet Mystery”.

He adds as a subtitle: “A study on motive‟. In 1910 Jones tackles the problem which was masterfully indicated by Freud as I showed you the last time in this half-page in which one could say that when all is said and done everything is already there, because even the points on the horizon are marked, namely the relationships of Shakespeare with the meaning of the problem which is posed for him: the signification of the feminine object. I believe that we have here something that is absolutely central. And if Freud points us to Timon of Athens on the horizon this undoubtedly is the path that Ella Sharpe tried to take. She made the whole of Shakespeare’s work into a sort of vast cyclothymic oscillation by showing in it the ascending plays, namely the ones that could be seen as optimistic, the plays in which aggression is directed outwards, and those in which aggression turns back onto the hero or the poet, those of the descending phase. Here is how we can classify Shakespeare’s plays, and sometimes even date them.

I do not believe that we have here something entirely valid, and we are going to remain for the moment at the point that we are at, namely first of all at Hamlet in order to try – I will perhaps give some indications about what follows it or what precedes it, Twelfth Night, and Troilus and Cressida because I think it is almost impossible not to take them into account, they greatly clarify the problems that we are first going to introduce with the text of Hamlet alone.

3) Seminar VI Desire and its Interpretation: Session of 18th March 1959 : Ch 15 : p189 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation:

That the mode in which a work touches us, touches us precisely in the most profound fashion, namely on the unconscious plane, is something which has to do with an arrangement, a composition of the work which no doubt ensures that we are interested very precisely at the level of the unconscious; but that this is not because of the presence of something which really supports before us an unconscious.

I mean that we are not dealing, either, contrary to what is thought, with the poet’s unconsciousness, even if it bears witness to its presence through some unintentional aspects of his work, by parapraxes, by symbolic elements not perceived by him. This does not interest us in a major way. One can find some traces of it in Hamlet. In the final analysis, this was what Ella Sharpe worked on as I told you the last time, namely she is going to try to polish up here and there what in Hamlet’s character can allow there to be glimpsed some hang-up, some fixation of the metaphor around feminine themes, or oral themes. I assure you that with respect to the problem that Hamlet poses, this is really something which appears as secondary, almost puerile, without being completely uninteresting naturally.

4) Seminar VI Desire and its Interpretation: Session of 15th April 1959 : Ch 17 : p221 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation:

We have now arrived at the point at which Ophelia has to fulfill her role. If the play contains everything that I have already developed for you in its structure, what after all is the good of this character Ophelia.

I recall that some people have reproached me for having advanced only with a certain timidity. I do not think I have demonstrated an exceptional timidity. I would not like to encourage you towards these foolish utterances which literally swarm in psychoanalytic texts. I am only astonished that it has not been written that Ophelia is ho phallos, because we find things which are just as gross and just as striking, by people who do not have bats in the belfry, simply by opening the unfinished paper on Hamlet which Ella Sharpe has perhaps regrettably left unfinished before her death, and which perhaps it was a mistake to publish.

But Ophelia is obviously essential. She corresponds to that, and is linked throughout the centuries to the figure of Hamlet.

Quote from ‘Preface’ by Ernest Jones

of ‘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


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 : See above for copy

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. J. 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:

Other posts from the Reading Seminar VII group are available on : here

All posts relevant to the NLS conference, and references for seminar VI, are available:

Posts for the “B. Seminar VI : towards NLS in Ghent, 2014” category or here