Shakespeare and Freudian Theory Hamlet and Titus Andronicus

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This essay attempts to discover how Freud’s psychoanalytical accounts of human nature can bring us to a deeper understanding of the family relationships at work in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Titus Andronicus.

Shakespeare and Freudian theory in Hamlet and Titus Andronicus

In 1900 the eminent Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud produced a seminal work entitled The Interpretation of Dreams which contains the idea that dreams allow psychic exploration of the soul, that dreams contain psychological meanings which can be arrived at by interpretation. Freud states that “every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state.” According to Freud’s original formulations dreams have two contents, a manifest content which is the dream that one actually experiences and a latent content which is the meaning of the dream as discovered by interpretation.

Literature can be thought of in the same manner, as a figment of the imagination whose underlying truth can be discovered through interpretation. A piece of literature may have a truth to tell but it can may remain hidden to us until such time as we interpret its signs. According to Freud there are three routes into the unconscious; dreams, parapraxes (or slips of the tongue) and jokes, and it is evident that psychoanalysis asks us to pay a lot of attention to language, in puns, slips of the tongue etc. This suggests how psychoanalysis is directly related to literary criticism, since both kinds of analysis focus on close readings of language. Therefore, by understanding Freudian theory, we can gain a deeper understanding of literature.

This Essay attempts to discover how Freud’s psychoanalytical accounts of human nature can bring us to a deeper understanding of the family relationships at work in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Titus Andronicus.

According to Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams we all have repressed wishes and desires. One of the most common of these repressed desires is the wish to sexually possess the parent of the opposite sex and eliminate the same sex parent. Freud named this theory the Oedipus Complex (which he discusses in detail in an essay entitled Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes). This was named after the mythical Oedipus who killed his father and married his mother without knowing that they were his parents. In Oedipus Rex the basic wish-fantasy of the child is brought to light and realised as it is in dreams, in Hamlet it remains repressed, and we learn of its existence only through the effects which proceed from it.

In Hamlet and Oedipus, Ernest Jones (Freud’s student and biographer) states that

With his fathers death and his mothers hasty remarriage-[Hamlet] associates the idea of sexuality with his mother and so this facet of his subconscious enters into the family relationship.

Gertrude’s sexuality invades the play and Hamlet’s long repressed desire to take his father’s place is unconsciously stimulated by the sight of someone else taking this long coveted position. Hamlet is even more disgusted due to the fact that Claudius is his father’s brother and to Hamlet this seems to be incestuous, indeed the ghost of Hamlet’s father calls Claudius “that incestuous, that adulterate beast.” This remark seems to add a spark of jealousy to Hamlet’s anger which is manifested in the sniping remarks that he makes to Claudius

KING CLAUDIUS : But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son,--
HAMLET : [Aside] A little more than kin, and less than kind.

In the opening scenes of Hamlet the family unit has been altered to include Claudius as the father which places Hamlet in the rather difficult position of having to choose between two father figures. In order to assume a masculine identity Hamlet must take on the characteristics of his father and, due to the fact that he is confronted by...
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