Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: "The Barge She Sat In": Psychoanalysis and Diction

by Norman N. Holland

August 25, 2005


Modern linguistics and psychoanalysis both confirm that "The style is the man." Psychoanalysts also show how patients' choice of words, grammatical patterns, and figures of speech express personality. Using this technique in literary analysis, N. N. Holland and R. Ohmann have shown how verbal choices express personality for three Victorian essayists. Using the same technique, one can show how Falstaff's use of enthymemes resembles the pathology of a patient of Maria Lorenz's. Shakespeare's choices when he converted North's prose description of Cleopatra's barge likewise reveal personality. Shakespeare animated and sexualized the inanimate. He feminized his Roman speaker, identifying imagination with femininity. His choices may also show primal scene imaginings in a "Whiter" cluster. Although recent psychoanalysis tends to neglect them, verbal choices allow powerful insights for both psychoanalyst and literary critic.



     A vigorous idea in literary thought is Buffon's eighteen-century insight that Le style c'est l'homme même. (Obviously, the maxim occurred before the modern feminist movement. What would we say today? The style is the very person? Or perhaps, The style is the identity. It suffers in the translation?) Now, is that so? Or is it the case, as many contemporary theorists like to suggest, that style is all cultural, imposed through society's control of language?

     Buffon gets support from this century's leading linguist, Noam Chomsky:

         I am using the term "language" to refer to an individual phenomenon, a system represented in the mind/brain of a particular individual. If we could investigate in sufficient detail, we would find that no two individuals share exactly the same language in this sense, even identical twins who grow up in the same social environment (1988).

     From Buffon's point of view or from Chomsky's, each of us speaks an idiolect. That is, we each speak an individual version of a dialect of a language. I speak my particular version of Northeastern American English. Most of you reading this essay speak some version of a dialect of English. To quote Chomsky again, "Two individuals can communicate to the extent that their languages are sufficiently similar." That seems straightforward enough. Since you and I share the general language English. If your dialect is close enough to the Northeastern American dialect, we can talk back and forth. Even so, we each have a different pitch and tone of voice. We each have a slightly different choice of words. We each make different choices in phrasing. We each use different vocabularies and figures of speech. In short, we each have different dictions--that is, we make different choices among the possibilities English offers us.

     What is the relation between your idiolect and my idiolect? If we believe Buffon, each is a function of its owner's personality. If we can fully describe some individual's system of language, we should be able to infer that individual's personality or, the term I prefer, that individual's identity (Burton 1973, 14-15).

     A caveat. Obviously, as a reader-response critic and a believing postmodern, I mean my "infer" quite strongly. in + ferre = to bring in. I am going to bring my ideas in. I am going to bring my ideas to bear on some writing of Shakespeare's and see what feedback I get. In doing so, I make no claims to absolute truth, definitive answers, incontrovertible conclusions, or anything like that. Rather, I am beginning a conversation. What continues our conversation is what you do with what I say, and in principle the back-and-forth of our conversation need never end. The hypotheses I offer are valuable only insofar as they give you hypotheses for your own thought. I hope to derive from Shakespeare's language choices a picture of his personality that makes sense to you (thus confirming me).


     As you might expect, Lacan, who so stresses the linguistic nature of psychoanalysis, makes explicit this connection between language choices and personality. He lists a series of tropes: periphrasis, hyperbaton, catachresis, antonomasia, hypotyposis, and so on. He concludes that these would serve as the best labels for the defense mechanisms. "Can one really," he asks, "see these as mere figures of speech when it is the figures themselves that are the active principle of the rhetoric of the discourse that the analysand in fact utters?" (Lacan n.d., 169). But he offers no further details.

     Interestingly, Lacan says these figures of speech are mechanisms of "the unconscious," whereas a good many Anglo-American analysts would treat them as mechanisms of the ego, and in fact did so treat them. Lacan does not, in his lordly way, refer to the woman who most developed this relation between diction--choice of verbal strategies--and unconscious concerns. Neither does John Forrester in his proto-Lacanian book exploring the primacy Freud gave to his patients' spoken language. (Say it aloud, Freud said to the Wolf Man.) Audible words tell more than visible, physical symptoms or mere thoughts, notes Forrester (1980, Ch. 2).

     The woman who most explicitly developed the relation between diction and unconscious concerns was Ella Freeman Sharpe, who wrote between 1927 and 1947. Perhaps because she began her career as an English teacher, Sharpe paid particular and detailed attention to her patients' diction. She would look at choice of words both in the interpretation of dream reports and in analytic technique generally, because, as she says, "Words both reveal and conceal thought and emotion" (155). Ernest Jones commented, "Few analysts could have equalled her supreme gift--the hall-mark of the born psychologist--of listening with minute attention to eveery single utterance and of taking literally and seriously every word. She possessed . . . a special finesse in analysing the verbal and linguistic connotations of the material" (Jones 1950).

     For example, she quotes a patient: "I have been bleating about my own lamentable condition." Sharpe points out that the analyst needs to understand that the patient feels like the bleating lamb in lamentable (Sharpe 1950, 158). Another patient said, "An argument soon cropped up between us," and Sharpe points out that cropped has another meaning, cutting off (166). "I've wandered off the point and can't find it again," said another patient, and Sharpe interprets this as based on a suckling experience as well as referring to her own name (159). Another example: one of her female patients kept saying, "Am I cut out for this job?" Sharpe interpreted penis envy. "Metaphor," Sharpe notes, "is personal and individual even though the words and phrases used are not of the speaker's coinage" (159). "Metaphor, like a symptom, is a compromise between ego, super-ego, and id" (157-58).

     Like Lacan, she talks about the parallels between figures of speech and defense mechanisms, but Sharpe is quite explicit. For example, she quotes a patient who kept ending statements with "Really? --Really!" For example, "Another baby, really? --Really!" "I feel like killing, really?"--Really!" Sharpe interprets, "I see these things, know these things, but they are not real; I feel like this, but I mustn't feel like this, not really." In other words, the patient was using "really" to mean exactly the opposite. He was using the interjection as a denial (150).

     Sharpe defines metonymy as referring to an object by something associated with it, the Crown for the Queen, for example. Metonymy, she says, provides a general way of interpreting objects in dreams (Sharpe 1978, 48). She points to the similarity between synecdoche (she defined it as using a part to refer to the totality) and the mechanism of fetishism (50-51). Onomatopoeia (sound echoing sense) describes the puns and klang associations of dreams (26). Implied metaphors, even the stale ones, like a wealth of knowledge or food for thought--these, she notes, refer ultimately to body processes. (Thus, in 1937, she anticipated the thinking of today's cognitive linguists like George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, or Mark Turner (Lakoff, Johnson 1980; Turner 1987). As Masud Khan puts it, "Ella Sharpe knew in an uncanny way that all language is born of the body" (Khan 1978).

     Sharpe's predecessor in this attention to verbal choices is her eulogist himself. In a curious essay, Ernest Jones suggested that the English could be so prudish, because the English language has a larger vocabulary than any other European language. English has three different sources. It consists of Anglo-Saxon at the basis, overlaid by post-Conquest French, finally overlaid by a thin coating of Latin. Because the language is so rich in synonyms, the English can be ultra-fastidious. He gives the example of Anglo-Saxon gut, translated into French bowel, which in Jones' day was spoken of as the Latin intestine.

     A few psychiatrists after Sharpe have followed her ideas about verbal choices, but not many. Maria Lorenz published a series of papers by in the early 1950s linking patients' particular speech mannerisms to diagnostic categories. For example, she describes a patient, S.M., who constantly used a particular grammatical pattern:

If I could . . . I would be . . .

If I did get . . . I would make . . .

There are lots of things I would like to . . . but . . .

If I kept up . . . I would come . . .

If I could learn . . . I probably wouldn't . . .

If I ever did . . . I suppose I would . . .

This pattern, said Lorenz, "showed clearly [his] conditional attitude, linked with projection into the hypothetical future. This conveniently absolved him from assuming responsibility in the present" (Lorenz 1953, 281).

     In a 1973 paper, David Forrest related "language traits" to diagnostic categories. Hysterical patients would use "hyperbole, exaggeration, loading, bombast, rant." Obsessional patients would use "qualification, evaluation, circumstance, neutrality, latinate diction, fustian, etymologizing." Paranoid patients: "impersonal reference, indefinite antecedents, grandiloquence" (Forrest 1973).

     Similarly, in a 1974 paper, John Schimel analyzed the speech of obsessive-compulsive patients. "The obsessional's is a world of description, never action or emotion." "One might call obsessionalism a disease of adjectives, contrasted with the hysteric who suffers a disease of adverbs. The hysteric is `horribly' upset, `abysmally' depressed, `completely' exhausted, `fantastically' interested" and so on, "pointing to a preoccupation with a world of affect." The obsessional separates himself from his own statement by qualifiers like "I think that" or "I almost think that" or "I seem to think that" or "In part, on some level, I think that." (The obsessional sounds almost like a reader-response critic.) The obsessional often speaks in the subjunctive mode. The obsessional qualifies. "There is a preoccupation with contradiction." Schimel tells of an obsessional patient who was startled to realize that his customary way of agreeing with statements the analyst made was, "No, you're right" (Schimel 1974, 88, 93-97).

     In 1978, a research group associated with Hartwig Dahl studied the diction of one analyst's interventions during an analysis. They studied such choices in phrasing as the agentless passive, the use of yes/no questions, extraposition, the pseudocleft construction, and so on. The syntax had the cumulative effect of putting the analyst at center stage and pushing the patient toward the wings or offstage altogether. Evidently, the analyst didn't like this patient and resented working with him, but this feeling was either unconscious or warded-off and showed only as syntax. In effect, the analyst's syntax expressed his countertransference, which the rule of abstinence prevented him from expressing directly (Dahl, Teller, Moss 1978). Unfortunately, from my point of view, Dahl and his group gave up this line of research because it could not be adapted to the statistical methods favored by today's psychological researchers (Teller, Dahl 1995).

     Makari and Shapiro, in a 1993 article, discuss the nature of psychoanalytic listening, referring to Lacan, but not to Sharpe. They criticize Kohut's claim that empathy can rescue us from being fundamentally outside the patient or that empathy is "the sole tool by which an analyst might know the inner state of another" (referring to Kohut 1959). Instead, they stress language. Analytic listening, they say, involves reversing the usual relation of signal and noise. The analyst, they say, "listens for noises that signify in psychoanalytic terms; slips, metaphors, similes, archaic or idiosyncratic usages, repeatedly used words, words used in the wrong context; he listens for odd syntax, passive voice, obsessively formed sentences; in short, he listens for the poetics that structure another's signifying repertoire" (1013). They give the example of a patient, "who referred to his nose and his penis as the nose and the penis, and was thereby enacting the isolation from urgency he felt, and the objectification of his body parts as things, because he feared confronting his dangerous sexual thoughts and feelings" (1010).

     In effect, Makari and Shapiro are describing, in a somewhat Lacanian way, the "listening with the third ear," so vividly dramatized by Theodor Reik (1948, 1956) some forty-odd years before. There is, in short, a strain of psychoanalytic practice that has listened to verbal choices.

     When I turn from psychiatrists and psychoanalysts to literary critics, I find a few who have explicitly followed Sharpe, notably Norman O. Brown (1959) and Robert Rogers (1973, 1978). Both acknowledge their indebtedness to her. Like most psychoanalytic literary critics, however, Brown and Rogers concentrated on interpreting metaphors thematically through psychoanalytic symbolism.

     I would, however, like to recapture Sharpe's focus on diction, notably the writer's tropes. What grammatical and rhetorical choices does a writer make? What figures of speech does he or she choose? And what can we infer about the writer's state of mind or personality or identity from those choices?


     If we focus on figures of speech or, more generally, the writer's verbal choices, what comes to my mind is a startling 1964 paper by Richard Ohmann. He analyzed and compared the styles of Faulkner and Hemingway, using Chomsky's early transformational methods. Ohmann established that the essence of Faulkner's style comes from the repeated use of three transformations: relative clause, conjunction, and comparative. He went on to show that the essence of Hemingway's style comes from transformations associated with reported thought and indirect discourse.

     I was lucky enough to hear an early, spoken version of Ohmann's paper. In it, Ohmann chose a Faulkner passage and undid Faulkner's three characteristic transformations to make it into kernel sentences. He then applied Hemingway's three characteristic transformations--and abracadabra!, Faulkner had been transformed into Hemingway. It was an astonishing demonstration of the power of this kind of stylistic analysis.

     He did not do that in the published paper, alas. Instead he gave other examples. He showed that the intricacy of Henry James comes from self-embedding clauses (neither left-branching nor right-branching). D. H. Lawrence's style comes from deletions and truncations.

     Ohmann did not go on to suggest the psychological implications of these writers' diction. I was able, however, to work with him on an analysis of several Victorian essayists. In a pair of essays in 1968, Ohmann suggested the characteristic transformations for Carlyle, Arnold, Mill, and Ruskin, and I was able to piggy-back on his paper. That is, I was able to suggest the psychological implications of their diction. For example, Ohmann pointed out that Matthew Arnold relies heavily on definitions and naming. He uses over and over a sentence structure consisting of a noun phrase followed by a form of "to be" followed by a noun phrase. He uses relative clauses and appositives to further define these special nouns. I interpreted these syntactic traits psychoanalytically as a wish to keep one's distance, to avoid physical contact. Ultimately, it seemed to me, Arnold's diction acted out a wish for creativity without touching, without sexual contact. Ohmann was willing, somewhat tentatively, to agree: "Definition, boundary-setting, the discrimination of concepts--these are enterprises calculated to isolate, to prevent overlapping, or meshing, or blurring. They act out an intellectual fastidiousness which might well betoken a sexual drawing back" (304n). We did similar psycholinguistic analyses combining linguistics and psychoanalysis for Carlyle, Newman, and Mill (Ohmann 1968; Holland 1968).

     My point is that either the literary critic or the psychoanalyst can use people's diction, their preferred figures and forms of speech, to yield insights into personality, at least when people are speaking in their own voices. The situation becomes far more difficult, however, when we consider the diction of a writer writing dialogue, as Shakespeare mostly did. Nevertheless, I think the general principle holds, that diction expresses identity or personality.

     Consider a speaker more defined than a real person, the Falstaff of Henry IV, Part One. His idiolect has a very distinctive stylistic feature, the use of enthymemes. That is the rhetorical term. If you prefer a philosophical label, you could call them contrafactual conditionals. I am thinking of sentences like these using "if," "an," or "and" to express a non-factual condition:

    If manhood, good manhood, be not forgot upon the face of the earth, then am I a shotten herring.

    An I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I am a peppercorn, a brewer's horse.

    If I travel but four foot by the squire further afoot, I shall break my wind.

    If the rascal have not given me medicines to make me love him, I'll be hanged.

    And 'twere not as good a deed as drink to turn true man and to leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth.

And so on. Those last three all occur in ten lines in Henry IV, Part One, suggesting the frequency of the figure. By my count, there are 98 of these enthymemes in the play as a whole, and of them, 62 or about two-thirds are spoken by Falstaff himself.

     It is as though Falstaff were continually changing his own identity, comparing himself in these figures to a shotten herring, a peppercorn, a brewer's horse, a varlet, and so on. He sounds a bit like Lorenz' patient, S.M., the one who kept saying, "If I could . . . I would be . . . " Like S.M., Falstaff speaks as though he lived in an imaginary world, a play world, like the theater, in which he tries on various parts without ever adopting any one role permanently. Indeed we see just that when Hal and Falstaff put on a play and pretend to be King Henry and his son.

     Also, his predicates all deprecate himself. If these hypotheticals are true, he is either pointing to how fat he really is or how he is to be hanged or how he is a varlet. He asks us to imagine him as ridiculous or contemptible.

     Interestingly, these enthymemes almost entirely drop out of the Falstaff of Henry IV, Part Two. Why? Because I think Shakespeare conceives Falstaff differently to fit the different theme of Part Two. To a degree, then, when we read Falstaff's identity through these figures of speech, we cannot separate Shakespeare's conception of that character from Shakespeare's conception of the themes of the play as a whole. Or, more properly, we cannot separate my conception of that character from my conception of Shakespeare's conception of the themes of the play as a whole. I read Falstaff's identity as part of the identity, so to speak, I read for the whole play.

     It is hard to infer something about Shakespeare from his diction when he's imagining a character. It is easier with writers of fiction or lyric poets or even those Victorian essayists. Because they are writing in their own voices, we can infer something about them from their syntax. If we want to read something about Shakespeare's character, we have to stand back and look at those enthymemes as part of the whole play. When we do, we find something else interesting about them. The character in Henry IV, Part One who also speaks in enthymemes is Harry Hotspur who has 13 enthymemes by my count, more than any other character except Falstaff. He too is driven by wishful thinking and imagination.

     It seems to me that, if you link imagination to thievery and dissipation and treason and being ridiculous or contemptible, you don't think very highly of imagination. Paradoxical as that may seem when applied to an imaginative genius like Shakespeare, one should remember the general Renaissance distrust of the imagination, the Puritan attacks on the theater, and perhaps, just perhaps, Shakespeare's personal feeling that to be a poet and playwright was not a proper way of following in his father's practical, commercial, and political footsteps. We can guess, for instance, from all his efforts about that coat of arms how important John Shakespeare's values were to William. Perhaps the poet felt there was something disreputable, un-fatherly or anti-fatherly, about imagining untrue things, about play-acting, and so imagined the anti-father and the anti-son of Henry IV, Part One as speaking in enthymemes.

     In other words, we can infer something about Shakespeare by looking at the second-hand diction of his characters. We can only do so, though, if we step back and include those choices as part of our conception of the play as a whole.


     It seems to me much easier, though, to infer something about Shakespeare in those passages where he copies his sources closely. The most famous of those is the passage in Antony and Cleopatra, where Antony's lieutenant, Enobarbus, describes to some visiting Romans Antony's first meeting with Cleopatra. (See the Appendix, for a comparison of Shakespeare's language and North's.) In effect, when he wrote this, Shakespeare must have had North's Plutarch open in front of him, and he was glancing at North's prose as he wrote. That means that the tenor of the passage is North's, but the changes Shakespeare made in North's wording must be phrasings he especially wanted. Hence they must be phrasings from which we can infer traits of Shakespeare's with some confidence.

     Furthermore, North is an Elizabethan like Shakespeare, so the two writers shared in their writings Elizabethan syntactic and cultural norms. We have, in effect, controlled for culture. We have isolated Shakespeare's own diction.

     Maybe. The first critics to discover Shakespeare's sources assumed, in the words of the eighteenth-century critic, Richard Farmer, that "our authur hath done little more than throw the very words of North into blank verse" (Farmer 1903, 173). Actually, the situation is more complicated, say those scholars of today who have carefully compared North's words and Shakespeare's. Nicholas Blake, for example, says Shakespeare "picked up the words immediately available and turned them into powerful poetry; in no sense did he go out of his way to look for significant vocabulary." "Choice of vocabulary was less important than its use and deployment, which meant ransacking the resources of rhetoric" (1983, 49-50). Rhetoric, here, equals syntactic choices.

     Parenthetically, I see a contrast with Ben Jonson. Jonson was a great collector of other's people's vocabularies, the jargons of alchemy or law or medicine or quarreling and, of course, Latin and Greek. That, to me, is a characteristically obsessional trait, the collecting and putting out of words as if they were objects to be possessed. Ben Jonson is like Beckett or Gogol or Nabokov in this. Shakespeare is not. He does little of such collecting. Characters like Osric or Holofernes are rare for Shakespeare, not so for Jonson.

     Very obviously, in this passage, Shakespeare changed North so as to intensify the focus on Cleopatra. When North describes the objects and people around Cleopatra, he describes them as free-standing, as it were, separate from her. Shakespeare refers them to Cleopatra, so that when I read "barge," for example, I look back at her. Instead of North's barge, "whereof" the poop was of gold, Shakespeare's is "the barge she sat in." North describes her gentlewomen as such, while in Shakespeare they are bending over Cleopatra. There are painters in North to paint the pretty boys, while in Shakespeare there is only Cleopatra, "o'er picturing that Venus." North's pretty boys simply fan wind on Cleopatra, while Shakespeare has us look at her "delicate cheeks." North's "Some of them followed the barge" becomes "The city cast Her people out upon her." North ends his description with Antony alone in the market-place, but Shakespeare adds a final reference to Cleopatra.

     Reading Shakespeare's version focuses my attention intensely on Cleoopatra. Yet, oddly, he does not describe her physical person at all. Not a word. We hear about her pavilion, the barge, even its oars, the helmsperson, the crowds, but nothing about her eyes, her hair, or her figure.

     Another obvious thing Shakspeare did was tighten North's language, making it more concise. For example, North's "the poop whereof was of gold" becomes, "The poop was beaten gold." North's "And now for the person of her self" becomes just "For her own person." North's "and hard by her, on either hand of her" becomes simply "On each side her."

     Even as he tightens North, however, Shakespeare adds words, notably adjectives, like "beaten." "One finds an extraordinary ratio," says Dolores Burton (1973, 211), "one adjective for every eleven words." This, she says, is "almost three times the over-all ratio of adjectives to total blank-verse words in Antony." Also, almost all these adjectives are Shakespeare's own additions to North.

     Just as he adds adjectival modifiers, so he adds subordinate clauses that serve as adjectives. Both Dolores Burton and John Porter Houston note that the sentences in this passage start simply. "There is an insistent use of sentences beginning with noun subjects," Houston says. "Normally such repetition of the same pattern is avoided, but here Shakespeare creates a rather magnificent monotony with it." As the passage goes on, Houston says, "The placement of noun subjects of main clauses remains essentially the same, giving the effect of rather direct affirmations in stately succession, which need no logical or temporal connections, no preliminary qualifications impeding one's immediate grasp of what happened" (Houston 1988, 190-91).

     Shakespeare, however, interrupts the stately succession by relative clauses. He doubles the number of clauses introduced by wh- words (which, where, and so on), clauses that elaborate the picture in the manner of adjectives. Seven of these clauses contain new information, ideas not in North. Burton says, "Incredible as it may seem to those accustomed to noting the similarity of these passages, 28 of the 53 clauses in Shakespeare's text contain either material not in North or material that has been radically transposed" (Burton 1973, 316).

     As all these linguistic commentators have pointed out, these changes parallel widely accepted themes in the play that just about every critic reports: the fundamental contrast between fighting and loving, between cold Octavia and warm Cleopatra, between cold, dry Octavius and sanguine Antony, between stern Romans and playful Egyptians, between husbands and lovers, fathers and mothers, between male and female, between land and water, horses and boats, in short, between a masculine, Roman severity and a feminine, Egyptian laxity. From a rhetorical point of view, the Romans tend to speak in severe, plain declarative forms, while, as Burton points out, "Interrogatives were seen to be associated with women or strong emotion, the personal relative clauses (whom, whose, etc.) with women or sensual pleasure" (216).

     We are seeing two inconsistent things, then, in this Roman soldier's description of Cleopatra. He speaks in a Roman style, those subject nouns marching in "magnificent monotony," but he also elaborates that simplicity by the adjectives and wh- clauses one would associate with the Egyptian style. It is as though Enobarbus himself is transfigured, even feminized, by remembering the sight of Cleopatra in her barge (Altmann 1969, 86).

     Ordinarily, Enobarbus sees events prosaically, rationally, realistically, ironically, even bawdily. When he tries to describe the image of Cleopatra, though, he becomes a poet. He uses hyperboles, similes, paradoxes (Altmann 1969, 60-102). Shakespeare started with North's "appareled and attired like the goddess Venus, commonly drawn in picture." He changed that commonness to "O'er picturing that Venus where we see / The fancy outwork nature." Shakespeare has moved his hard-headed Roman from a realistic world to a golden world in which imagination outdoes nature. Enobarbus is transfigured (Granville-Barker 1946-47, 1: 374-5; Rackin 1972, 204-6; Proser 1965, 197-99).

     I think Shakeseare identifies imaginative power with woman, the opposite of his father. Shakespeare, as I read him, felt, at least until Antony and Cleopatra, that men were to be men, the loyal instruments of father-figures, rather like the Romans in this play. If they became too much associated with women, that was foolish, dangerous, or even deadly. Antony and Cleopatra marks a turning point in his development. Antony makes a fool of himself, even unmans himself because of his infatuation with a woman. Disgraced thus, he dies, yes, but he dies transfigured, a god, a star. After this play, Shakespeare will regard the power of woman as more powerfully creative, more transcendent, than that of men. Woman holds the power of life itself as in Pericles or Winter's Tale. The isolated man, Timon or Coriolanus, is lost.(Holland 1989).

     Incidentally, notice that North speaks only of Antony in his "imperial seat." Shakespeare introduces the idea of Cleopatra on a throne in the opening line, and ends with Antony "enthron'd." The repetition of "throne" brackets the passage. Except. Except for one final reference to the air gazing on Cleopatra. Shakespeare re-focuses on Cleopatra, and this is very much Shakespeare's imaginative addition. Burton identifies as the "greatest novelty and embellishment . . . the idea that air and water are enamored of Cleopatra and the final description of Antony whistling to the air" (316).

     Naturally, many of Shakespeare's changes add poetic effects, perhaps drawing on Spenser's Bower of Blisse (Erskine-Hill 1970, 27-28). Most immediately, Shakespeare gives us the repetition of "burnish'd throne / Burnt on the water." As in that addition, he enriches the scene by increasing the number of references to smell, temperature, and touch, the more immediate and intimate senses (Downer 1975, 242-3). While North does refer to "wind upon her" and a "sweet savor of perfumes," he mostly describes through sight or sound, the senses that imply a distance between us and the scene. By contrast, when I read of Antony whistling to the air, I almost involuntarily pucker up my lips.

     Many of Shakespeare's changes animate the inanimate in ways North never does. The barge burned. The water followed faster. The silken tackle swells. A perfume hits the sense. North's "Some of them followed the barge" becomes "The city cast her people out upon her." Even the air would have gone to gaze on Cleopatra. All these inanimate objects, barge, wind, oars, air, city, are given actions. This is consistent with another of Shakespeare's characteristic mannerisms. He uses the animate relative pronouns who or whom where other writers of his period use which or that, inanimate pronouns (Foster 1996, 1084). In this passage, these inanimate things are even given motivations or feelings, notably sexual feelings.

     "The winds were love-sick." "The air" would have "gone to gaze on Cleopatra too." The fans do and undo Cleopatra's glowing cheeks, and "do" and "undo" had a more sexual meaning to Elizabethans than to us (Partridge 1960, s.v.). Shakespeare drops North's "flutes, oboes, citherns, viols" and the people playing them in favor of making the water follow faster and be "amorous" of the oar's strokes. To me the most sexual image is, "the silken tackle / Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands." This is R-rated stuff, soft porn.


     In this connection, I should mention one of my favorite books on Shakespeare. It was published in 1794, but it is, I think, the text in which the whole discipline of literature-and-psychology was invented. The author is Walter Whiter, and this is its baroque title: A Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare Containing . . . An Attempt to Explain and Illustrate Various Passages on a New Principle of Criticism, Derived from Mr. Locke's Doctrine of the Association of Ideas.

     Using Locke's psychology, Whiter found in many passages of Shakespeare clusters of images that had no logical connection, "words and sentiments," as Whiter says, "prompted by a cause, which is concealed from the poet," "forced on the recollection of the writer by some accidental concurrence not necessarily dependent on the sense or spirit of the subject" (68). Some of his examples are associations of love with books and binding or of dogs with candy and flattering. Today, we would say they are unconconscious associations, but Whiter did not have that concept in 1794. In 1946, an ornithologist named Edward Armstrong expanded Whiter's list to include such associations as pinching and death or beetles with birds and cliffs.

     Neither Armstrong nor Whiter used a modern depth psychology. Today we might note that many of these clusters depend on what we could call, using a term of Freud's, Wechsel, or "switch-words," as Strachey translates him. Switch-words have double meanings that can start two unrelated trains of thought. "Clasp," for example, might refer to a loving embrace or to part of the binding of a book. "Clasp" could thus be a switch-word for one of the associations Whiter pointed out.

     This tendency to split the meaning of a word parallels Shakespeare's extensive use of hendiadys, a rhetorical figure that splits an idea into "and" plus two nouns (or adjectives or verbs), grammatically parallel, but not parallel in meaning, as in sound and fury or the whips and scorns of time. In more ordinary speech, we might render these, "furious sound" or "scornful whips" (Wright 1981; Foster 1996, 1084-85). The figure is little used by his contemporaries. He "seems to have taken this odd figure to his bosom and made it entirely his own," writes George T. Wright (169). This idiosyncratic splitting of a phrase's meaning matches his split plots and paired characters, each reflecting on the other. Shakespeare's rhetorical choice of this odd figure of speech may say something very general about a need in Shakespeare's mind to split things.

     It may also say something about creative writers in general. I am thinking of F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous dictum, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Or Shakespeare's splittings may parallel the schizophrenic's use of language, the "word salad" as it is called. At least one author decodes that language by finding switch-words that lead the schizophrenic into another train of thought, which leads to another switch-word, to another train of thought, and so on (Maher 1968). Great wits are sure to madness near allied.

     Ella Freeman Sharpe had a patient who came in, saying, "I have not read the paper this week. I don't know what has been happening. I haven't looked at the paper at all." It turned out that she was menstruating. The word read was a switch-word for the color red. Not to have "read," not to know what was going on in the world, was a way of denying her menstruation (Sharpe 1978, 33).

     From such switch-words come a great many Whiter clusters in Shakespeare. Not surprisingly, there is one, I think, in this famous description of Cleopatra. It begins with the "burnish't throne," continues with "burnt" and "beaten gold" and the silver oars and goes on to "cloth of gold." There is something here about precious metals, that goes with Enobarbus' hearer's comment, "O, rare for Antony." Gold is mentioned twelve times in the play, always associated with Egypt, and nine times out of the twelve with Cleopatra herself.

     More specifically that throne "burnt on the water." I see something here about working precious metals, burnishing them, beating them, forming them into tissue, about metals above something burning, precious metals in the presence of fire and water, as they might be in a goldsmith's shop.

     Then I come to the image of the dimpled boys with fans, "whose wind did seem to glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool." If I read those lines with a goldsmith's shop in mind, I get a picture of fanning or blowing on a fire or which makes the molten metal redder and hotter, makes it glow, instead of cooling it. I remember that earlier we were told that Antony's swelling, bursting heart had become "the fan to cool a gipsy's lust."

     Interestingly, Dolores Burton in her extraordinarily detailed study of this play, notes that "A dominant new image in the description is that of the perfumed air that floats from the barge and that is itself enamored of Cleopatra's beauty" (Burton 1973, 210). Antony's whistling is another striking innovation, pursing one's lips and blowing, as one might do to cool red-hot metal one was working. In short, I find underneath that perfumed air an entirely different kind of air, the air that might heat a goldsmith's fire, red-hot, smoky, metallic, smelly.

     In other words, I see a Whiter cluster of metalworking around the woman Antony calls "my precious queen." This metalworking, it seems to me, is consistent, not only with the conscious tenor of the passage, but with some of the less conscious themes I've suggested: creating sensations of warmth and smell; animating the inanimate, here the precious metals, and, of course, the intense focus on Cleopatra, she the precious, desired object about whom the workers cluster, making her still more desirable.

     Moreover, it seems to me that the hidden image of metalworking continues the sexualizing of this scene. At the root of the sunny river scene I sense its reversal, a dark and smoky room, with strange flickering shadows, all attention focused on a precious woman, a woman associated with appetite.

     This reading may sound implausible, but it continues something Enobarbus says of her earlier in the play. Antony is making plans to leave Egypt. Enobarbus kids him with a series of bawdy jokes about how, if they leave, the Egyptian women will "die" (in the Elizabethan sense of "have an orgasm"). For Cleopatra he adds another pun, "I do think there is mettle in death, which commits some loving act upon her, she hath such a celerity in dying" (I.ii.143). I am minded, too, of the many times Cleopatra refers to herself as fire and even cinders and ashes. Also, Ophelia, Regan, Goneril, and Viola are all said to be made of "mettle."

     Oddly, in neither the inferred metalworking scene nor the explicit daylit scene, do we see Cleopatra directly. We never see the precious object in the forge because so many workers are clustered about it, but why not see her on the barge? Who or what is she? I remember that Enobarbus at other times associates her with food and appetite. Perhaps he does not want to describe her in this idealized setting, perhaps he does not want his hearers to see her outright when fancy outworks nature in this speech, although he is willing a few lines later, when he is being more realistic, to describe her hopping in the street.

     This person who creates and satisfies appetite is herself still and passive, indeed unseen, but surrounded and worked on by busy, shadowy figures or daylit boys or Nereides. For whatever reason, we never see that desired woman directly, only indirectly, through those around her. They can see her, but we are not allowed to. Is that because Enobarbus really detests her? Or is he, in a way, protecting us from an overpowering sight?

     I am hinting that underneath the bright, daylit scene is a child's murky recollection of seeing his mother in a shadowy, busy scene at night. The bright, daylit scene is a defensive reversal of another, darker, nighttime scene. Cleopatra is split between a dark working and a bright passivity, in which we stare and admire, but don't see her herself.

     I am suggesting that this image-cluster of metalworking, such a contrast to the bright, daylit scene, expresses an unconscious fantasy that would go with the occupation of dramatist or director. That is, anyone who stages scenes actively could be undoing a traumatic passive experience. I think we are seeing in Shakespeare's syntax in this passage traces of a child's actual or imagined perception of the parents having sex. I think we are also seeing splitting as his characteristic way of dealing with a source of anxiety.

     The metalworking cluster aside, I think the pattern of Shakespeare's changes from North is clear. He focuses the scene entirely on Cleopatra. He replaces sight and sound with the more intimate sensations of touch, smell, and temperature. He injects Egyptian clauses into Roman declaratives. He sexualizes North's language to a remarkable degree. Above all, the context into which Shakespeare puts the passage, says, imagine her, look at her, listen to a description of her, pay attention to this sexual woman lying in a sort of bed, surrounded by people heating her, cooling her, adorning her, following her, but above all gazing on her. They can see her, but you can not.

     I think we can infer a number of things about Shakespeare the man from his changes in North's prose. There is his need to animate nature, to sexualize it, to split things. There is, too, his complex of feelings toward woman as beautiful sight but sexual trap. There is his strong concern with keeping men masculine and out of the grasp of women. All enter into his way of rewriting North. All enter into his choice of grammar and of vocabulary and can be inferred from them.


     Shakespeare endlessly fascinates me, but my major theme in this essay is psychoanalysis and language. I am saying that close attention to a speaker or writer's verbal choices has much to offer both the psychoanalyst and the psychoanalytic literary critic. I do not mean just interpreting symbolism. I do mean interpreting the choice of particular words, choice of figures of speech, choice of sentence structure, choice of transformations.

     To my mind, this sort of close look at language forms the core of psychoanalysis. The best examples come from Freud's early analyses of dreams, slips, and jokes. Nevertheless I think we have not exhausted the method's possibilities, indeed will never exhaust them. In recent years, I think that psychoanalysts have been tempted away from this kind of close look at the patient's language in favor of the abstract categories of psychiatric description, the DSM-IV being the grossest example. Other loose descriptions often derive from object-relations, descriptions of "the quality of relationship." In, for example, Emmanuel Peterfreund's extensive account of psychoanalytic listening (1975, 80), close attention to the patient's diction is only one small sub-topic among dozens of others.

     Psychoanalysis does not simply give us a way of treating patients. Psychoanalysis is a way of looking very precisely at people's words, and only because it is that, is it a way of treating patients. By contrast, "We know," writes Stanley Olinick, "that Freud and his early colleagues were deeply concerned with such philological problems. The modern analyst seems to take them for granted" (Olinick 1984, 618).

     We now have a glimpse of Freud doing just this kind of listening. In 1933-34, he analyzed the American poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). H.D. not only published an account of the analysis, but also wrote daily and sometimes twice-daily letters to her lover and friends describing in detail what was going on in the analysis and what Freud was doing. (Susan Stanford Freidman is now editing these letters which are on deposit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.)

     In a letter of November 22, 1934, a few days before the analysis ended, she describes a moment of frustration:

I have no ps-a to-day, rather a relief. I told Freud a long tale yesterday, full of important details. When I had used up the hour he said, `I can tell from the way you speak, that you are hiding things. So I did not have to listen. You ran your articles together. You did not speak clearly.' What a sell! Was I mad?????????????????
    I am telling you some of the tricks of the trade. Evidently papa simply listens to the wave-lengths. But ... he was right.

Freud was listening in a special way, not to the "important details," but to "the way you speak," how "you ran your articles together," how "you did not speak clearly." He was listening to "the wave-lengths," the verbal choices H.D. was making. He was listening to the language as language, as he described himself doing in his early case histories and in The Interpretation of Dreams. to be sure, in later writings, he said less and less about the surface details he was listening to. More and more he wrote directly about the conclusions he had reached. One can get the impression that he was listening for those conclusions. H.D.'s description here, however, shows that as late as 1934, he was listening as he had listened at the beginning, more, evidently, to the verbal surface than to the verbal content. In Theodore Reik's famous phrase, he was "listening with the third ear."

     That is what I have been trying to do with the short but famous passage that begins "The barge she sat in." Although I have analyzed just that one short passage, I believe we can only "get it" by reading it together with one's themes and patterns for the whole play, for the whole oeuvre, for the whole life of the writer. Literary critics, of all people, should appreciate a closer attention to details of language, to syntactic choices. The tendency of modern literary theorists to look only at a small passage by itself is, I think, needlessly limiting.

     This kind of close but large attention to language, however, by no means belongs to literary critics alone. It is at the heart of psychoanalysis. I think we who are not practicing analysts, but who live in a world of words, are in a fine position to urge psychoanalysis back toward what I believe is its core and its intellectual achievements. Close attention to people's verbal choices in the context of psychoanalytic psychology--I think this is as good a way as we humans have to infer one another's identity and something of the great mystery of creativity.


Works Cited

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     Armstrong, Edward A. Shakespeare's Imagination. London: Lindsay Drummond, 1946.

     Blake, N. F. Shakespeare's Language: An Introduction. London: Macmillan, 1983.

     Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Middletown, Conneticut: Wesleyan UP, 1959.

     Burton, Dolores M. Shakespeare's Grammatical Style: A Computer-assisted Analysis of Richard II and Antony and Cleopatra. Austin TX: U of Texas P, 1973.

     Chomsky, Noam. Language and Problems of Knowledge. The Managua Lectures. Cambridge MA: MIT P, 1988.

     Dahl, Hartwig, et al. "Countertransference Examples of the Syntactic Expression of Warded-off Contents." Psychoanalytic Quarterly 47.3 (1978): 339-63.

     Downer, Alan S. "Heavenly Mingle: Antony and Cleopatra as a Dramatic Experience." The Triple Bond: Plays, Mainly Shakespearean, in Performance. Ed. Joseph G. Price. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1975. 240-54.

     Erskine-Hill, Howard. "Antony and Octavius: The Theme of Temperance in Shakespeare's `Antony and Cleopatra'." Renaissance and Modern Studies 14 (1970): 26-47.

     Farmer, Richard. "Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare." Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. D. Nichol Smith. Glasgow: MacLehose, 1903. 173.

     Forrest, David V. "On One's Own Onymy." Psychiatry 36 (1973): 266-89.

     Forrester, John. Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.

     Foster, Donald W. "A Funeral Elegy: W[illiam] S[hakespeare]'s `Best-Speaking Witnesses.'" PMLA 111.4 (1996): 1080-105.

     Granville-Barker, Harley. Prefaces to Shakespeare. 2 Vols. Vol. 1. Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 1946-47. 374-75.

     Holland, Norman N. "Prose and Minds: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Non-fiction." The Art of Victorian Prose. Eds. George Levine and William Madden. New York: Oxford UP, 1968. 314-37.

     ---. "Sons and Substitutions: Shakespeare's Phallic Fantasy." Shakespeare's Personality. Eds. Norman N. Holland, Sidney Homan, and Bernard J. Paris. Berkeley: U of California P, 1989. 66-85.

     Houston, John Porter. Shakespearean Sentences: A Study in Style and Syntax. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State UP, 1988.

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     Lacan, Jacques. "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud." Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. 1977. New York: Norton, n.d. 146-78.

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     Maher, Brendan A. "The Shattered Language of Schizophrenia." Psychology Today (1968): 30+.

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     ---. "A Linguistic Appraisal of Victorian Style." The Art of Victorian Prose. Eds. George Levine and William Madden. New York: Oxford UP, 1968. 289-313.

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     Reik, Theodor. Listening with the Third Ear: The Inner Experience of a Pychoanalyst. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1948.

     ---. The Search Within: The Inner Experiences of a Psychoanalyst. New York: Grove, 1956.

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Shakespeare's and North's Texts Compared

Shakespeare's Verse

      Passages in this color and size have no equivalent in North, i.e., are Shakespeare's own creation. Passages in this color and size have an equivalent in North, i.e. Shakesperare chose to use them, borrowed, but changed them.


The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burnt on the water.
The poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them;
the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.
For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion--cloth of gold, of tissue--
O'er picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature. On each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-color'd fans, whose wind did seem
To [glow] the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.

*         *        *       *        *
Her [gentlewomen], like the Nereides,
So many mermaids, tended her i' th' eyes,
And made their bends adornings.
At the helm
A seeming mermaid steers; the silken tackle
Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands,
That yarely frame the office.
From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast
Her people out upon her; and Antony
Enthron'd in the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to th' air, which, but for vacancy,
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,
And made a gap in nature.


North's Prose

Passages in this color and size have no equivalent in Shakespeare, i.e., Shakespeare decided not to use them. Passages in this color and size have an equivalent in Shakespeare, i.e., Shakespeare chose to use them--but with changes.I have broken up North's prose into phrases corresponding to Shakespeare's to make comparison easier.

 . . . she disdained to set forth otherwise, but to take her barge
in the river of Cydnus,
the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple,
and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes, oboes, citherns, viols, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge.
And now for the person of her self:
she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, appareled and attired like the goddess Venus, commonly drawn in picture:
and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretty fair boys appareled as painters do set forth god Cupid,
with little fans in their hands, with the which they fanned wind upon her.
Her ladies and gentlewomen also, the fairest of them were appareled like the nymphs Nereides (which are the mermaids of the waters)

and like the Graces,
some steering the helm, others tending the tackle and ropes of the barge,
out of the which there came a wonerful passing sweet savor of perfumes, that perfumed the wharfside,

pestered with innumerable multitudes of people.
Some of them followed the barge all alongst the riverside: others also ran out of the city to see her coming in.
So that in the end, there ran such multitudes of people one after another to see her,
that Antonius was left post alone in the market place, in his Imperial seat to give audience.

To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Norman N. Holland "Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: "The Barge She Sat In": Psychoanalysis and Diction". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. December 15, 2009. Available August 25, 2005 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: January 1, 2005, Published: August 25, 2005. Copyright © 2005 Norman N. Holland