I had never heard of Edward de Vere. I was in the first place interested in Hamlet. Possibly I was too benumbed, as many people continue to be today, by the mere sound of the name Shakespeare to undertake some action.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH I: It probably began in 1979 when the Italian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia started his reform of the psychiatric system by dismantling the asylums. I was then a freelance worker in two different groups: in a leftist monthly magazine with focus on the emancipation of the Third World and a non-institutional group of caretakers for psychiatric patients guided by the ideas of Ronald Laing and David Cooper, opposed to the then-dominating orthodox psychiatry which was built on classification systems.
I was requested by the magazine to write an article on Basaglia’s reform. The article I wrote was about Polonius as the forefather of classic psychiatry. Polonius defines madness exactly so: “Your noble son is mad./ Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,/ What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?/ But let that go./”
Would Shakespeare have criticized, derided the very modern approach to mental disease centuries before Laing, Cooper, Basaglia? For Polonius uses much the same taxonomic or classifying methodology: “tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral.”
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH II: In this (once) modern approach to mental health you have on one side controllers, psychiatrists, on the other side patients, people alleged to have lost control of mind and soul, objects, things. In Shakespeare’s play the roles are reversed: Hamlet is thought to be mad, but it is Polonius who is fooled, which is nowhere clearer than in the first part of Act II, Scene ii, where Polonius tries to fathom how far Hamlet’s madness has progressed. Oedipus, Sigmund Freud says somewhere, proceeds to kind of anamnesis, meaning the “reconquest of memory”. In this scene it is the way Hamlet is following. He tries to call back his earliest perception of the relation between his parents. “What is the matter, my lord?,” Polonius asks. “Between who?”, Hamlet asks back, traveling back to his earliest memory. “For yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am — if like a crab you could go backward.” Polonius, of course, understands nothing.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH III. Perhaps Freud could assist the process. I started studying Freud, especially his “Interpretation of Dreams” and meta-psychological essays. In a footnote (and another in his short autobiography) he writes that after having read Looney’s work he no longer believed the man of Stratford was Shakespeare but was convinced that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author.
I still had no interest in the authorship question. I just thought that Shakespeare must have had before his eyes some model for Hamlet. However, I began to think I could perhaps learn from Looney who this model was. I was — vaguely — thinking of the third Earl of Pembroke. I borrowed the two volumes (Looney and Ruth Miller’s complement). I read them the same evening… and I knew: Edward de Vere = Hamlet = Shakespeare.
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