Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 336. Tuesday, 24 November 1992.
Date: Tuesday, November 24, 1992
Subject: New on SHAKSPER FileServer: Review of *Suffocating Mothers*
As of today SHAKSPEReans can retrieve my review of Janet Adelman's *Suffocating
Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origins in Shakespeare's Plays, HAMLET to THE
TEMPEST* (New York and London: Routledge, 1992) from the SHAKSPER FileServer,
under the file name "MOTHERS REVIEW." This review appeared in the most recent
*Shakespeare Newsletter* (42.2, Summer 1992, 29-30).
To retrieve the complete text file from the SHAKSPER FileServer issue the
interactive command, "TELL LISTSERV AT UTORONTO GET MOTHERS REVIEW SHAKSPER."
If your network link does not support the interactive "TELL" command, or if
Listserv rejects your request, then send a one-line mail message (without a
For a complete list of files available, send the command "GET SHAKSPER FILES
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For further information, consult the appropriate section of your SHAKSPER
The following is an excerpt from the review:
Janet Adelman begins her Acknowledgment by writing, "This book has been
a long time in the making." The result is well worth the wait, for
*Suffocating Mothers* exemplifies the finest work currently being done in
In *Suffocating Mothers*, Adelman explores the primal psychic ooze of
nascent selfhood, particularly of the origins of masculinity embedded in the
maternal body as represented in the plays from *Hamlet* to *The Tempest*.
Adelman points out that there are a few powerful mothers in Shakespeare's
earliest plays but that these mothers virtually disappear until *Hamlet*. In
the plays before *Hamlet*, "masculine identity is constructed in and through
the absence of the maternal"; in them, Shakespeare splits his psychic and
dramatic world in two (into heterosexual bonds and father-son bonds),
isolating its elements "from each other and from the maternal body that would
be toxic to both." However, the occluded mother of these plays returns with a
vengeance in *Hamlet*, and Adelman argues that the plays from *Hamlet* on "all
follow from her return." The tragic burden of Hamlet and the men who come
after him resides "in selfhood grounded in paternal absence and in the fantasy
of overwhelming contamination at the site of origin." This burden is not
borne alone; "again and again, it is passed on to the women, who must pay the
price for the fantasies of maternal power invested in them." *Suffocating
Mothers *explores these fantasies and their cost.