The death of a mind: a study of Shakespeare's Richard III

J Anal Psychol. 2006 Nov;51(5):701-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-5922.2006.00627.x.


Some of the most difficult aspects of our work involve our encounters with states of mind which are steeped in and spread violence. In these circumstances, we experience our best efforts to offer empathic presence and thought to avoid being assaulted and obliterated. In these instances, a figure from literature depicting the details in question may come to our aid. In the play popularly known as Richard III,William Shakespeare depicts how the state of mind which is etched by grievance and committed to revenge may impose the 'winter of (its) discontent' upon the sunny dispositions of others' healthy, integrated functioning. Shakespeare masterfully depicts Richard's cunning and malice, but he also illustrates how this vengeful state uses guile and 'changes of shape' to seduce its way past protective boundaries, utilizing the human qualities of trust, open-heartedness and longing as pathways for invasion, betrayal and emotional devastation. This paper will view excerpts of the play's text from a psychoanalytic perspective which suggests that several clear lessons about this obliterative state of mind may be gleaned: that grievance can only operate to spread grievance and destruction; that our open-hearted and trusting qualities do make us vulnerable to such invasion and betrayal, but that our humanity is also the only avenue for rescue from this plight. In addition a clear lesson is offered about the value of protected 'sanctuary', that is, mental space where our most potent tool in these circumstances, our discerning minds, might find residence.

MeSH terms

  • Drama*
  • Hate
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Literature, Modern*
  • Medicine in Literature*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Narcissism
  • Psychoanalytic Interpretation*
  • Trust / psychology