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Malater, E. (2014). Stay, Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine. By Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster. New York: Pantheon, 2013, 269 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 101(3):454-457.

(2014). Psychoanalytic Review, 101(3):454-457

Stay, Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine. By Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster. New York: Pantheon, 2013, 269 pp.

Review by:
Evan Malater, LCSW

Stay, Illusion, a series of essays on Hamlet by psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster and her husband, the philosopher Simon Critchley, is everything that most writing on psychoanalysis applied to literature is not, which is to say it is fascinating, surprising, provocative, and disorienting. While familiarity with Hamlet will certainly add to the pleasure, it would be a shame if its audience were limited to Shakespeare aficionados. In fact, the authors take pains to point out that they are not Hamlet specialists. All the better. As Greil Marcus (2001) wrote about finding the “Old Weird America” in song, Webster and Critchley bring us the Old Weird Hamlet, deftly rescuing the play from death by reverence through a literary approach that is as weird as the text they uncover.

In a recent reading at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Webster commented on the fact that by far, the most common question they have received is “How did you write the book together?” She said that in her opinion this question and, by implication, the question of the book, is about sexual relationship. As a Lacanian analyst, Webster must know that this notion can only lead us by association to the Lacanian formula that states, “There is no sexual relationship.” But if there is no sexual relationship, then this book and the relationship that produced it is a no thing—a fitting thought for authors whose doctrine of Hamlet is itself guided and structured by an analysis of the “nothing” at the heart of the play, an analysis that through fits and starts finds its way to the nothing at the heart of love.

At first glance, the notion that Hamlet is “a play about nothing,” might raise concern that we are in for a hookup between Lacan and Seinfield, a fashionable romance of negativity.

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