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Williams, M.H. (1995). Response to M. and M. Rustin on Julius Caesar. Brit. J. Psychother., 12(1):109-111.

(1995). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 12(1):109-111


Response to M. and M. Rustin on Julius Caesar

Meg Harris Williams

The problem which confronts us via the seductiveness of a Shakespeare play is, how can we let the meaning of the experience get through to us? How can we appreciate the living play, not colonize it with our own values, in fact, expand our experience? And in any attempt at literary criticism, the danger lies in failing to decipher the aesthetic structure of the drama, which is where the deep meaning resides. We don't need Shakespeare to tell us that politicians tell lies, or that murder doesn't work; we certainly don't need to pat him on the back for doing so. We do need Shakespeare, however, to express our emotions for us and to symbolize them into the form of a thinking process. This is an abstract function and is why the events of a poetic drama cannot be translated literally: the meaning of a ‘death’ derives from its poetic context; the representation of a commonsense ‘catastrophe’ (sudden violence) is not necessarily Bion's ‘catastrophic change’. Bion's concept describes that great achievement, a stage in the structural development of the mind; it is not something nasty that happened on the way to the forum. The real interest to psychoanalysis lies in the emotionally charged deep meaning, and the problem is, how to allow that meaning to work on us.

How then does Julius Caesar, this ‘play of fire and love’ (as Wilson Knight called it) shape our reactions? How are our sympathies guided, how can we gauge emotional temperature, indeed, what sort of place is Shakespeare's Rome? Certainly not Gorbachev's Russia with its suffering people and beleaguered leader.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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