“Hamlet” is one of the most admired and influential plays of William Shakespeare. Hamlet is a tragic play that was written in the beginning of seventeenth century. The play starts with a series of revengeful acts that was a common trend in that period. The play, “Hamlet” is known as one of the most influential plays of English literary world and at the same time it has the privilege of being the longest play of William Shakespeare. It is often alleged that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is influenced by Oedipus that was written by Sophocles centuries ago. Hamlet is also alleged to be suffering from the Oedipus complex. This paper intends to discuss the play “Hamlet” along with analyzing the veracity of the statement that Hamlet suffers with the Oedipus complex.
Hamlet is alleged to be suffering from the Oedipus complex because of similarities in circumstances of these two characters. Oedipus was a mythological king in ancient Greek who was destined to kill his father, Laius. Oedipus also married his mother, Jocasta though he was not aware of the fact that he is marrying his own mother. Eminent Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud propounded a theory in his book, “The Interpretation of Dreams”. Freud wrote that Oedipus complex is a universal idea and every child, irrespective of his or her sex, experiences it in different forms (Rampone).
Freud connects the Oedipus’ acts with the sexuality and suggests that Oedipus killed his father because he envied him and wanted to marry his mother. The bottom line of Freud’s theory is that every man has a sexual desire and tends to do what Oedipus did to his mother. Freud suggests that every child, whether he is a boy or a girl, has sexual attractions towards his parents. A girl child has attractions towards her mother while a boy is sexually attracted towards his mother. Freud’s theory has been criticized, as well as, appreciated for portraying child sexual behavior.
Sigmund Freud is an eminent scholar and his Oedipus complex theory suggests that sexual attractions drive the behavior of a child. Freud says that every child feels Freud has divided the developmental age of a child in various stages. Freud claims that a child feels sexual and emotional attractions for his father or mother in phallic stage when he or she passes through a number of changes. In his psychoanalytical theory, Freud has divided boy and girl attractions as Oedipus complex and Electra complex.
Freudian psychoanalysis of the Oedipus and Hamlet proves that both of them had attractions for their mothers. Actions and behavior of Oedipus and Hamlet seem to be influenced by sexual attraction towards their mothers. Many scholars also suggest that Freudian theory was propounded centuries later and measuring these characters and their acts on the basis of Freudian analysis may not be that appropriate. Freudian theory of Oedipus complex is not undisputed and yet to get support from many scholars.
Freud starts his analysis by saying “the play is built up on Hamlet's hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations” (Bate, p 263). Freud tried to establish that Hamlet had a suppressed sexual desire for his mother and he even ignored his promise to punish the killer of his father. Freud suggests that Hamlet also had a feeling that he himself is a bigger sinner and this feeling kept him aloof from killing King Claudius.
Freud’s theory is reiterated by Earnest Jones. Jones analyzed Hamlet in context of Freudian theory and tried to prove what Freud opined in his analysis of the play. Jones has corroborated his version that Hamlet suffered from Oedipus complex and he cites various examples from the play itself in order to prove his point. Jones describes how Hamlet hesitated in killing Claudius because he was afraid of him. Secondly Hamlet was also fearful of the fact that killing Claudius means his way is clear to his mother’s bed and he was hesitant of facing that situation even if he liked her.
Ghost of Hamlet’s father tells hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius. Hamlet decides to take revenge of his father’s killing. Hamlet first decides to probe the claim of his father’s ghost and his doubts gain strength by various things. Claudius was Hamlet’s uncle who was the king of Denmark. Claudius had also married Gertrude who was Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet wanted to dig more and he writes and organizes a play that was supposed to expose his father’s killer. When Claudius came to know about the contents of the play, his reactions persuaded Hamlet that his uncle is the killer of his father.
Hamlet succeeded in killing his uncle and king of Denmark, Claudius. His mother died before Claudius death. Hamlet himself was injured badly in the scuffle. Though he succeeded in killing Claudius but his actions and strategies appear very confused in the whole episode. Hamlet wanted to kill Claudius but at the same time he did not have the courage to do it and kept conspiring to kill the king. Various other people including Ophelia were unnecessary made involved in this whole episode and lost their lives.
If Hamlet’s actions and behavior is analyzed in perspective of Freud’s theory it appears that Hamlet was envied to his uncle who married Hamlet’s mother. Freud’s theory suggests that Hamlet was suffering from Oedipus complex and his actions suggest that he was certainly disturbed by the fact that Claudius had married his mother. Hamlet’s mother was certainly one of main factors that influenced his behavior and inspired Hamlet to kill the king Claudius. People who allege that Hamlet suffers with the Oedipus complex give instance of Hamlet’s behavior and sexual attractions towards his mother (Berg).
If hamlet behavior is observed especially after knowing that Claudius had killed his father, it becomes clear that Hamlet is disturbed after knowing it. Hamlet analyzed things and when he felt that his uncle has killed his father in order to capture the throne and also for marrying his mother, his behavior is changed completely. Hamlet is involved in various conspiracies and takes some wired decisions. His acts are inspired by revenge and violence and here he proves that he is affected by Oedipus complex.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a perfect case to analyze in perspectives of Freudian analysis. Character of Hamlet suffers from Oedipus complex and other characters are subsidiary factors that corroborate Freudian theory. Hamlet was a prince who hesitated from killing Claudius even after knowing about his father’s death. This was an unusual behavior in the contemporary period of history. Hamlet’s behavior was influenced by his suppressed sexual attractions for his mother who was now married to Claudius.
Many scholars think that Hamlet was affected by Oedipus complex and this is proved by his erratic behavior and weird conduct. Freudian psychoanalysis corroborates that Hamlet had a subconscious sexual desire for his mother. This desire was suppressed for various reasons and prevented him from killing the king. But when Hamlet saw her mother dying, he did not take a moment in killing Oedipus. Ernest Jones suggests that the only reason why Hamlet hesitated in killing King Claudius was his mother who was married to Claudius.
In course of corroborating his version, Jones describes some incidents that prove his arguments right. Jones Say that Gertrude had extraordinary affection for her son and was highly impressed by his looks. Queen’s sensuality towards Hamlet is remarkable throughout the play. Hamlet was not only attracted towards Gertrude but was also attracted towards Ophelia. Jones suggests that Hamlet’s attraction towards Ophelia was just to suppress his attraction towards his mother. He suggests that liking Ophelia was also possible because he wanted to make his mother jealous (Freud).
Ophelia was not a match of Gertrude but Hamlet liked her and expressed it very openly that shows how he wanted his mother to feel jealous. In a scene, Hamlet appears saying that he would prefer sitting with Ophelia while dining. The character of Ophelia represented Hamlet’s oppressed desires towards his mother and he indicated towards his attractions from time to time. Ernest Jones suggests that his misogynist behavior towards Ophelia was inspired by Hamlet’s sexual attraction for his mother, Gertrude. Hamlet also discourages his mother’s behavior and curses her for marrying Claudius “You cannot call it love; for at your age The heyday in the blood is tame, it's humble, And waits upon the judgment
Hamlet was so obsessed with his mother that he did not care for mother son relation. Hamlet kept thinking about his mother all the times. Hamlet used to imagine her beauty and her sexuality “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, Seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden, That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. . . . . so loving to my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! Must I remember? why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on: and yet, within a month--Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman . . . .She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not nor it cannot come to good But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue” (Shakespeare, p. 46).
Earnest Jones describes Hamlet got various opportunities to kill Claudius but he was unable to take revenge of his father just because of Oedipus complex. Jones suggests that Hamlet succeeded in oppressing his unconscious sexual attraction in his boyhood because he did not find rivalry from his father. But when he came to know about his father’s death, his lingering emotions come at surface and Hamlet, in order to keep it secret, overlooked his anger and did not kill Claudius at various occasions. Hamlet killed Claudius only when his mother was killed and Hamlet himself became free from all guilt and feelings.
Freud also indicates towards Hamlet’s incapability to take revenge of his father’s death. Freud expresses his concern in these words, “Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of childhood realized. Thus the loathing which should drive him on to revenge is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish”(Bate, p 263).
Hamlet appears suppressing his feelings for his mother and suffers from Oedipus complex. His feelings and oppressed desire for his mother came out when he knew that his father was killed. Hamlet wanted to be like Claudius so he was in a dilemma to kill Claudius or not. This dilemma affected his behavior in a considerable manner. When his mother lost her life, Hamlet’s illusions were gone. Hamlet was able to remember his promise to take revenge of his father’s death and he fulfilled his promise.
The story of Hamlet is developed on internal conflict that Hamlet was suffering. Hamlet through the play has shown as a person who sees and understand his responsibility, but evade it whenever opportunity comes. Hamlet repents on his decisions and consequences every time he missed opportunity to take revenge. Hamlets seems a person with lack of will power, who wanted to kill his uncle but could not at several occasions due to lack of will. The decisions made by the Hamlet shows he has some hidden motives that dominate his decision.
When people make decisions they analyzed the ideas, consequences of their decision, and make decision based on their natural instinct. Sexual instinct and different psychosexual trends are often suppresses by the individual, and same what Hamlet done in the play. People adopt different psychological defensive instruments such as doubt, depression, and other expressions of conflicts in order to hide their real feelings. In Hamlet, Shakespeare displayed emotions in the form of anxiety with regard to worldly achievement or failure, immorality and salvation of the King’s soul, respect of values of life, and future.
In the play, Hamlet saw different incidents in his life such as death of his father, second marriage of his mother, and death of her lover Ophelia. Hamlet buried his notion of sexuality with Gertrude his mother since beginning. Bradley (2000) mentioned very categorically that “Her son was forced to see in her action not only an astounding shallowness of feeling, but an eruption of coarse sensuality, 'rank and gross,' speeding posthaste to its horrible de. light” (Bradley, p 118). Feeling that Hamlet buried long time ago converted in to gratifying desires, and repression of those feelings filled Hamlet with repugnance, hate and dislike.
Hamlet’s long time planning to take the position of his father in his mother’s life was ruined when his mother married to his uncle, a member from same family and a person who killed his father. The marriage of his mother and other incidents ring his mind due to his old desire. Hamlet forbids his mother to sleep with Claudius in these words “Refrain tonight, And that shall lend a kind of easiness To the next abstinence: the next more easy; For use almost can change the stamp of nature” (Shakespeare, p. 215).
Hamlet had to repress that energy which impacted his mental state and caused him to act in weird manner. Hamlet expresses his concerns about her mother’s behavior and at the same time he also shows his jealousy with his mother on marrying Claudius. Hamlet says, “Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on: and yet, within a month — Let me not think on't — Frailty, thy name is woman!” (Shakespeare, p.46).
A number of scholars do not appear convinced by above-mentioned views of Earnest Jones and various other scholars. One of main arguments that they present is the timing of creation of Oedipus and Hamlet. They suggest that Freudian psychoanalysis came centuries later and none of both the writers was aware of such a complex. Many people argue that Freud psychoanalysis itself is not undisputedly accepted. There are many scholars who question the Freudian analysis. They say that Freudian analysis is a figment of his personal views and it is yet to establish that Freudian theory presents the human relations in accurate manner. It is hard to buy that Hamlet’s attraction, towards a woman who was older and married twice, was so bigger that Hamlet forgot taking revenge of his father’s death.
Hamlet was a prince and he believed in moving strategically. Hamlet was just in search of an appropriate opportunity to kill Claudius and avoided killing him at various occasions because he was the king of Denmark. Any miscalculation in killing the king would have affected position of Hamlet, as well as, the whole empire. A number of scholars and individuals believe that Hamlet is a victim of personal interpretations and imaginations of some people.
Having observed an overview and succinct analysis of the above mentioned subject, the paper concludes that there is a difference of opinion among people on the issue of Hamlet’s Oedipus complex. Many people believe that Hamlet used to suffer from Oedipus complex. They prove their version by mentioning various incidents of the play and analyzing these incidents in perspective of the Oedipus complex. Hamlet’s erratic and abnormal behavior and delay in taking revenge of his father suggest that he used to suffer from behavioral abnormalities.
Hamlet’s sexual advancements towards Ophelia and using her to make his mother jealous prove that he was suffering from Oedipus complex. On the other hand, there are people who do not buy that Hamlet used to suffer with Oedipus complex. The reason why they think so is that Oedipus was written centuries ago of Sigmund Freud. Hamlet also was written before Freud. It becomes clear that Sigmund Freud had no influence on both these authors. These stories were written by authors on the basis of their imagination and creativity.
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Freud, Sigmund. The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones, 1908-1939. USA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.
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