ABSTRACT

Shakespeare's A Lover's Complaint is a poetic theorization of the psychic condition which psychoanalysis came to call female masochism. Masochistic satisfaction may be semantically articulated, as in the reference to the 'suffering ecstasy' of the woman in the poem (line 70) or even to a feature of her appearance being 'true to bondage' (line 34). But psychoanalysis teaches that the truth of the subject cannot ever be sought on the level of conscious content. Beyond the poem's pointing to ecstatic satisfaction in suffering as a crucial component of the psychic make-up of its female protagonist, A Lover's Complaint deploys linguistic forms functioning as female masochism's real, opaque core. Attending to these forms in the poem could enrich psychoanalytic theory's understanding of the formal underpinnings of female masochism.