The beyond of Hamlet : Some historical background : Towards Dublin July 2016

by Julia Evans on October 21, 2015


During his presentation: “Discreet Signs in Ordinary Psychoses – Clinic and Treatment”, Towards the NLS Congress in Dublin July 2016 : presented in London on Saturday 9th October 2015 : Yves Vanderveken[i] commented that a movement from the myth of Oedipus to that of Hamlet may be implicated[ii].

This interests me as I encountered each of them when a teenager. When I was 19, I played the role of the Maidservant describing how Oedipus gouges out his eyes on learning he has married his mother. Previously, at about 16, I stood through a performance of Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon. This experience was without any preparation in pre-reading the play, so my memory is of the spoken word. On 15th October 2015, I watched a live National Theatre production (Director Lyndsey Turner) of Hamlet on a cinema screen.

Yves Vandeveken’s presentation has provoked many elaborations for me. Currently they are divided into three sections:

1) The beyond of Hamlet

2) Sigmund Freud’s & Jacques Lacan’s references to Hamlet

3) Implications for the clinic: the position and nature of the Oedipus

This is the first section ‘The beyond of Hamlet’. In this, I attempt to localise ‘Hamlet’ in the contemporary context in which it is written. I intend to compare and contrast the Oedipal position of Oedipus, Hamlet & James I in my next text.

Both plays (Oedipus Rex & Hamlet), are portrayals of families designated as Royal, caught up in circuits of power. Oedipus does not know he is Royal – this is revealed to him with disastrous consequences. Hamlet knows he is Royal. Both men do not know who killed their father. Indeed, until the King’s ghost tells him, Hamlet does not know that his father has been murdered. Who killed his father, is also a question for James I/VI. The charges against his then, prospective step-father – James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell – were quickly dismissed. It is still a question how much, if anything, his mother, Mary Stuart, knew of his father’s murder.

Shakespeare emphasises two political points in Hamlet, to be performed before his next potential royal patron, James I/VI : 1. Hamlet is not mad as there are 4 witnesses that the ghost of his father did appear. 2. King Hamlet’s ghost twice states Queen Gertrude’s is innocent of his murder to Hamlet.

Some Historical References

Clearly, this text has been brewing a long time. I wrote something of ‘Paternity and Fatherhood for Elizabeth 1st’ which was circulated on 18th February 2006 on the NLS-Agora: 139 Towards Tel Aviv. (Available Paternity …. Fatherhood or here) This was my first foray into the Tudor dynasty.

Hamlet was written when James I/VI was the most likely successor to a failing Elizabeth I. Elizabeth died in 1603 and was ill for at least two years before her death.  Hamlet was written from 1599 and was published in 1603. In its current form, computers declare that it contains about 95% of material written by Shakespeare – this is the largest proportion for any of the plays where Shakespeare is given as author. (I cannot find any verification of this figure at the moment, but p176 of ‘Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship’ : edited by Hugh Craig, Arthur F. Kinne : Cambridge University Press looks hopeful) It was written in anticipation of James I/VI’s arrival on the throne. Mary, Queen of Scots, (James I/VI’s mother) also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, was Queen of Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567 and Queen Consort of France from 10 July 1559 to 5 December 1560.

William Shakespeare, from his position within Elizabeth I’s court, from about 1590, would have been party to all the court gossip. The play was written probably to plead his case for re-appointment by the Lord Chamberlain from Elizabeth I’s (Protestant) court into James I/VI’s (Roman Catholic) court. William Shakespeare was Roman Catholic and was fined for not attending church under Elizabeth’s legislation, so religious allegiance is an issue for him.

The timeline which I have very selectively constructed and is below, shows the relation of some of these events.

My thesis

Shakespeare combined many of the aspects of James I/VI’s life within the character of Hamlet and mounts both the question of ‘to be or not to be’[iii] & the relationship of words to acts (see Claudius [iv]). In order to understand Hamlet it is necessary to put it into the political contest of 1600 and look at what themes are being examined.

The relationship between the Tudor & Stuart royal dynasties and the character of Hamlet is of importance in understanding the politics of Shakespeare’s writing, indeed the use of power he is exploring.

The Timeline


Mary Stuart[v] was born at Linlithgow Palace on 7th December 1542, the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise.

Six days after her birth her father died, and she became Queen of Scotland.


Scotland’s rival pro-English and pro-French factions plotted to gain control of Mary. Her French mother was chosen as regent, and she sent Mary to France in 1548, aged 6.  Mary then lived as part of the French royal family.


Roman Catholic, Queen Mary 1st reluctantly accepted Protestant Elizabeth as her heir.


In April (15 years old), Mary Stuart married the Dauphin Francis; she secretly agreed to bequeath Scotland to France if she should die without a son.

Queen Mary 1st, King Henry VIII’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon who he divorced much to the Pope’s displeasure, dies 17th November 1558 & is succeeded by Elizabeth. Mary 1st is Roman Catholic, also known as Bloody Mary, & Elizabeth is Protestant.

However, many Roman Catholics recognised Mary Stuart as Queen of England after Mary I died rather than the Protestant Elizabeth I. Mary Stuart’s claim to the English throne was based on the fact that she was the grand-daughter of Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII -Elizabeth’s father. To the Roman Catholics, Mary’s claim appeared stronger than Elizabeth’s because they viewed Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn as illegal. [Elizabeth was 2 years old when King Henry VIII had her mother beheaded. See Julia Evans on paternity: 18th February 2006 : nls-agora. Available Paternity …. Fatherhood or here]


In July 1559, Francis succeeded his father becoming King Francis II and Mary Stuart became Queen of France as well as of Scotland.


Mary’s young husband Francis II died in December 1560 after a reign of 17 months. Mary, who was about to become 18 years of age, was left in a difficult position. Unwilling to stay in France and live under the domination of her mother-in-law Catherine De Medicis she decided to return to Scotland and take her chances with the Protestant reformers.


On 19th August 1561, Mary landed at Leith and immediately took the advice of the moderates James Stuart (her half-brother & illegitimate, later Earl of Moray) and William Maitland of Lethington. She recognised the Reformed (Presbyterian) church and allowed it a modest endowment but not full establishment. The Protestant reformers, including John Knox, were horrified because she had Mass in her own chapel, and the Roman Catholics were worried about her lack of zeal for their cause. For the next few years Mary tried to placate the Protestants and befriend Elizabeth (Protestant) while at the same time negotiating a Roman Catholic marriage with Don Carlos, the son of Philip II of Spain.


Elizabeth I[vi] establishes the Thirty-nine Articles, which complete the establishment of the Anglican Church


On April 23 William Shakespeare was born into a Roman Catholic family.


When refusals came on both the English succession and the Spanish marriage, Mary accepted a marriage of love rather than a purely political match. She, aged 22, married her first cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, aged 19, on 29th July.

This marriage was unacceptable to the Protestants, and Moray, her half-brother, with the aid of other nobles, raised a rebellion which Mary quickly suppressed. Nevertheless she felt betrayed by her Protestant advisors and withdrew some of her support from the Reformed church.

Her marriage with Darnley soured and she refused him the right to succeed if she died without issue.

Alone and disappointed, Mary turned to her Italian secretary, David Rizzio, for comfort and advice. The Protestant lords disliked Rizzio’s influence because they suspected him of being a papal agent, and Darnley openly stated that the Italian was too intimate with the Queen.


On 9th March a group of Protestant lords, acting with the support of Darnley, murdered Rizzio in Mary’s presence at Holyrood Palace. Mary, who was six months pregnant, survived the horrible ordeal.

On 19th June, in Edinburgh Castle estranged from her husband and his allies, she gave birth to a son James (later James I of England).

By the end of 1566 Mary had befriended James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, and was seeking a way to dissolve her marriage with Darnley. Various schemes were concocted; it seems unlikely, however, that Mary was aware of the actual plot to eliminate her husband.


On 10th February, Darnley was murdered at Kirk o’ Field; the circumstances of his death to this day remain a mystery. At the time, Bothwell was believed to be the chief instigator. Nevertheless he was acquitted after an all too brief trial. James I/VI was 8 months old when his father was murdered.

In April, Mary went off with Bothwell (perhaps she was a victim of abduction);

Early in May Bothwell obtained a divorce from his wife, and on

15th May he and Mary were wed according to the Protestant rite.

These events alienated even some of Mary’s closest supporters. The nobles, many of whom disliked Bothwell, banded together to face Mary and her new husband at Carberry. The Queen was forced to surrender, and Bothwell fled.  Mary was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle.

On 24th July, she was compelled to abdicate in favour of her son who became King James VI, King of Scotland – her illegitimate brother, the Earl of Moray acts as Protector. James was less than 14 months old and never saw his Mother again.

With the help of a few brave friends, Mary escaped from the castle and immediately rallied a large force behind her.


They engaged in battle at Langside on 13th May, and were soundly beaten by the army led by the Protestant lords. At this point Mary decided to leave Scotland and go to England to beg support from her cousin Elizabeth.

England: The Captive Years : Mary crossed the Solway into England and nearly 19 years of captivity; she never returned to Scotland. The Roman Catholic, Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned by Elizabeth I at Fotheringay Castle. James was 2 years old.

While she was incarcerated in England, numerous plots by English, Roman Catholics and foreign agents evolved around her. These plots were frustrated by English agents, but serious alarm was raised concerning the safety of Elizabeth.


On 1st October – Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (Roman Catholic) is imprisoned in the Tower for plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots


The excommunication of Elizabeth I by the Roman Catholic Church (the Pope)


When Jamie was a lean and lanky Scots lad of fourteen[vii], he fell in love with the elegant French courtier Esmé Stuart—Seigneur d’Aubigny, Earl of Lennox. Or, as the Scottish chronicler Moysie would delicately put it, “he conceived an inward affection to the Lord d’Aubigne, and entered in great familiarity and quiet purposes with him.”

Lennox, who according to a contemporary description was a man “of comely proportion, civil behaviour, red-bearded, and honest in conversation,” brought charming French manners, music, and gaiety into James’s austere Highland surroundings. Whether Lennox loved James for himself or for his royal patronage we do not know, though inevitably there is some fawning in all regal love affairs. Like Sir Francis Bacon much later, Lennox rose to wealth and power and nobility, and inevitably aroused the jealousy of others who coveted his position. A conspiracy of nobles was formed against him,


On 18th March, Elizabeth I’s Parliament passes strict legislation, with heavy fines, against Roman Catholics hearing Mass


King James VI was abducted by his would-be protectors, Lennox was ordered to leave the country on pain of death, and the two lovers never saw each other again.


The Babington plot, which called for the assassination of Elizabeth, was formed to trap Mary. Mary Stuart was found guilty of complicity and sentenced to be beheaded. Although reluctant to execute her cousin, Elizabeth gave the order that was carried out at Fotheringham Castle on 8th February.

Mary was buried first at Peterborough; in 1612, after he had ascended the English throne, her son James had her interred in Westminster Abbey.


James VI arranges for George Gordon, sixth Earl of Huntley to marry Lennox’s sister Lady Henrietta Stuart in 1588. This marriage of convenience was convenient because it made it easier for Huntley to be elevated to the rank of Captain of the Guard, and he proceeded to lodge himself in the King’s own chamber (as bodyguard, of course). Another Scots chronicler, Fowler, commenting on this irregular barracking, concluded that “it is thought that this King is too much carried by young men that lie in his chamber and are his minions.”

James was not particularly monogamous, and Fowler adds that “the King’s best loved minion” was Alexander Lindsay, Lord Spynie, the boy nicknamed “Sandie” whom James appointed as his Vice-Chamberlain.

Another minion of the early 1580s was Francis Stewart Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, whom James nonchalantly kissed and embraced in public, causing great scandal. After a time, however, Huntley took advantage of the King’s kind generosity by plotting to capture and dethrone James—for which he was convicted of treason and executed.


Queen Elizabeth starts the Anglo-Spanish war.

Queen Elizabeth’s foreign policy is largely defensive, but in 1585 she sends an army to aid Protestant Dutch rebels fighting King Philip II of Spain. The resulting Treaty of Nonsuch marks the beginning of the Anglo-Spanish War, which lasts until 1604 so is ongoing when Shakespeare writes Hamlet.


Conspiracy against Elizabeth I involving Mary Queen of Scots

The Babbington Plot – Sir Francis Walsingham discovers plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. The leader of the plot was Anthony Babbington

1st July, – Treaty of Berwick – Queen Elizabeth and James VI of Scotland form a league of amity

On 25th October, Mary Queen of Scots is convicted of involvement in the Babbington plot

Sir Francis Walsingham acts as Elizabeth’s counsel on Roman Catholic uprisings. He assembles a successful case against Mary, linking her to numerous plots on Elizabeth’s life from 1571 to 1586. Elizabeth signs Mary’s death warrant, but later claims she did not want it dispatched.

Note : James VI is negotiating with Elizabeth and does not intercede on behalf of his mother.


On 8th February, Mary Queen of Scots is beheaded.


Defeat of the Spanish Armada : Sir Francis Drake undertakes numerous successful raids on Spanish fleets from 1585 to 1587. On July 12, 1588, the Spanish Armada sets sail to invade the southeast coast of England. Aided by bad weather, the English navy destroys the Armada and the nation celebrates with a lavish royal procession.


Queen Elizabeth’s second reign : Elizabeth’s trusted advisors all die around 1590 and she builds a new governing body which is troubled by internal conflicts. The economy suffers from the costly Spanish and Irish wars, crops fail, standards of living fall while costs rise, and riots break out over food shortages.


First Play : Around this time, Shakespeare writes Henry VI, Part One—his very first play. Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, the precise year of its authorship is now unclear.

Also around the same time, Shakespeare leaves Stratford to begin work as a playwright and actor in London, under the patronage of Elizabeth’s Lord Chamberlain who was in charge of all the court’s entertainment.


Penalties are proposed for people who refuse to attend Church of England services and to make it a crime to attend Roman Catholic services


The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare at an uncertain date between 1599 and 1602.


Hamlet originally published

On 24th March, Elizabeth dies of blood poisoning, and the Jacobean Age Begins

Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James ascends the English throne.


The Chamberlain’s Men, who have exclusive rights to all Shakespeare’s plays, change their name to the King’s Men, and perform before King James eleven times between 1 November 1604 and 31 October 1605.

[i] This was circulated, in French, on the New Lacanian School’s nls-messager on 18th October 2015. Its title is: Congrès NLS – Développement 1/2 par Yves Vanderveken. The English translation was circulated on 23rd October 2015 as [nls-messager] 1779.en/ NLS Congress – Development 1/2 by Yves Vanderveken : available here Both are available from the website of the NLS: .

[ii] Bruno de Florence,, comments on this point:

…The ready made schauspielen used so far have been Oedipus & Hamlet. We could also consider TV soaps (e.g. Coronation Street, Hollyoaks), as well as the cosmogonies discovered by Anthropology during its “exoticism” phase.

This may be an opportunity to re-discuss and re-define what Oedipus actually is, since it is an important tenet of psychoanalysis. Freud did what he could, so it is now our turn. …

Circulated on the Google Groups’ “The Letter” group as ‘Yves Vanderveken’s text Signes discrets dans les psychoses ordinaires-Clinique et traitement’ : 22nd October 2015 : Visit this group at : To post to this group, send email to

[iii] Act III Scene I


To be, or not to be? That is the question—

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them?

[iv] End of Act III Scene III

Claudius. [rises] My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.

Words without thoughts never to heaven go. Exit

[v] Much of this material is from

[vi] Much of the material on Elizabeth I is from

[vii] From : Gay History & Literature : Essays by Rictor Norton : “Queen James and His Courtiers”

The next instalment will be a comparison between three positions: Oedipus, Hamlet & James I/VI to investigate Yves Vanderveken’s remark that the difference is that Hamlet (James I/VI) know whereas Oedipus does not know.


For other texts on Hamlet see posts for the “Characters from plays (& the plays)” category here or put Hamlet into the search engine at the top right hand of the LW screen

For other texts on Ordinary Psychosis see here