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Robinson, K. (2019). ‘Who is it That Can Tell Me Who I Am?’ King Lear, the Last Laugh and the Consequences of an Inability to Mourn Loss. Brit. J. Psychother., 35(1):114-126.

(2019). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 35(1):114-126

Mourning and Melancholia: Freud Museum/BJP Conference 2017

‘Who is it That Can Tell Me Who I Am?’ King Lear, the Last Laugh and the Consequences of an Inability to Mourn Loss

Ken Robinson

This paper offers a brief synopsis of Freud's ‘Mourning and melancholia’ in its context before proceeding to a discussion of two portrayals of the consequences of inability to mourn loss, of people, roles and ego-ideals: King Lear and W.F. Murnau's film The Last Laugh (1924). These are tragedies of old age and retirement which depict their heroes struggling to come to terms with their loss of roles that have been so narcissistically invested that their identities have become coterminous with them. Both deny the reality of their plight and, therefore, cannot mourn. King Lear defends himself against the threat of melancholia but also uses this defence to further protect himself against descending into the nothingness of an inner black hole. He dies on a delusion. The protagonist of The Last Laugh succumbs to profound depression, dreams of a world of omnipotent plenitude, but must awaken to the reality of his bleak situation.

[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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