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Weissman, S.M. (1979). Hamlet's Absent Father: By Avi Erlich. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. 308 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 48:663-665.

(1979). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 48:663-665

Hamlet's Absent Father: By Avi Erlich. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. 308 pp.

Review by:
Steven M. Weissman

Professor Avi Erlich, like Hamlet himself, seems to struggle with an inability to act decisively and get to the heart of the matter. Hamlet knows what he must do but by the time he finally does act to kill Claudius the stage is littered with corpses. Of course, if he had simply killed Claudius and been done with it, we would not have Shakespeare's great play, since it is not, in fact, a story of revenge, but a complex struggle between grief and anger, indecision and passionate certainty.

Like the play Hamlet, Erlich's text is littered with corpses of literary and psychoanalytic critics with whom he spends too much time dueling intellectually. This scholarly dueling is a time-honored tradition in the annals of literary and psychoanalytic criticism; it is expected in academic circles that a scholar will address himself to the thoughts of his colleagues before making his own contribution. Usually this tribute is done with a heavy hand—with copious footnotes and a talmudic obsessiveness—which puts all but the driest minds and most technically oriented parties to sleep. It is to Erlich's credit that his muscular prose and conversational familiarity with other scholars' ideas is personal enough for the text to be breezier and more readable than is usual with such academic preambles.

But like the character Hamlet, the author stalls. He does not make the original contribution he promises at the start of his book. That contribution—stated as simply as possible—is to formulate a clear, psychological portrait of the author of the play, an author who lived hundreds of years ago and wrote plays for a living. It would be of interest to know if he had any favorite approach to writing. Did he like to write plays sitting around in his underwear? Or did he prefer to write fully clothed and lying on his belly over the edge of a bed? Of course, these are facetious questions, and I mention them only to remind us that the plays were written by a flesh and blood man.


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