Psychoanalysis of Hamlet

Topics: Sigmund Freud, Unconscious mind, Psychoanalysis Pages: 12 (4018 words) Published: June 10, 2000
Hamlet has been praised and revered for centuries as one of William Shakespeare's best known and most popular tragedies. Based on its popularity, critics alike have taken various viewpoints and theories in order to explain Hamlet's actions throughout the play. The psychoanalytic point of view is one of the most famous positions taken on Hamlet.

Psychoanalytic criticism is a type of literary criticism that analyzes and classifies many of the forms of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of literature. As the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines psychoanalysis, as a form of therapy that is concluced ‘by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind' (Barry 96). One of the most popularized psychoanalysts of all time was Sigmund Freud. His theories on repression most directly parallel to Hamlet's actions in the play. This theory states that "much of what lies in the unconscious mind has been put there by consciousness, which acts as a censor, driving underground unconscious or conscious thoughts or instincts that it deems unacceptable. Censored materials often involve infantile sexual desires" (Murfin ). These unconscious desires are seen in dreams, in language, in creative activity, and in neurotic behavior (Murfin ).

This theory of repression also is directly correlated to Freud's Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex deals with Infantile sexuality as well, by explaining that sexuality starts at infancy with the relationship of the infant with the mother, not at puberty. The Oedipus complex assesses that the infant has the desire to discard the father and become the sexual companion of the mother (Barry 97).

In analyzing Hamlet, the Oedipus Complex is clearly apparent to the reader. As a child, Hamlet always expressed the warmest fondness and affection for his mother. This adoration contained elements of disguised erotic quality, especially seen in the bed chamber scene with his mother. The Queen's sensual nature and her passionate fondness of her son are two traits that show her relationship with Hamlet goes beyond the normal mother-sun relationship. Nonetheless though, Hamlet finds a love interest in Ophelia. His feelings for Ophelia are never discussed fully in the play, but it is evident to the reader that at one time he loved her because of the hurt he feels when she lies to him. At this part in the play, Hamlet insults Ophelia by telling her, "Or if/ thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know/ well enough what monsters you make o f them. To a /nunn'ry, go, and quickly too" (3.1.136-139). At this part in the play, it is extremely difficult for Hamlet to differentiate between his mother and Ophelia. Therefore, making his true feelings for his mother become more obscure.

When Hamlet's father dies and his mother re-marries, the independency of the idea of sexuality with his mother, concealed since infancy, can no longer be hid from his consciousness. Emotions which were favorable and pleasing at infancy are now emotions of abhorrence and disgust because of his repressions (Jones). In the beginning of the play he becomes extremely derisive and contemptuous to his mother. "Seems, madam? Nay, it is, I know not "seems." (1.2.76). When Hamlet says this, he is mocking his mother's question about why he is still mourning his father's death. Ironically, out of the love he still has for his mother, he yields her request to remain at the court.

The long "repressed" need to take his father's place, by gaining his mother's devotion is first stimulated to unconscious activity by the marriage of his mother to Claudius. Claudius has usurped the position of husband to Gertrude, a position that Hamlet had once longed for. The fact that Claudius was not only the victor o fhis mother's affections, but also his uncle, aggravated the situation. Their incestuous marriage thus resembles Hamlet's imaginary idea of having a sexual relationship with his...

Cited: Adelman, Janet. "Man and Wife is One Flesh:" Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body. Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin 's Press, 1994.
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. New York: Manchester University Press. 1995.

Jones, Ernest. "Ernest Jones: Hamlet and Oedipus." N. pag. Online. Worldwide web. 21 May 2000. Available at:
Murfin, Ross C. "Psychoanalytic Criticism in Hamlet." Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin 's Press, 1994.

Shakespear, William. Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin 's Press, 1994.
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