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Rothenberg, A.B. (1971). The Oral Rape Fantasy and Rejection of Mother in the Imagery of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis. Psychoanal Q., 40:447-468.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 40:447-468

The Oral Rape Fantasy and Rejection of Mother in the Imagery of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis

Alan Baer Rothenberg


It has not previously been emphasized that in Shakespeare's vast portrait gallery there are two significantly empty spaces: that of the well-treated, fortunate, happy child, and that of the 'ideal mother, tender, constant and true, sympathetic alike in the prosperity and adversity of her children' (30p. 1). Detailed study has led me to the conclusion that in Shakespeare the child is almost always presented as maltreated and that the mother (or nurse) is almost always cold, neglectful, cruel—or simply absent physically from the child's emotional hemisphere.

The limited scope of this paper precludes offering more than a hint of the findings of my projected study: for example, the overwhelming proportion of infants and children in Shakespeare's plot actions and imagery who are killed; deprived of a parent (usually only one); abducted; abandoned; rejected; have unhappy or interrupted nursing experiences; are symbolized as evil in the womb, as baby serpents, as buds that are cankered; have bitter sibling rivalries in the nursery; are threatened with being eaten, starved, poisoned, burned, drowned, smothered, buried alive, being castrated, being whipped—in fact, threatened with a veritable check list of the terrors and injustices known to 'the eye of childhood/ That fears a painted devil' (Macbeth, II, ii: 54-55).

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