This essay will discuss the interpretation of Oedipus Tyrannus by Freud and whether his interpretation holds any weight in using it to aid his own theory, the Oedipus complex, or whether it was a ridiculous reading of the play itself. Freud’s theory will be explored first, before moving on to look at the interpretation itself. This will give a strong sense of how the Oedipus complex comes about in a young child and help in the discussion as to whether Oedipus may have been fulfilling this unconscious desire. The discussion will also touch upon Freud’s belief that it is his own theory that explains the reason for the play’s long-lasting success.
Sigmund Freud is the father of a branch of psychology that he named psychoanalysis, as well as having a tremendous influence in how modern psychology has developed since the turn of the 20th Century. Freud was born on May 6th 1856. The first reference to Freud having used Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus to help strengthen his theory of the Oedipus complex, which is explained below, and also the first mention of the Oedipus complex altogether comes in 1900 in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. However, in The Interpretation of Dreams the theory is clearly only just beginning to be devised by Freud as it is not until 1910 that the term ‘Oedipus compex’ is first used. To be able to understand Freud’s interpretation of Oedipus Tyrannus it is vital to grasp what the Oedipus complex actually refers to.
Before discussing the Oedipus complex it is important to discuss the earlier psychosexual development of a child, which leads into the development of the Oedipus complex. The first two stages, or the ‘pregenital’ stages, begin very early in life. The first is the oral stage, unsurprisingly, as infants first derive sexual pleasure primarily through the mouth; such as tasting, sucking, and making sounds. This stage is followed by the anal stage, in which the infant has discovered the anus. This stage is focused on the control of the self and gives the infant the first opportunity to gain a sense of independence and achievement through learning to control the bowel and bladder. With the next stage, the phallic stage, the Oedipus complex starts becomes apparent. It is during this time that the infant discovers the difference between a boy and girl, the boy begins to see the father as a rival for his mother’s affections, but also develops a fear of the father becoming a rival for the mother’s affections. Alongside these developments the child finds the genital area as an erogenous zone. The ‘castration complex’ can develop throughout this period and it is important to think of the male and female child as, ‘with penis’ or ‘castrated’, relatively. Freud believed that the male child saw the female child as a castrated boy and thus the result of, what seemed to be common in the turn of the century, the threat of parents telling young boys to stop playing with their genitals or they will be cut off. The young boy now believes that the father becomes a real threat to the affections for his mother.
Between the age of four and five, Freud believed that the young child develops sexual feelings for his mother, and alongside this wants to have complete possession of her and thus hostile feelings develop towards the father. However, the possibility of castration that the young boy has understood to be seen in the naked girl, poses a horrific possibility to the boy. With the loss of his penis at stake, as in the young boy’s mind this is the form of retaliation the father will take to any hostile action from the child, the boy focuses his attention towards other feminine sources for sexual satisfaction. This is the Oedipus complex laid out as unimpeded development of the young boy and variations to this development through childhood is how Freud can explain ‘abnormal’ sexual behavior. For the young girl the Oedipus...