Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Love, Humoralism, and "Soft" Psychoanalysis

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Love, Humoralism, and "Soft" Psychoanalysis

Article excerpt

LIKE HUMORAL THEORY, psychoanalysis has been largely hesitant to appraise the most esteemed of human passions, love, in any terms other than symptomatic ones. That is, both discourses might be characterized as treating love somewhat suspiciously, in almost wholly affective terms. In A Treatise on Lovesickness (first ed. 1610), for example, Jacques Ferrand follows Galen in naming "the temperature of the humor as the principal cause" of love, and describes its caloric dimensions and melancholic quality by citing Andre du Laurens, a French physician whose Galenic credentials were impeccable. (1) Lacan's Seventh Seminar (1959-60) is also devoted to analyzing the "ideal of human love," and in particular the high estimation of "genital love" and interpersonal attachment, and its phobic relation to feminine sexuality. (2) "Analysis," according to Lacan, "has brought a very important change of perspective on love by placing it at the center of ethical experience." (3) But love also changes Lacan's attitude toward analysis, for what is demanded at the end of analysis, he asks at the conclusion of this seminar, if not "bonheur or 'happiness'"? (4) Love is not containable by the praxis of Lacanian psychoanalysis, even if love is somehow what psychoanalysis is about.

I think that a theoretical reappraisal of love, not to mention the other passions performed and solicited in Shakespearean dramaturgy, would benefit from a critical approach that balances an awareness of the period's theories for understanding the passions with a psychoanalytic perspective on human agency. Coupling these discourses means critiquing their distinct, and shared, limitations, which is probably not very unsettling for scholars interested in Galenism, since humoral theory has been safely relegated by science to the category of metaphor or associative--rather than diagnostic--understanding. (5) For psychoanalytic critics, however, a version of what I will term "soft" psychoanalysis is potentially controversial. By "soft" psychoanalysis, I mean to designate the use of psychoanalytic concepts, and the consideration of the kinds of questions that psychoanalytic inquiry typically provokes: questions regarding agency, subjectivity, self-awareness, and of course self-delusion. Such questions abound in Shakespeare, but when psychoanalytic readings of their manifestations are developed holistically, they often produce jargon-filled interpretations deemed persuasive only by those readers who are already "in the know."

By juxtaposing the limitations of humoral theory and psychoanalysis, it is my belief that we might produce more nuanced readings of the emotional contours of Shakespearean characters than would be possible if we restricted ourselves to a single critical approach, be it psychoanalytic or historicist. To give an example of the kind of interpretation I have in mind, I would like to turn to a work that revolves around issues of love, selfhood, and passionate outbursts: Romeo and Juliet (1595?). As the play opens, we as readers and spectators are led to believe that Romeo is suffering through an extreme bout of love melancholy, brought about by his rejection at the hands of Rosaline. If we come to the play prepared to insert a humoral analysis, we find much fodder with which to work, and yet also some points of resistance. Ferrand's Treatise on Lovesickness postdates Romeo and Juliet by more than a decade, but Ferrand draws amply from materials available to Shakespeare's generation, materials that help to make love melancholy the most celebrated kind of sadness in the literature of the sixteenth century. Romeo displays the expected symptoms of this sadness perfectly. As described by his father, the young man is said to spend his time thus:

                 Many a morning hath he there been seen,
   With tears augmenting the flesh morning's dew,
   Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs.
   But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
   Should in the farthest east begin to draw
   The shady curtains from Aurora's bed,
   Away from light steals home my heavy son,
   And private in his chamber pens himself,
   Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out,
   And makes himself an artificial night. … 
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