Psychoanalysis Unit


Siblings, Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare

Juliet Mitchell

My main research is taking the form of a book, which I am writing under the auspices of an Emeritus Leverhulme fellowship. The provisional title is 'Siblings, Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare'. My previous publications have argued for the importance of developing a theoretical place for lateral (sibling) relations on a horizontal axis which interacts with the vertical (parent-child) axis that dominates our understanding of psychoanalytic work.

The book uses Shakespeare's plays to explore the construction of the social along a horizontal axis. Through Shakespeare it develops earlier suggestions of a 'sibling trauma' to match Winnicott's 'trauma of separation' from the mother and the consequent 'Law of the Mother'. The Law primarily prohibits murdering your sibling (particularly your brother) and secondarily having incest with your sibling of either gender. The desire to murder is split off to enable legal killing in war. The prohibition on sibling sex frees the sister for marriage. This lateral kinship relation of a marital-type contract is distinct from the vertical kinship relation of parenting; war cements the brotherhood of men. Ranging widely through the plays, but with a particular focus on 'Twelfth Night', 'As You Like It', 'Hamlet' and 'A Winter's Tale', Shakespeare helps us see how it is not that society is already there and then marries and goes to war, but that these structures, resulting from prohibitions to lateral relations, themselves create society.