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Psychosis and Mourning in Lacan's Hamlet Author(s): John P. Muller Source: New Literary History, Vol. 12, No.

1, Psychology and Literature: Some Contemporary Directions (Autumn, 1980), pp. 147-165 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/468811 Accessed: 14/11/2008 13:42
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Psychosis and Mourning in Lacan's Hamlet


John P. Muller
HE TRAGEDY HAMLET, Lacan says, "is the tragedy of desire."' The winding path of Hamlet's desire will take Lacan through territory familiar to his readers, perhaps new to others: from the object petit a, to the phallus, to foreclosure and mourning, and finally to death. How these views add to our understanding of Hamlet, how far they go beyond Lacan's own indictment of "the sort of hogwash that psychoanalytic texts are full of" (p. 20) remains to be seen. Lacan's own text, titled "Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet," is a text edited from transcripts of his seminar for the academic year 1958-59 on "Desire and Its Interpretation." Its themes resonate with some related essays in Ecrits: A Selection:2 "The signification of the phallus," delivered in May, 1958; "The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious," presented in September, 1960; and "On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis," his analysis of Schreber's Memoirs, completed in January, 1958, and to which we will return.3 Norman Holland notes that psychoanalysts "seem to take to Hamlet like kittens to a ball of yarn."4 Lacan is no exception. Lacan's basic thesis can be summarized as follows: Hamlet's notorious delay in acting results from the dependence of his desire on the desire of the other, and his being subject (as we all are, as subjects of language) to the signifier of this desire, namely the phallus. Ophelia is a substitute for the phallus as lost object, and Claudius incarnates it, therefore preventing Hamlet from killing him until Hamlet is dying and set free from its subjection. The much-discussed oedipal nature of the play comes from the play's repetitive theme of mourning, for Lacan says it is with the decline of the Oedipus complex that the loss of the phallus is mourned: it is the original lost object. In mourning, images rush in to fill the gap in the real caused by someone's death, much as in psychosis the imaginary reshaping of signifiers attempts to fill the hole in the symbolic order caused by the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father. All of this Lacan attempts to spell out with specific examples from Hamlet (and we will find others) as well as in an allusion to his Schreber analysis (which we will use to illustrate his notion of foreclosure).

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Copyright? 1980 by New LiteraryHistory, The University of Virginia

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The "first factor" that Lacan describes in "Hamlet's structure" is "his situation of dependence with respect to the desire of the Other" (p. 17), that is, the desire of his mother. His dependence on her desire keeps Hamlet from choosing between his "idealized, exalted" father and "the degraded, despicable object Claudius" (p. 12). What is the object of his mother's desire? In Lacan's view, "the sacrosanct genital object that we recently added to our technical vocabulary appears to her as an object to be enjoyed in what is truly the direct satisfaction of a need, and nothing else. This is the aspect that makes Hamlet waver in his abjuration of his mother" (pp. 12-13). The "second factor" that we must recognize, related to the first, is that "Hamlet is constantly suspended in the time of the Other, throughout the entire story until the very end" (p. 17). Hamlet is unable to kill the kneeling Claudius because "it is not the hour of the Other" (p. 18); he drops his plan to go to Wittenberg because the king tells him "It is most retrograde to our desire" (1. 2. 120); he leaves for England at the king's bidding; "for the sake of" the Other's wager (namely the king's, p. 19) he duels with Laertes. Thus the tragedy takes its winding course at the hour of the Other until the very end, when it is Hamlet's hour. Until that point, however, Hamlet is subject to the desire of the Other, to the signifier of the desire of the Other, the phallus; he is, as Lacan puts it, "in a certain position of dependence upon the signifier," the signifier which is not a product or a reflection of "what are called interhuman relationships" (p. 11). What then is the signifier, and what does Lacan mean by the Other? We must step back for a moment and examine what Lacan has borrowed from the linguists.5 From Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss founder of modern linguistics, he takes a notion that has become fundamental to structuralism: the relation between the signifier and the signified. Saussure viewed language as a system of signs, with each sign consisting of a signifier (the sound-image) and a signified (the concept), with the relation between them an arbitrary one, based solely on convention.6 Lacan will write this relationship as S/s, with the signifier and signified separated by a bar. Through this arbitrary relationship, the mass of speech-sounds becomes differentiated and discretely tied to reciprocally delineated elements of thought-for Saussure, there is no thought without language, no distinct ideas without corresponding words or signifiers. These signifiers are phonemes, and the later work of Jakobson and Halle reduced the plethora of phonemes to twelve binary pairs (such as grave/acute, voiced/voiceless, etc.) from which

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each language makes its selection.7 These phonemes, in turn, are then organized into increasingly more complex units of words, phrases, sentences, etc. Two basic laws govern such organization of units: the law of combination and the law of selection. The law or axis of combination governs the proper positioning of words in sequence (as in this sentence) and does so on the basis of contiguity and contexture. The law or axis of selection governs the substitution of one word for another based on similarity or dissimilarity. The first law (that of combination) lies behind the rhetorical figure of speech called metonymy, where part for whole, container for thing contained, and other variations of contiguous relationships are pivotal (by way of examples, we know the familiar "thirty sail," or "drink a glass"). The second law (that of selection) governs the functioning of the figure of speech called metaphor, familiar to us in literature and song. It is one of Lacan's chief contributions to focus on a remark of Jakobson's and press home its richness for our reading of Freud. When, in the dream-work, Freud talks about the mechanism of displacement, whereby associations are linked in combinations based on contiguity or context, Lacan sees the operation of metonymy, and when Freud describes the mechanism of condensation, the superimposition of images in the dream based on similarity or dissimilarity, Lacan sees the functioning of metaphor. These are the two pervasive slopes, ever operating in speech, whereby original signifiers slide below the bar when they are replaced by new signifiers, so that the original signifiers become the signified of the substitute signifiers; in this way signifiers always refer, not to things, but to other signifiers. In this way, too, speech is enabled to say more than it actually says. The hidden presence of the original signifiers, gone below the bar-that is, having become unconscious through a kind of repression-makes possible the many levels of resonance in speech, based on multiple chains of associated signifiers, whose polyphonic structure Lacan aptly describes in terms of the staves of a musical score.8 These laws of language govern the processes of dreams, free associations, parapraxes, and symptoms that Freud called "the unconscious," and thus Lacan says, "The unconscious is structured like a language," i.e., is structured by the linguistic processes of combination and selection, or metonymy and metaphor. Structured in this way, it, like language itself, is other than what is given to conscious awareness, it is a form of thought that takes place on "another scene," Ein anderer Schauplatz, and is what Lacan refers to by "the Other." But "the Other" means something more. It is the field of

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language which stands beyond individual speakers and makes it possible for them to discourse. As Other than either of them, it is the guarantee of the truth of what is said. It also includes the specific others to whom I address my concerns and whose desires are so important to me when I seek their recognition. The desire of the Other, then, is the desire that remains outside of conscious awareness, the desire that others have whose recognition I seek, and the desire that is inextricably bound up in the linguistic coils of the law of the Other as soon as needs and demands are articulated in speech addressed to an other-originally, to one's mother. And this brings us back to the phallus. If Hamlet's action is delayed because it is the hour of the Other, because he is subject to the desires of others, this becomes possible only because he is subject to the signifier of these desires, and this signifier is the phallus. But how did the phallus attain the status of signifier? First, Lacan makes it clear that the phallus is not a fantasy, a part object, or a physical organ (penis or clitoris). The phallus stands for what the mother lacks and with which the child identifies in order to be recognized by her as being the totality of her desire, as being that which fills up what is missing to her. At this structural stage the phallus is not a signifier, does not stand for desire, because the child is identified with it in an imaginary way and identified with (that is, undifferentiated from) the mother's desire as her object. This dual imaginary relation must be interrupted if the child is to avoid psychosis. The ordinary manner in which this interruption occurs is through the intervention of the third member of the oedipal structure, the father, who stands for not just himself but, more importantly (for he can be absent), for the function of the law and the symbolic order. The symbolic order comprises the laws of language (for at this stage the child is beginning to speak, and it is by becoming subject to these laws that he or she becomes a subject), and the laws of language (as Levi-Strauss repeated) in turn underlie the social order in which the child now becomes a more active participant. Thus the oedipal resolution brings about a transition from the imaginary identification with the phallus and the dual relation with the mother to the symbolic identification with the father's name in a pluralized relation with a place in a structured kin network. This transition is brought about at a price: the child must undergo symbolic castration of the imaginary phallus, which he yields up in payment for entering the symbolic order as a speaking subject. But in all this, what happens to the phallus? How does it

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become a signifier? With the intervention of the law of the father, the paternal metaphor, as Lacan calls it, is inaugurated. In this structural change for the subject, the Name-of-the-Father (the signifier of the law) substitutes for the original signifier of the desire of the mother. This original signifier is, of course, the phallus, which now, as displaced signifier, passes below the bar and thereby constitutes the condition termed primary repression (and the original relation of S/s). In other words, the original object of desire-an imaginary one, to be sure-is repressed, passing below the bar which is created by this first repression, and is thereby transformed into a latent signifier of desire. As the first content of primary repression, it now actively functions to draw into associative chains other signifiers which serve as substitutes for it. Thus original desire is canalized in an articulated labyrinth of signifiers which both promise substitute objects (by making them present in words) and render indestructible the original desire (which is preserved in the signifying chain). The most prominent substitute object in Lacan's Hamlet is "that piece of bait named Ophelia" (p. 11) who is the end term of an unconscious fantasy which structures Hamlet's desire (in Lacan's terminology, Ophelia is the objet petit a). Lacan writes: "[Such an] object takes the place, I would say, of what the subject What is it that the subject is of.... is-symbolically-deprived of? The phallus; and it is from the phallus that the deprived object gets its function in the fantasy, and from the phallus that desire is constituted with the fantasy as its reference" (p. 15). As substitute for the repressed phallus, the object petit a carries a relation to the Other, the unconscious ("l'Autre"), but falls short of ever taking its place; this falling short is underscored in the formula by "petita," "l'autre," a particular object that is other than the subject. Ophelia, then, is not, properly speaking, the object of Hamlet's desire but rather the object in his desire, the "other element that takes the place of what the subject is symbolically deprived of" (p. 15). It is more proper to speak of her, like the imaginary phallus, as the cause of desire and the "lure of being" ("leurre de l'etre"), giving Hamlet a delusion of being more than he is (p. 15). Again, the price the subject pays in entering the signifying domain is high:
This is our starting point: through his relationship to the signifier, the subject is deprived of something of himself, of his very life, which has assumed the value of that which binds him to the signifier. The phallus is our term for the signifier of his alienation in signification. When the subject is deprived of this signifier, a particular object becomes for him an object of desire....

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The object of desire is essentially different from the object of any need. Something becomes an object in desire when it takes the place of what by its very nature remains concealed from the subject: that self-sacrifice, that pound of flesh which is mortgaged in his relationship to the signifier. This is profoundly enigmatic, for it is ultimately a relationship to something secret and hidden . . . that hidden element of living reference, the subject, insofar as, taking on the function of signifier, he cannot be subjectified as such. (Pp. 28-29) The self-signifying subject bars himself, as signified, from his own for they can only falsify desire in the rigidity and substitusignifiers, tion of the signifying chain. The object petit a, then, is a kind of for the missing phallus which, as missing, does not compensation function in the open as an object of desire but makes its presence felt in an unconscious fantasy. Three stages mark Hamlet's relationship to the object Ophelia. Her vivid description of their first encounter in the play, after Hamlet has seen his ghostly father, is, for Lacan, a clinical description of the that occurs when the unconscious fanpathological disorganization and "rejoins the image of the other subject" (p. 22). tasy decomposes Ophelia describes how Hamlet enters her boudoir in a dishevelled state: He took me by the wrist and held me hard; Then goes he to the length of all his arm, And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow, He falls to such perusal of my face As he would draw it. Long stayed he so. At last, a little shaking of mine arm, And thrice his head thus waving up and down, He raised a sigh so piteous and profound As it did seem to shatter all his bulk And end his being. That done, he lets me go, And with his head over his shoulder turned He seemed to find his way without his eyes, For out o' doors he went without their help And to the last bended their light on me. (2. 1. 98-111) This first stage Lacan calls "estrangement," marked by the "distance from the object that Hamlet takes in order to move on to whatever his vacillation in the new and henceforth difficult identification, of what has been until now the object of supreme exaltation" presence (p. 21). Lacan doesn't speak of the link between this estrangement of the object and his father's message, but we will return to it later. At

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any rate, the experience of depersonalization and the uncanny characterize this moment, and after this episode Ophelia is "completely null and dissolved as a love object" (p. 22). "I did love you once," Hamlet says (3. 1. 125), and henceforth he approaches her with sarcasm and cruel aggression. In the second stage, after the "destruction and loss of the object" (p. 23), the object appears "on the outside," no longer part of the unconscious fantasy: "The subject is no longer the object: he rejects it with all the force of his being" (p. 23). In this second stage, "Ophelia is at this point the phallus ["the equivalent of, assumes the place of, indeed is-the phallus"], exteriorized and rejected by the subject" (p. 23) as the "very symbol of the rejection of his desire" (p. 36). Lacan adduces as evidence for Ophelia's equivalence to the phallus Hamlet's repeated scornful reference to childbearing, his wanting to place his head between her legs during the play scene, and the "dead men's fingers," the Orchismascula, related to the mandrake and thereby to the phallus, as one of the flowers accompanying Ophelia's drowning. In the third stage, in the graveyard, Hamlet expresses his love for Ophelia: I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers Could not with all their quantityof love
Make up my sum. What will thou do for her? (5. 1. 270-73)

In this we see "something like a reintegration of the object a, won back here at the price of mourning and death" (p. 24), for "only insofar as the object of Hamlet's desire has become an impossible object can it become once more the object of his desire" (p. 36). This is because "the very structure at the basis of desire always lends a note of impossibility to the object of human desire" (p. 36). This structure, as we have seen, is the repressed phallus, an imaginary and therefore unattainable object, and we shall take it up again in terms of symbolic castration as Lacan shifts the focus to mourning. "What is the connection between mourning and the constitution of the object in desire?" Lacan asks (p. 36). On the basis of his answer he asserts that "we will gain perspectives on the function of mourning that I believe to be new and eminently suggestive" (p. 37). Far from being a gratuitous remark or unrelated theme, Lacan affirms that "from one end of Hamlet to the other, all anyone talks about is mourning" (p. 39). Hamlet's initial "distemper" is due to the Court's insufficient mourning of his father's death. After the graveyard fight with Laertes, Hamlet says:

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But sure the braveryof his grief did put me Into a tow'ring passion.

(5. 2. 86-87)

Hamlet's hiding of Polonius's body after killing him is a mockery of the insufficient mourning his father received, and it is buried secretly. Ophelia, too, must have her burial rites abbreviated. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's executioners are instructed to do their job "Not shriving time allowed," just as was done to Hamlet's father and as the king intended to have done to Hamlet. Unpreparedness for death, insufficient mourning, the breakdown of ritual economy pervade the play in a way that reveals the void opened up by death. For the death of another opens a gap, "a hole in the real," Lacan calls it, "by means of which the subject enters into a relationship that is the inverse of what I have set forth in earlier seminars under the name of Verwerfung,"or foreclosure (pp. 37-38), a notion we will take up shortly, and one that appears in Freud.9 Lacan doesn't point it out, but, sure enough, the association between death and a hole is in the text. In the graveyard Hamlet puts down a skull and reflects: Ham. To what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole [caskhole]? Hor. 'Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so. Ham. No, faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with modestyenough, and likelihood to lead it; as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam (whereto he was converted) might they not stop a beer barrel? Imperious Caesar,dead and turned to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away, 0, that that earth which kept the world in awe Should patch a wall t'expel the winter'sflaw [wind]! (5. 1. 195-208) But the hole that is created by another's death cannot be patched with his or her remains, but only through ritual, through "the totality of the signifier. The work of mourning is accomplished at the level of the logos: I say logos rather than group or community, although group and community, being organized culturally, are its mainstays" (p. 38). But with or without ritual, the hole in the real "sets the signifier in motion ... the signifier that can be purchased only with your own flesh and your own blood, the signifier that is essentially the veiled phallus" (p. 38). But this signifier "can be articulated only at the level of the Other" (i.e., in the unconscious), so that it is "at this point that,

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as in psychosis-this is where mourning and psychosis are relatedthat swarms of images, from which the phenomena of mourning arise, assume the place of the phallus" (p. 38). Thus the "work of mourning is first of all performed to satisfy the disorder that is produced by the inadequacy of signifying elements to cope with the hole that has been created in existence" (p. 38). Before we go on to see why mourning sets the signifier of the phallus in motion, we must pause and examine how mourning and psychosis are related. In the kind of structural counterbalancing that Levi-Strauss exemplified in his analysis of myths and the complexities of the savage mind, Lacan here sets off his view of mourning against his theory of psychosis as he developed it three years earlier in his analysis of Schreber's Memoirs. Daniel Paul Schreber.was appointed president of the highest court of appeals in Saxony when his second and more severe psychotic breakdown occurred in 1893 at the age of 51, the same age that his father was when he died. (Schreber's father was a renowned orthopedic physician who advocated gymnastics in the home and after whom urban garden plots in Germany are named [Schrebergarten].) Schreber's first illness (severe hypochondria) followed upon his unsuccessful bid for political office in 1884. These two career facts, as well as his wife's repeated spontaneous abortions and their consequent childless state, are viewed by Lacan under the rubric of the paternal signifier in order to situate Schreber's psychosis structurally as a fundamental disturbance in the relation between signifier and signified. In the face of a father whose bizarre child-rearing techniques disclose his own breach of the symbolic order,10 Schreber, Lacan argues, failed to install properly the signifier of the Name-ofthe-Father, the "signifier of the Other as locus of the law."" That is, the law of the father never properly intervened in the dual relation with the mother where the identification with the phallus reigned. Since the father failed to intervene structurally, there was no symbolic castration, no giving up of the phallus so that the phallus never attained the status of repressed signifier and never went below the bar in the paternal metaphor. The absence of the signifier of the Nameof-the-Father is due, Lacan says, to foreclosure, Verwerfung,a process whereby the signifier is excluded, not repressed, from awareness, so that where it should appear in the symbolic order there is only a hole. Leclaire puts it this way: "If we imagine experience to be a piece of material made up of criss-crossing threads, we could say that repression would figure in it as a rent or a tear which can still be repaired, whereas foreclosure would figure in it as a beance due to the weaving itself, in short a primal hole which will never again be able to find its substance, since it has never been anything other than the substance

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of a hole and can only be filled, and even then imperfectly, by a patch."'2 The absence of this signifier ("the Name-of-the-Father") means that the subject never achieves primary repression, proper symbolic identification with the father, and integration into the social and symbolic order; this constitutes the essential condition of possibility for psychosis: "It is in an accident in this register and in what takes place in it, namely, the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father in the place of the Other, and in the failure of the paternal metaphor, that I designate the defect that gives psychosis its essential condition, and the structure that separates it from neurosis."'3 Ordinarily, this signifier (or its absence) is not at issue, but from time to time a subject encounters what Lacan refers to as "A-father," who evokes the paternal signifier (in Schreber's case, it was his physician Flechsig). When the signifier is evoked in its absence, the subject is suddenly confronted with a gap, a hole in the network of signifiers, which he then seeks to fill through "the cascade of reshapings of the signifier from which the increasing disaster of the imaginary proceeds, to the point at which the level is reached at which signifier and signified are stabilized in the delusional metaphor."14 In other words, A-father sets up some sort of mechanism whereby in opposition or in relationship correlative to the subject, the signifier would of the Name-of-the-Father would ordinarily emerge-or there's nothing there. That void, then, becomes apappear-and parent to the subject, the psychosis is triggered, and its manifestations are seen in the effort on the part of the imaginary order to reshape the relationship between signifier and signified so as to somehow fill fundamental disturbance in the up that hole in the signified-the order. He desperately tries to fill the gap with imaginary symbolic reconstructions, new and autistic signifier-signified relationships which, in Schreber's case, achieved restabilization as part of his grandiose delusional metaphor that he was becoming a woman in order to bear offspring as the spouse of God. The foreclosure of the signifier of the father, the hole in the symbolic register, eventuates in the appearance of the delusional figure of God, experienced by Schreber as acting on him in the real; likewise, the foreclosure of the experience of symbolic castration and thereby of the signifier of the phallus (which, as long as the subject remained identified with it, could not become a signifier) eventuates in the experience of"real" castration in becoming transformed into a woman. What is foreclosed, causing a hole in the symbolic order, reappears as real. In mourning, inversely, the loss of another is a hole in the real which sets the signifier of the phallus in motion (but which can be articulated only in the unconscious). In both cases, images rush in to compensate for the hole.

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But what of Ophelia's madness? Can we apply Lacan's analysis of psychosis to her case? Lacan does not, perhaps wisely, since she is a somewhat undeveloped, two-dimensional character who functions primarily as "bait" to lure Hamlet away from his mission (as Claudius tries to do with the other objetsa, the dueling stakes). Nevertheless, we have enough information to go a part of the way in tracing Ophelia's psychosis. We know her father stood in a hypocritical relation to the law. He exhorts Laertes not to be "false to any man" (1. 3. 84), but sends to his son's associates in France an informant whose "bait of falsehood" would catch "this carp of truth" about his wantonness (2. 1. 69). He slanders Hamlet with trying "to beguile" his daughter, and then commands her: I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
Have you so slander any moment leisure As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. Look to 't I charge you. Come your ways. Oph. I shall obey, my lord. (1. 3. 139-43)

Laertes had already advised his sister to beware of Hamlet's "unmast'red importunity":
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister, And keep you in the rear of your affection, Out of the shot and danger of desire. (1. 3. 35-38)

Ophelia's amazing docility and deference to their desire is matched only by a degree of naivete proper to one who plays the role of unconscious signifier and reflection of the other's desire. Her father tells her, "You speak like a green girl," and asks if she believes Hamlet's "tenders" of affection: "I do not know, my lord, what I should
think," she replies (1. 3. 110). From her "No, my lord," "Ay, my lord,"

"What means this, my lord" during the play scene (3. 2. 110-47) to her "You are as good as a chorus, my lord" (3. 2. 257), a remark which we do not take as ironic, we see an almost insufferable innocence set off against Hamlet's scornful, plotted vengeance, eager for the murder scene to be reenacted ("Begin, murderer. Pox, leave thy damnable faces, and begin! Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge" [3. 2. 263-65]). Dislodged from her privileged place in Hamlet's unconscious fantasy, identified with her father's desires to the extent that she has none truly her own, and identified with the phallus-that which

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makes up for what is missing to her father-to the extent that she lacks in herself the signifier of the phallus, she is left without mooring after her father's death. Assuming both the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father (based in part on the father's own inconsistent relation to the law) as well as the absence of the phallic signifier that would normally be set in motion in the process of mourning the death of her father, his death doubly evokes a void, a hole in the symbolic order for her, an absence of these correlative signifiers which then unleashes the imaginary reshaping of the signifier-signified relationship and provokes the appearance of the phallus as real. We hear that "her speech is nothing"-later a code word for the phallus (4. 5. 8)-and Laertes says of her speech, "This nothing's more than matter" (4. 5. 189). Ophelia sings: How should I your true love know From another one? By his cockle hat and staff And his sandal shoon. (4. 5. 28-29) She tells the King: "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be" (4. 5. 45-46). Rather than being the phallus, she now envisions the receiving of it as she sings of being "a maid at your window/To be your Valentine": Then he rose and donned his clo'es And dupped the chamber door, Let in the maid, that out a maid Never departed more. And further: By Gis and by Saint Charity, Alack and fie for shame! Young men will do't if they come to't By Cock, they'are to blame. (LI. 60-64) Holland reports that in Ophelia's song, "For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy," "Robin" is an Elizabethan term for a penis.15 We receive a last picture of Ophelia floating in the midst of flowers, including garlands Of crowflowers,nettles, daisies, and long purples, That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

(4. 5. 52-57)

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(4. 7. 187-89)

But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.

The phallic flower surrounds Ophelia's corpse as its grave marker. But why does mourning set the signifier of the phallus in motion? The answer, Lacan says, has to do with the Oedipus complex, and more specifically, with the reason for its decline in the threat of castration: "The Oedipus complex goes into its decline insofar as the subject must mourn the phallus" (p. 46). What he or she must give up is being the phallus in the dual relation to the mother, and mourn its symbolic castration as the price paid for entering the symbolic order and submitting to the law of the father. The phallus, therefore, is the originally mourned object whose loss is recalled in later experiences of mourning. In a play where, Lacan says, "All anyone talks about is mourning," we should expect to find the phallus recalled throughout. And we do, says Lacan, for "the phallus is everywhere present in the disorder in which we find Hamlet each time he approaches one of the crucial moments of his action" (p. 49). As we approach the fateful moment of Hamlet's final action, Lacan dwells on the way Hamlet is led into the duel with Laertes. The Barbary horses, rapiers, and poniards, with their "most delicate carriages," are objets petits a, desirable collectors' items which are "staked against death" (p. 30) and intended to lure Hamlet, without effect. What does interest him, however, is "what Hegel calls the fight for pure prestige" against "a rival whom he moreover admires" (p. 31). The reference to Lacan's mirror stage, a phase of infancy in which the child recognizes and identifies with his or her reflected image as ego ideal, is remarkably precise. Hamlet lavishes praise on Laertes: But, in the verityof extolment, I take him to be a soul of great article,and his infusion of such dearth and rareness as, to make true diction of him, his semblableis his mirror, and who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more. (5. 2. 123-27) That is to say, Laertes's true reflection can be found only in the mirror. Hamlet is saying he can never measure up to the one of whom he earlier said, "That is Laertes,/A very noble youth" (5. 1. 216-17). The reflection in the mirror is for Lacan the first object of desire (as well as first identification), and is followed by the counterpart ("le semblable"), images of others with whom the child identifies in the register of images, in the imaginary order. Because the image of the counterpart threatens the unique place of the original reflected image as ego ideal, aggressivity marks all relationships which are experienced in this

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mirroring mode. Lacan writes: "The image of the other, as you see, is presented here as completely absorbing the beholder. ... The playwright situates the basis of aggressivity in this paroxysm of absorption in the imaginary register, formerly expressed as a mirror relationship, a mirrored reaction. The one you fight is the one you admire the most. The ego ideal is also, according to Hegel's formula which says that coexistence is impossible, the one you have to kill" (p. 31). But Hamlet in himself has not the means to kill Laertes. Lacan annotates this to say Hamlet enters the duel without his phallus, having lost (we assume) its replacement (Ophelia-her reintegration, we recall, is as dead). As the weapons (foils) are distributed, Hamlet puns: I'll be your foil, Laertes. In mine ignorance Your skill shall like a star i'the darkest night, Stick fiery off indeed.

(5. 2. 259-61)

Displaying the dazzling play of the signifier in his punning speechwhat Bradley refers to as a trait "characteristic of Hamlet"'6-Hamlet's "foil" refers to three things at once: the duelling weapon, a jewel case setting off the brilliance of a gem, and the one who thwarts Laertes's plan. But for Lacan it means even more: "In this pun there lies ultimately an identification with the mortal phallus" (p. 34). We can adduce additional evidence for the foil-phallus metaphor in the exchange between Hamlet and Ophelia as they watch the play. Hamlet has just given the play's title and description: Oph. You are as good as a chorus, my Lord.
Ham. I could interpret between you and your love, if I could see the puppets dallying. Oph. You are keen, my Lord, you are keen. Ham. It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge. (3. 2. 257-61)

But the instrument of death that Hamlet can receive only from the other can appear in view "only with the disappearance of the subject himself" (p. 34). This, the hour of his death, is Hamlet's hour, and now he can, with the same instrument, take his final action on the King. Why could he not take such action sooner? Because he was subject to the signifier of the phallus, and, Lacan finally tells us, this signifier is incarnate in King Claudius. For "after the murder of the father, the phallus is still there ... and it is precisely Claudius who is called upon to embody it" (p. 50). Not only is Claudius's real phallus "somewhere in the picture" (p. 50), so important to Hamlet's mother, but also the

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"signifier of power, of potency" (p. 51) remains in place after the crime, "with the criminal, the usurper, in place and functioning as usurper" (p. 51) rather than punished (by castration). This is why Hamlet hesitates. "His astounded spirit, so to speak, trembles before something that is utterly unexpected: the phallus is located here in a position that is entirely out of place in terms of its position in the Oedipus complex. Here, the phallus to be struck at is real indeed. And Hamlet always stops. ... it's because he knows that he must strike something other than what's there" (pp. 50-51). Why can't he strike? For the same reason the child yields to symbolic castration out of fear of real castration: his narcissistic investment. Thus Hamlet can strike only when "he has made the complete sacrifice-without wanting to, moreover-of all narcissistic attachments, i.e., when he is mortally wounded and knows it" (p. 51). As textual evidence for the Claudius-phallus link, Lacan offers a text from Act 4 which he states has remained "as good as sealed from the commentators" (e.g., the Folger edition [New York, 1958]: "This is probably aimless talk to confuse the King; the meaning is not clear"). Lacan writes: "The body is with the king"-He doesn't use the word "corpse," please notice-"but the king is not with the body."Replacethe word "king"with the word "phallus" and you see that that's exactly the point-the body is bound in this matterof the phallus-and how-but the phallus, on the contrary, up is bound to nothing: it alwaysslips through your fingers. Hamlet: The king is a thingGuildenstern: A thing, my lord? Hamlet: Of nothing.

(4. 2. 27-30; p. 52)

This echoes the earlier exchange between Hamlet and Ophelia in the play scene: Ham. Lady, shall I lie in your lap? Oph. No, my Lord. Ham. I mean, my head upon your lap? Ham. Do you think I meant country matters? Oph. I think nothing, my Lord. Ham. That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs. Oph. What is, my Lord? Ham. Nothing.
Oph. Ay, my Lord.

(3. 2. 112-20)

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We can offer other texts in supporting evidence that the King embodies the phallus. Rosencrantz has just described how plays written for boy actors had so ridiculed public playhouses that going to them became unfashionable. Hamlet responds: It is not very strange;for my uncle is King of Denmark,and those that would make mows at him while my father lived give twenty, forty, fifty, a hundred ducats apiece for his picture in little. 'S blood, there is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out. (2. 2. 374-78) What is "more than natural" is the power of the phallus to draw others into imaginary identification with it, much like Hitler's magnetism (a comparison-Hitler and phallus-which Lacan makes). The people, moreover, are "the distracted multitude/Who like not in their judgment, but their eyes" (4. 3. 4-5). Likewise, in the royal stature, like "a mossy wheel/Fixed on the summit of the highest mount," breathes the general population (3. 3. 9-24). Claudius, moreover, knows his power and can state publicly in the face of Laertes's wrath: There's such divinity doth hedge a king That treason can but peep to what it would, Acts little of his will. (4. 5. 132-34) In all these ways, Claudius embodies the phallus, the signifier of desire, and this keeps Hamlet's desire in subjection until the very end, when the very foil that mortally wounds him mysteriously falls from the hand of the other into his own and, liberated from narcissism in death, Hamlet strikes the King with it. One more overview of the action from the vantage point of desire, "For," as Hamlet tells us, "every man hath business and desire" (1. 5. 146), will show us how Hamlet's business is continually shaped by his subjection to the desire of the other and its signifier, the phallus. His state of mind is "melancholic disgust and apathy," as Bradley puts it,17 when his ghostly father tells him to his horror: Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother'shand Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatched.
(1. 5. 81-82)

And that, moreover, The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown. (1. 5. 45-46)

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Enjoined by the ghost to remember him, Hamlet's reaction is immediate:


Remember thee? Yea, from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past That youth and observation copied there. (1. 5. 104-8) The first "form" (or image) to go is the unconscious fantasy in which Ophelia was identified in his desire as the object a substituting for the phallus. His identification with her is quickly dispelled by the vision of the criminal usurper-phallus for his mother, for the people, and for the state-unpunished and, astoundingly, unsuspected. Taking distance from Ophelia "to the length of all his arm" (2. 1. 99), he later becomes enraged to learn she is one with her father's desires-the carrying phallus for him, that is, the signifier of Polonius's desire-in out his wishes. Pol. What, have you given him any hard words of late? Oph. No, my good lord; but as you did command, I did repell his letters and denied His access to me. (2. 1. 118-21) Polonius later tells the King of his daughter's obedience:

And then I precepts gave her, That she should lock herself from his resort, Admit no messengers, receive no tokens. Which done, she took the fruits of my advice. (2. 2. 152-55) Her obedience is seen in other examples as well (2. 2. 113-15; 3. 1. 49-50). We are then well prepared for it when Ophelia tells Hamlet she wishes to return his gifts: My lord, I have remembrances of yours That I have longed long to redeliver. I pray you, now receive them.

(3. 1. 102-4)

The change in Hamlet is instantaneous: when he first catches sight of her after his soliloquy ("To be or not to be ... "), he says:

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-Soft you now! The fair Ophelia!-Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins rememb'red.

But when she greets him, he responds: "I humbly thank you; well, well, well." She then speaks the above lines, and he retorts: "No, not I!/I never gave you aught" (3. 1. 96-106). He then scorns her with immediate sexual abuse and later sexual teasing at the play scene. He shows little remorse after killing Polonius, the source of her phallic identification, for he is busy exhorting his mother to break her tie to the king's phallus ("go not to my uncle's bed.... Refrain tonight" [3. 4. 180-86]). He is unable to strike the King, for the King embodies the phallus, the signifier of the Queen's desire and (although Lacan does not state it), in the classical psychoanalytic view, also the signifier of his own Oedipal desire. All the while he is subject to the desire of others, as outlined earlier, as they determine his staying or leaving or returning or duelling. Once dead, Ophelia becomes the impossible object again desired by Hamlet, particularly in rivalrous mourning with her brother. His jealous identification with martial Laertes leads him to welcome the duel, wherein the final action takes place, eventuating in mass death. To the end we see the subject in dependence on the law of signifier of the phallus and the law of the Other-the language-from whose inexorability Hamlet is liberated only at the moment of death, for it is only then that narcissistic attachment to the phallus (in fear of castration) and subjection to the desire of others (whose desire is signified by the phallus) fades. The tragedy of Hamlet is indeed the tragedy of desire.
AUSTEN RIGGS CENTER STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

NOTES 1 Jacques Lacan, "Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet"[1959], Yale FrenchStudies, Nos. 55-56 (1977), p. 39. Unless otherwise noted, all Lacan quotations in text are from this article. Quotations from Hamlet are from The Tragedyof Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar, The Folger Library General Reader's Shakespeare (New York, 1958). 2 Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection [1966], tr. A. Sheridan (New York, 1977). 3 For a commentary on the Schreber text, see John P. Muller and William J. Richardson, "Toward Reading Lacan: Pages for a Workbook, Chapter 6: 'On a Question Preliminary to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis,' " Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought (PCT), 2, No. 3 (1979), 377-435. 4 Norman Holland, Psychoanalysisand Shakespeare(New York, 1966), p. 163.

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5 Muller and Richardson, "Toward Reading Lacan: Pages for a Workbook, Introduction," PCT, 1, No. 3 (1978), 323-72. 6 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics [1916], ed. C. Bally and A. Sechehaye, tr. W. Baskin (New York, 1966). 7 Roman Jakobson and Morris Halle, Fundamentalsof Language (The Hague, 1956). Re8 Muller, "The Analogy of Gap in Lacan's Ecrits: A Selection," The Psychohistory view, 8, No. 3 (Winter 1979), p. 40. 9 SeeJ. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis[1967], tr. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York, 1973), pp. 166-69. 10 Morton Schatzman, Soul Murder: Persecutionin the Family (New York, 1974). 11 Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, p. 221. 12 Anika Lemaire,Jacques Lacan [1970], tr. D. Macey (London, 1977). 13 Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, p. 215. 14 Ibid., p. 217. 15 Holland, Psychoanalysisand Shakespeare,p. 202. 16 A. C. Bradley, ShakespeareanTragedy (1904; rpt. New York, 1955), p. 125. 17 Ibid., p. 104.