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Reid, S.A. (1970). A Psychoanalytic Reading of “Troilus and Cressida” and “Measure for Measure”. Psychoanal. Rev., 57(2):263-282.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Review, 57(2):263-282

A Psychoanalytic Reading of “Troilus and Cressida” and “Measure for Measure”

Stephen A. Reid

Shakespeare's “problem”plays have received much attention recently, and although several critics have found them unproblematical and satisfactory dramatic statements,1 they continue to make most critics uneasy. In general, those critics who see difficulties in any reading of the plays2 look to problems in execution—particularly in Shakespeare's resolutions. This seems to me distinctly not the case in Troilus and Cressida and in Measure for Measure. Both plays seem to me most carefully and clearly executed in terms of their central concerns. I had assumed that dislike of Troilus and Cressida could be attributed to the critic's unwillingness to accept the full impact of Shakespeare's cynicism and bitterness,3 and that dislike of Measure for Measure could be attributed to the critic's outraged sense of justice.4 A reading of Eros and Civilization, by Herbert Marcuse,5 has suggested to me deeper causes for the uneasiness with which so many critics have approached these plays. In this paper, I treat both plays because, as I hope to show, their essential concerns are closely related.

Following Freud, Marcuse speculates a biological cause for sexual dissatisfaction:6

But is there perhaps in the [sexual] instinct itself an inner barrier which “contains”its driving power? Is there perhaps a “natural”self-restraint in Eros so that its genuine gratification would call for delay, detour, and arrest? Then there would be obstructions and limitations imposed not from outside, by a repressive reality principle, but set and accepted by the instinct itself because they have inherent libidinal value. Freud indeed suggested this notion.

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