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Holmes, J. (2018). Perdita and Oedipus: A tale of two adoptions. IJP Open, 5:32.

(2018). IJP Open, 5:32

Perdita and Oedipus: A tale of two adoptions

Jeremy Holmes

The purpose of the paper is to propose Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (WT) as foundation narrative for attachment-informed psychotherapy, and a counterpart to Oedipus Rex (OR), covering similar psychological territory but in a strikingly different way. Both start with a father’s rejection of a baby and its rescue and adoption by distant shepherds. Both revolve around murderousness and desire in a mother-father-child triangle, but in WT the prime mover is filicide rather than parricide. WT points to the positive aspects of the care-giving dynamic. The main characters of WT, in contrast to OR’s phallocentrism are female: the rejected Queen Hermione, her handmaiden Paulina and Perdita herself. Their relationships are characterised by attachment security: this gives Paulina the courage to confront and instigate mentalising in Leontes, the psychotic king, and for Perdita to find her sexuality through her transgressive love for Florizel. The environmental benefits of adoption determine the outcome: WT’s tragi-comic dynamic moves from chaos to renewal and rebirth. Hermione survives the ‘attack on the good object’; Leontes recovers from his jealous hatred and subsequent depression; ruptures are repaired. WT depicts secure attachments as bulwarks against loss, and the key to resilience in the face of trauma.

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