NOTES FROM WUHAN: PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SHAKESPEARE
JEFFREY STERN, PH.D.
Here is the talk I gave in Wuhan on Friday, April 13th. I was going to read the entire article I’d published years ago in Shakespeare Quarterly, but could see that it would be tedious to do so given that I’d have to stop every sentence for the translator and given that the text had already been translated for the attendees into Chinese. At the same time I didn’t think it safe simply to spend my allotted time responding to questions on the expectation that the audience would have indeed read the paper and read the play. So what I did was read a shortened and revised version of the paper after showing clips of the relevant scenes from the Trevor Nunn Royal Shakespeare Company film of the play with Mandarin subtitles. This seemed to work very well. The film clips connected the audience to Lear in a direct and visceral way and revising my paper allowed me to rethink it in the terms of the conference, that is, to incorporate Arnold Richards’ ideas about “Replacement Children” into my text as well as Professor Xudong Zhao’s thoughts about China’s “One Child Only Policy.” These ideas I thought spoke powerfully to King Lear, especially a King Lear under consideration in contemporary China.
When I finished my prepared text I asked for questions and was greeted with a loud silence. So I talked about the commonalities between the beginnings
of Shakespeare’s plays and the beginnings of our clinical cases. And then my translator asked me what I would say to Cordelia if she walked into my office angrily complaining of the way her father had ruined her wedding day. Suddenly we were off to the races. Everyone now had a question! Would I say that King Lear was a narcissist? Why, from a psychoanalytic perspective do I think that women always fall for “bad boys” like Gloucester’s evil son Edmund the Bastard? What is the relevance of theater to psychotherapeutic practice? Could it be argued that Chinese mothers in particular often use their sons as selfobjects even as Lear uses Cordelia? And so on and so on. The time flew and all too quickly it was over.