Ordinary Psychosis: elaborations of James I/VI, Hamlet & Oedipus

by Julia Evans on November 28, 2015

In reading[i] for the LS-NLS/ICLO-NLS[ii] One-shot Cartel in London on the 28th November 2015, the following notes emerged:

– Ordinary Psychosis does not have a rigid definition – it is an epistemological category which is developed by each analyst one-by-one. ‘It concerns our way of knowing it’. [Miller 2009 : see endnote i].

– Jacques Lacan reverses during his teaching from a) deriving psychosis out of neurosis to b) deriving the structure of neurosis out of psychosis. Traditionally, neurosis is seen as normal and psychosis as mad. Lacan states in July 1970, ‘Everyone is mad, that is to say delusional’[iii]

– This questions that which constitutes normality and, indeed, if ‘normal’ exists.[iv] The connection between neurosis and normality is the Oedipus Complex. In Lacan and Freud, the Oedipus Complex (paternal metaphor) is both a fundament of common reality and prominent in neurosis.

– A so called normal person, is a neurotic who does not suffer from the enigma of his/her neurosis.

In the beginning, there is the Imaginary – the world structured by the Mirror Stage[v] which means it is unstable. This world is transitivistic (Miller 2009)[vi] – you have a confusion between if you did it or the other did it. [vii] This world is constructed with the driving force being the desire of the mother – the unordered desire of the mother towards the child-subject.

Madness is the primary world. So to separate from this world involves either the paternal function or the NameS of the Father. If the symbolic is introduced, the imaginary jouissance of the Mirror Stage is driven out and becomes a reject. If castration is not operating, then the relation to reality and normality or the social bond will be disrupted and cannot be taken for granted.

I have previously commented on Schreber [Schreber’s case revisited with echoes noted in the family of Fred West by Julia Evans : 11th January 2015 : Available here] and intend to use James I, Hamlet & Oedipus as case studies to examine the above points. For background detail see The beyond of Hamlet : Some historical background : Towards Dublin July 2016 or here. These notes further develop this material bearing in mind Sigmund Freud’s statement : We must make a contrast between the manifest and the latent content of dreams[viii].

James I of England & VI of Scotland.

Parenting: James was born and brought up as a Roman Catholic.

His Mother was Queen of Scotland from when she was 8 days old when her father died. Queen Mary of Scotland lived in the French Court from 6 years old until nearly 18. She was also Queen of France for the last 17 months when her husband King Francis II died. She secretly agreed for the realm of Scotland to transfer to France if she died without issue. So James’ royal lineage, is from his Mother.

On return to Scotland and rejection by Don Carlos, son of Philip II of Spain (who was after her remote cousin, through her mother, Elizabeth I), Mary’s marriage to her first cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, caused a Protestant rebellion in which her illegitimate half-brother, James Stuart, later the Earl of Moray was involved. The marriage quickly soured and Mary became close to her Italian secretary David Rizzlio. Darnley and others disliked Rizzlio as they thought he was a Papal agent. Mary was 6 months pregnant, having been married 8 months, when Rizzlio was murdered in front of her.

When James was 8 months old, his father was murdered. It is not known if his mother Queen Mary was involved, though the man she subsequently married, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, probably was. Two months after Darnley’s murder, Mary went off with Bothwell & married him one month after that, when James was 10 months old. This action alienated both the Protestants and Roman Catholics, and, after a rebellion and battle, Mary was forced to abdicate. Thus, James became King when he was just under 1 years old. Bothwell deserted her; she was no longer the key to royalty. James was brought up by the Earl of Moray who acted as James’ Protector, thus giving Moray access to Royal power. James who was less than 14 months old never saw his Mother again.

With the help of a few brave friends, Mary escaped from imprisonment in a castle and immediately rallied a large force behind her. This failed as well and Mary went to England to her Protestant cousin Elizabeth Ist who jailed her for nearly 19 years. James was then 2 years old. James was held inside the Scottish Court as its acknowledged centre of power or King, with his half-Uncle as his Protector or Regent.

Comment: There is no possibility for James to have a relationship with either of his parents – jointly or separately, though he would have known what happened to them. He is brought up in an absolute world where he is the King and there is no cutting free. Whether you are legitimate royalty or Roman Catholic/Protestant matters in this world. James’ royal lineage comes from his Mother and not his Father. This story is common knowledge and would have been known to William Shakespeare.

By the age of 14, James was known to be homosexual & indulged himself with many relationships – he was not monogamous. It would require more research to establish how this came in place. Certainly James’s mother was Queen and had more power than her husband/cousin, Lord Darnley. She also refused to make this second husband, an heir to the throne.

James was 21 years old when Elizabeth I had Queen Mary of Scotland executed. He did not protest too much as he was negotiating to be Elizabeth’s heir at the time. A move to London would release him from the restrictions of the Scottish Court, where his Roman Catholic allegiances would be hidden. One of his biographers, Lady Antonia Fraser, argues that he sought affection anywhere. His mother’s swift swopping of partners (King of France dies, Don Carlos of Spain refuses her, she marries Lord Darnley, becomes close to David Rizzlio, and then marries Earl of Bothwell) may be the source of this plethora of homosexual partners.

The social bond for James may not exist, the oedipus is not in place, but he gets by as he is enclosed in the Royal world of power and is its centre. Being Royal is his destiny, though marred by murders and death emanating from pursuit of his Mother’s royal lineage.

Retribution and revenge which are themes in Hamlet and Oedipus, seem less in James’ life. His mother fails to navigate between the various factions (mainly based in the two versions of Christianity – Roman Catholic and Protestant), and is imprisoned. His half-Uncle gets access to Royal power and privilege through acting as James’ protector. There is no retribution for his father’s murder – just a short show trial though Mary being forced to abdicate is linked to this murder as is his half-Uncle and Protector.


I suggest that William Shakespeare is interested in these themes of power, control over royal lineage, retribution and revenge . He is also well aware of the battle between Roman Catholics and Protestants. He was born into a staunch Roman Catholic family in Protestant Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. He was fined for not attending the Protestant church and had to rescue his family financially when his father could not trade as he continued to be Roman Catholic.

During Elizabeth’s reign England moved from financial ruin and involvement in wars, to stability. A dislike of instability was an aspect of Elizabethan life.

When Hamlet was written Queen Elizabeth was known to be fading. Shakespeare wanted to retain his court position with the new King, James. Hamlet was written in preparation for James’ arrival and examines the themes of royal power, retribution and being inside or outside. It was successful as Shakespeare retained his court position.

I suspect there are two political points emphasised by Shakespeare in the text. Firstly, Queen Gertrude’s innocence of Hamlet’s father’s murder is proclaimed loudly at least twice. Secondly, Shakespeare takes steps to prove that Hamlet is not mad by having four other witnesses to the Ghost’s existence and by Hamlet stating pretending to be mad is his strategy. So, in case the links are made: Mary, Queen of Scotland was not involved in Darnley’s murder and Hamlet, or King James, are not mad.

Hamlet’s parentage:

Hamlet’s parents are both present during his childhood. When he is at University (about 20?), his father dies or is killed. The relationship between his mother and father is described by Hamlet in Act 1 Scene 2.

But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two.

So excellent a king, that was to this

Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother

That he might not beteem the winds of heaven

Visit her face too roughly.—Heaven and earth,

Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him

As if increase of appetite had grown

By what it fed on, and yet, within a month—

Let me not think on ’t. Frailty, thy name is woman!

So this sounds like a couple besotted with each other. Is there any space for Hamlet or did he have to go away to break out of this charmed circle, contained within the court?

Note, the two months is exactly the period of time between Darnley’s murder and Queen Mary going off with Boswell.

Shortly before this description, Hamlet is refused permission to leave by his Uncle/Step-father and Mother. He is as trapped as James in this Royal power game. James had an illegitimate half-Uncle as Protector or Guardian, within 5 months of his father’s murder and Hamlet has a legitimate Uncle as his Step-father within 2 months of his own father’s death. Both Uncles are not direct royal heirs. The famous phrase ‘Frailty thy name is woman’ comes from Hamlet’s description of his Mother. Shakespeare gives life to this phrase by writing Ophelia’s descent to madness and suicide.

In this same scene (Act 1 Scene2), Claudius describes Hamlet’s mother as “th’imperial jointress” to the throne of Denmark. This probably means she has power in her own right, as did James’ Mother, Mary Stuart. It may be that the Royal title passes down through Gertrude as it did through Mary Stuart. This is a further parallel between James and Hamlet.

Revenge and retribution are present on a state level and a personal level. At the beginning of the play, it is made plain that King Hamlet has wronged Fortinbras of Norway[ix]. Finally, the court of Hamlet is won by Fortinbras, not through war, but through internal schism and corruption. Good triumphs!

The Ghost can also be related to Elizabethan ideas of retribution and revenge. However, I think Shakespeare uses it as a dramatic device to show how Hamlet is different under the two conditions: one of oppression by a usurper of his birthright and the other of knowing exactly what has gone on.

Hamlet leaves the court in Denmark and goes away to be a student. He appears to have enjoyed his time away and makes at least one good friend, Horatio. This is interrupted by his father’s death and he returns to court for the funeral. Two months later, his mother marries his uncle, making his Uncle the King. The scenes before the Ghost’s appearance portray Hamlet as disgusted with court life.

Whilst waiting on the battlements for the Ghost, from below Hamlet and Horatio hear the sound of the men in the castle laughing and dancing riotously; the King draining his “draughts of Rhenish down” (Act 1 Scene 4). Hamlet explains to Horatio his dislike of such behaviour. To Hamlet, drinking to excess has ruined the whole nation, which is known abroad as a land full of drunken swine. Further from Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2:

GUILDENSTERN : Prison, my lord?

HAMLET : Denmark’s a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ ; Then is the world one.

HAMLET : A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.

In Act I, Scene 4: Marcellus (an officer) says to Horatio, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” having just seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the late king of Denmark. Marcellus, shaken by the many recent disturbing events and no doubt angered (as is Hamlet) by Claudius’s mismanagement of the body politic, astutely notes that Denmark is festering with moral and political corruption. Horatio replies “Heaven will direct it”, meaning heaven will guide the state of Denmark to health and stability.

Hamlet’s response to this change of governance, from the Hyperion King Hamlet to the Satyr[x] King Claudius (see above), is a rebellious withdrawal from interaction. Indeed, he requests permission to leave and return to student life which is refused by Claudius and Gertrude. He is stuck and the evidence that he is out of favour comes from Laertes and Polonius’ assertions to Ophelia that she should give Hamlet up. The hidden reason probably is that Claudius wishes to produce his own royal line and does not wish Hamlet to be the Royal heir.

After her marriage to Claudius, Hamlet and his mother row. It is interesting that when the Ghost appears to Hamlet in his Mother’s presence, Gertrude cannot see the Ghost. Gertrude hangs onto the men in her life – King Hamlet, Claudius and Hamlet the son. She has power and allows this to define her – as does Mary.

The Elizabethans valued security. Despite ransacking religious institutions for cash, Henry VIII left huge debts and a number of enemies including the Pope. Queen Mary I, strictly Roman Catholic, and the only child of his first marriage which the Pope refused to annul, was known as Bloody Mary for her way of imposing religious adherence. She was also married to Philip of Spain who was not popular. Elizabeth, whose mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded for flirting when Elizabeth was two years old, was kept in prison before inheriting the throne. She cleared up the debts, mainly through the pirate, Francis Drake’s exploits, and successfully got the country through to peace. These only came to pass near the end of her reign. The question of ‘what do you do if the State’s governance is corrupted’ is not an academic one for Shakespeare’s audiences or for Shakespeare himself.

After the Ghost appears, Hamlet’s position changes. In my opinion, that which should remain hidden has been made clear: his mother’s relations to men and not to a man. His Mother being absolutely royal, is what attracts men to her so that they can act in control of this power. His Mother is THE royal line and there is no room for failure or doubt. Although before the Ghost, Hamlet seems to have substituted Ophelia for his Mother, after the Ghost he cannot separate from this perfect Mother as commended by his Father’s Ghost. He has also been given knowledge of what is really going on, rather than what is put on display. What is going on is a given and not a make-believe.

He has successes and failures from this position. A success would be his escape from the boat carrying him to England and certain death. A failure is his killing Polonius having mistaken him for Claudius. When he realises what he has done, killed Ophelia’s father, he seems to fail to maintain his connection to reality or with the social bond. It is a passage to the act. Note here that Polonius, who is killed in front of Gertrude, is a civil servant as was Rizzlio who was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots when she was 6 months pregnant with James. Both Mary and Gertrude are witnesses to the murder, but not involved with the act.

There is also a tension explored in the play between state retribution and private retribution. See [xi]. Hamlet spans the two as the heir apparent to the throne and as a son revenging his father’s murder. To be or not to be – that is the question. In merging with the command to revenge his father’s murder, Hamlet ceases to be a subject. He is trapped in two dimensions and has lost his access to subjectivity.


Oedipus is the son of Laius and Jocasta who are the Theban royal family. On his birth, Jocasta gives Oedipus to a servant, ordering him to kill the child, to avoid the prophesy that the child would kill his parents. But the servant pitied the child, and decided that the prophecy could be avoided just as well if the child were to grow up in a foreign city, far from his true parents. The shepherd therefore passed the boy on to the shepherd in Corinth. The child was then passed to the royal family and brought up as Polybus and Merope’s son. Thus, there is a substitution of one set of Royal parents for another one. This substitution and the reason for it, is unknown to Oedipus so he acts not knowing his destiny.

This is a repetition of what happened to his biological father Laius whose throne was usurped so he was brought up in a different court. There, Laius abducted and raped Pelops’ son, Chrisippus, and took him back to Thebes where he took back his throne. Laius’ descendants all had an ill fate. This was attributed to a number of different factors; Laius’ raping of Chrisippus, his host’s son, thus breaking the laws of hospitality; ignoring the Delphic prophecy to die childless; or because of a curse that was inflicted on his ancestor, Cadmus, by either Ares or Hephaestus. There is thus a theme of retribution in Oedipus’ life as well. He is destined to be royal but there are conditions to this. If the limits are broached, then what is hidden and driving the prophecies becomes visible. Oedipus tries to avoid the prophecy by leaving the Corinth court not knowing he is adopted.

On his journey from the court, Oedipus refuses to bow to Laius not knowing this was his biological father and then kills him. He then goes on to marry his mother, Jocasta. Both actions are without the full knowledge of his predestiny. He makes do with the circumstances as given to him and will act without knowing for certain what is out there. When he discovers what is hidden, he blinds himself with a pin and gives the throne to his brother-in-law Creon.


All three figures are royal by birth. Two have this passed to them by their mothers. Oedipus is the result of his father breaking a prophecy, whose provenance is Laius’ not paying attention to the rules of hospitality. The three different configurations of circumstances of birth give rise to the assumption of very different positions either dominated by power systems or attempting to make do. I intend to work further on these three case studies but have done enough this side of Christmas.

The question of relation to reality or the social bond seems to be central in all three as is the relationship to power, especially the mother’s power.

An hypothesis for the clinic of Ordinary Psychosis is that the clinic is directed towards a separation between the identification with the ego ideal and the identification with the object a. The action of separation has to be guided by clinical distinctions of the relationship to object a: roughly speaking and to be revisited: the neurotic seeks to obtain object a by demand, the pervert makes object a the absolute condition of desire and the psychotic keeps object a “in his pocket” (Caroz 2009 see endnote i)


[i] Texts recommended before this Cartel was convened:

The substitution of the second paternal metaphor for the first one. For a text on the reorganisation of the field and clinical illustrations see here Eric Laurent’s text from Tel Aviv, Psychosis, or Radical Belief in the Symptom Psychosis, or Radical Belief in the Symptom : 17th June 2012 : Éric Laurent : given in Tel Aviv, Israel : Availability given here

Treatment today. Two relevant texts here are:

Gil Caroz : 2009 : Some remarks on the Direction of the Treatment in Ordinary Psychosis : Psychoanalytical Notebooks nr 19 : This text was originally presented during the Paris English Seminar on ‘Ordinary Psychosis’, 7th – 12th July 2008 : Available to download here

Éric Laurent : Interpreting Psychosis from Day to Day : Originally published in Mental, Issue 16, October 2005 : p9-24 : p83-97 of Bulletin of the NLS, nr 4 : 2008 : Available here

For other texts on Ordinary Psychosis see here

The following were also consulted:

“Discreet Signs in Ordinary Psychoses – Clinic and Treatment”, Towards the NLS Congress in Dublin July 2016 : 10th October 2015 : Yves Vanderveken or here

Miller, J.-A., “Ordinary Psychosis Revisited”, op. cit p. 41 (published in Psychoanalytical Notebooks, 19 (2009), pp.139-167 (out of print)) : This text was originally presented during the Paris English Seminar on ‘Ordinary Psychosis’ 7th – 12th July 2008, Available here

Ordinary Psychosis : 26th November 2006 (Buenos Aires) : Éric Laurent or here

[ii] LS-NLS is London Society of the New Lacanian School & ICLO-NLS is The Irish Circle of the Lacanian Orientation of the New Lacanian School

[iii] Quote: Comment faire pour enseigner ce qui ne s’enseigne pas ? Voilà ce dans quoi Freud a cheminé. Il a considéré que rien n’est que rêve, et que tout le monde (si l’on peut dire une pareille expression), tout le monde est fou c’est-à-dire délirant. : Transfert à Saint Denis? Lacan pour Vincennes ! Il y a quatre discours : Ornicar?, N°17/18,1979, P278 : Translated as “There are four discourses…”, : date probably July 1970 : translated by A. Price in Culture/Clinic, Issue 1, Spring 2013

[iv] When discussing this text with Bruno de Florence (www.deflorence.com) he referred me to a) A child is being beaten (A contribution to the study of the origin of sexual perversion) : 1919 : Sigmund Freud & Oedipus.

A child is being beaten’ has many pointers. On p166, pfl edition, is explained that the phantasy which ties a cause together with auto-erotic satisfaction, need not persist for a complete lifetime. But if it is not repressed or transformed into a sublimation, then it persists. This seems to parallel the change from psychotic to neurotic – it may or may not take place. This is repeated at the bottom of p178.

The relationship to the Oedipus is on p179: For in our opinion the Oedipus complex is the actual nucleus of neuroses, and the infantile sexuality which culminates in this complex is the true determinant of neuroses. What remains of the complex in the unconscious represents the disposition to the later development of neuroses in the adult.

[v] For further details of the Mirror Stage see: Mirror Stage: 1936, 1938, 1949, 1966: Jacques Lacan or here

[vi] From http://www.english.hawaii.edu/criticalink/lacan/terms/transit.html

CriticaLink | Lacan: The Mirror Stage | Terms transitivism

Child psychologist Charolotte Bühler observed that very young children often do not distinguish sharply between their own experiences and those of others–if one child falls and is injured, for example, another child may cry. In this respect, transitivism can be compared with Roger Caillois’s notion of legendary psychasthenia, in which the external environment and the internal psychical and physiological systems of the individual are melded.

Lacan presents all of these references to external, formative influences on the development of the ego to support his argument that ego does not emerge sui generis–out of itself–but is the product of a dialectical interaction between the psyche and the external world (Umwelt)–an interaction perpetuated throughout life between the subject and the other.

[vii] Bruno de Florence commented that there are echoes of the first two beating phantasies in Freud’s ‘A Child is being beaten’. See above.

[viii] From p215: pfl edition of The Interpretation of Dreams: 1st November 1899 (published as 1900): Sigmund Freud : availability given here. This and the following footnote by Freud was discussed during the 5th November 2015 meeting of the NLS registered cartel [Plus One: Josiane Paccaud-Huguet Members: Bruno de Florence – www.deflorence.com, Greg Hynds, Julia Evans – www.lacanianworks.net, Owen Hewitson – http://www.lacanonline.com] on ‘Interpretation of Dreams’. Sigmund Freud’s 1909 footnote: It is hard to credit the obstinacy with which readers and critics of this book shut their eyes to this consideration and overlook the fundamental distinction between the manifest and latent content of dreams. Sigmund Freud’s 1914 footnote: On the other hand, nothing in the literature of the subject comes so near to my hypothesis as a passage ….. The chaotic aggregations of our night-fancy have a significance and communicate new knowledge. Like some letter in cypher, the dream-inscription when scrutinized closely loses its first look of balderdash and take on the aspect of a serious, intelligible message. Or, to vary the figure slightly, we may say that , like some palimpsest, the dream discloses beneath its worthless surface-characters traces of an old and precious communication. [Strachey’s 1956 addition: Freud prints the two last sentences in spaced type.]

[ix] Full details of this sub-plot are given: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/playanalysis/fortinbrasplot.html

[x] I draw your attention to the horse-like phallus because of a permanent erection. Quote: In Greek mythology, a satyr (UK /ˈsætə/, US /ˈseɪtər/; Greek: σάτυρος satyros, pronounced [sátyros]) is one of a troop of ithyphallic male companions of Dionysus with horse-like (equine) features, including a horse-tail, horse-like ears, and sometimes a horse-like phallus because of permanent erection.
mmSatyr – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[xi] Retribution revenge http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/culture/literature-and-creative-writing/literature/hamlet-and-elizabethan-england

Under the Tudors, the move towards a more centralised understanding of power under a monarchy was developed. In this conception, the idea of the monarch as divinely appointed was established, and so too her earthly governing bodies. In this context, private revenge actions as linked to concepts of blood feud would be seen as deeply disruptive. Quite apart from the threats to public order presented by an individual seeking justice for themselves, such actions presented both a theoretical and a literal challenge to Elizabeth I’s legislative bodies.

On the other hand, what happens when the judicial systems break down, or are shown to be unworkable? What happens if you believe that those who make the laws are misguided or corrupt? In the play, Hamlet grapples with his position in a corrupt court, where surveillance intrudes on individual’s lives, and there is an apparent lack of justice: ‘Denmark is a prison’ (Act 2 Scene2). Violent revenge appears to be the only way to achieve resolution for his anger and frustration.

Indeed, even though there were efforts to ensure it was the judicial system which handled crimes and punishment, the idea of self-government was in fact so deeply embedded in the English psyche that blood feud and duelling continued in England until the latter part of the century, and in Scotland until well after 1600. The idea of the blood feud is raised in the play through the retributive actions of both Hamlet and Laertes, and their private revenge acts are ultimately shown as entirely destructive.

Tellingly, of course, the question of justice and authority are inextricably bound up with the figure of Hamlet: as a member of the governing family of the country his private revenge has both microcosmic and macrocosmic consequences. It is useful to note the tensions between the domestic focus of much of the action in the play with the wider political world described therein, and think about how this is resolved through revenge actions. Finally, the court of Hamlet is won by Fortinbras, not through war, but through internal schism and corruption.

For other texts on Ordinary Psychosis see here