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Free Shakespeare Plays for Philosophers & Psychoanalysts

Looking for some holiday reading? Try the most psychoanalytic plays by William Shakespeare.

In Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine, authors Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster explored the philosophical and psychoanalytic themes in Shakespeare’s most classic play. We asked them for a list of the most psychoanalytic Shakespeare plays for your weekend reading pleasure.

The list, complete with free book links, follows below…

Q: What are the most psychoanalytic Shakespeare plays? (What I mean is, what other plays have obsessed psychoanalysts?)

A: Hamlet is Freud’s most referenced Shakespeare play. But he also wrote a little unknown paper called “Some Character Types Met With in Psychoanalytic Work” in 1917. There, he links Richard III to what he calls the psychology of the ‘exception’, or those who refuse anything disagreeable on the ground that they should be an exception to it, they have already suffered in some exceptional way and will sacrifice nothing further. Richard III’s hunchback was his license to be a total bastard. Next, Freud links those ‘wreaked by success’ to Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth, whose ambition seemed made of cold hard steel, enigmatically breaks down unable to wash her sins away. Between her and Mr. Macbeth, Freud finds all the reactions to crime exhausted: she all remorse, he all defiance.

Contrary to what one might imagine as the psychoanalyzing of Shakespeare’s plays, what we find in Freud is the urge to show us that we are constantly running into the same neurotic structures century after century- melancholia, inhibition, exceptionalism, guilt, and shameless defiance.

Q: What are the most philosophical Shakespeare plays? (What other plays have obsessed philosophers?)

A: Truth to tell, contemporary philosophers are unconcerned and uninterested in Shakespeare.

Philosophy has been reduced to the activity of professional philosophers in their tiny guilds, locked away in universities, most assured of their intelligence and relevance, and of everyone else’s stupidity. To that extent, the forms of meditation and rumination that we find in many of Shakespeare’s characters constitute a challenge to this narrowness.

There are many philosophical characters in Shakespeare from Macbeth’s meditations on the twisted effects of high-vaulting ambition, through to Prospero’s Magus-like ruminations on appearance, reality, and the capacity for transformation. But the greatest of Shakespeare’s philosophers has to be Hamlet.

He endlessly soliloquizes on the meaning of life, dithers and feigns madness, tying himself up in the most exquisite dialectical knots, doubting everything. Hamlet embodies both the power of philosophy, namely its capacity for infinite reflection, and its inherent weakness and danger: the more we think, the less we act in the world.

Free eBooks for the Most Psychoanalytic & Philosophical Shakespeare Plays

1. Hamlet

2. Richard III

3. Macbeth 

4. The Tempest

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