Abstract

This essay takes up the analogy of Shakespeare’s plays to “particularly powerful Rorschach blots,” as David Hillman writes, in order to revisit the value of psychoanalysis for understanding works of the imagination. Like Rorschach’s inkblots, Shakespeare’s works seem radically open to interpretation. In the legendary projective test devised by Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922), we can see parallels to literary criticism generally, which at its most basic encourages creativity in order to learn from and about imaginative works. Discussing such plays as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V, Hamlet, and Macbeth, “Shakespeare as Rorschach” argues that the elements of a projective evaluation would have been fully explicable in a Renaissance context. Yet if the history of the inkblot test charts the rise and decline of psychoanalysis, a discourse-centered discipline, its susceptibility to caricature also anticipates the weakening authority of literary criticism, which has increasingly turned from what we cannot see—such as the workings of the unconscious and social class—to that which can be measured and graphed. A turn to the pragmatism of science, surface reading, and a largely rational understanding of human activity thus imperils one of our richest languages for explaining human creativity.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-3555
Print ISSN
0037-3222
Pages
pp. 334-342
Launched on MUSE
2013-11-06
Open Access
No
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