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This essay will explore the psychological underpinnings of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” particularly analyzing the protagonist through the lens of Freud’s Oedipus complex. It will delve into Hamlet’s complex relationship with his mother and his subconscious motivations, shedding light on the deeper layers of his character and actions. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Hamlet.
How it works
The well known play, Hamlet written by William Shakespeare truly centers on the hardship of Hamlet being pressured to kill his uncle by plead of his dead father. It all began when Hamlet discovers a ghost which embodies the exact features of his recently dead father. The Ghost begs Hamlet to seek revenge for him since he was unfairly killed by his own brother named Claudius. Hamlet’s uncle not only killed his father, but he also had the audacity to quickly marry his mother afterwards. From a psychoanalytic point of view, all of this sudden/shocking information caused Hamlet to suffer from a traumatic experience which was extremely hard for him to handle. This emotionally disturbing moment in Hamlet’s life caused serious results that only affected him even more. Some of them include mental instability and isolation from others. (etc.)
Many readers of this particular play often wonder why Hamlet holds back for so long to kill King Claudius after knowing every evil and manipulative thing he’s done to him. The evident delay may be connected to the Oedipus Complex which is an idea Sigmund Freud proposed in 1899. This concept describes a child’s strong feelings of desire for their parent of the opposite sex, which in this case is Gertrude. To sum up, according to Sigmund Freud’s theory, Hamlet’s actions throughout the play are made up of the three psychological concepts which are id, superego, and ego.
How it works
To begin with, the psychic force that promotes Hamlet’s unconscious desires is known by Freud as id. Hamlet’s instinctual drive is towards his mother. He is willing to seek revenge for his father in order to eliminate all other male figures in his mother’s life. This would allow him to receive all the attention from his mother without having anyone else stand in the way. Dr. Kristi Siegel explains that Freud’s representation of id is the, “completely unconscious part of the psyche that serves as a storehouse of our desires, wishes, and fears” (2).
Hamlet unconsciously yearns to end up taking his father’s place similar to what Claudius did which may result in him hating his uncle. In scene four, act 3, Hamlet demonstrates just how aggressive he can be with his mother which isn’t shown earlier in the play. The play specifies, “You are the queen, your husband’s brother’s wife, / And, would it were not so, you are my mother. / Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak” (Act 3, Scene 4).
Some psychoanalytic critics may say that Hamlet’s frustration with his mother is caused by jealousy driven of the memories he has of his father as well as uncle. Hamlet mentions the contrast between both brothers, and he strongly feels his father is the better man rather than his uncle. King Claudius is dishonest to say the least. Hamlet attempts to show his mother through a rather aggressive approach that he doesn’t accept King Claudius. In Hamlet, it indicates, “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell. / I took thee for thy better” (Act 3, Scene 4) At this particular moment, Hamlet wanted to kill King Claudius, but ends up murdering Polonius unintentionally. Wofford claims, “One of the unconscious desires most commonly repressed is the childhood wish to displace the parent of our own sex and take his or her place in the affections of the parent of the opposite sex” (Susanne Lindgren Wofford, 243). So in conclusion, Hamlet demonstrates that he’s guilty of suffering from the Oedipus Complex, Freud’s way of analyzing human minds.
Furthermore, the superego part of Hamlet’s mind is what essentially caused him to hold back for a while on his revenge plan. The human psyche according to Sigmund Freud, has a side to it which allows people to really listen to one’s values as well as society’s morals. In scene three, act three Hamlet seems ready to kill King Claudius, however he doesn’t execute his revenge at that moment in the play. Hamlet communicates, “A villain kills my father, and for that, / I his sole son do this same villain send / To heaven. / Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge” (Act 3, Scene 3).
Apparently, he didn’t kill his uncle at that point in time because he was praying. Hamlet wishes that King Claudius be sent to hell, which is why he didn’t kill him while he had the chance. He didn’t want him to be saved after praying for mercy and be allowed into heaven. In a way, Hamlet feels it’s his duty to avenge his father’s death justly, seeing how he’s his only son. From a psychoanalysis standpoint, Hamlet’s conscience is steering him in a path that doesn’t involve him murdering his uncle.
Like mentioned before, Freud thinks the superego triggers humans to consider their principles and not always act on impulses. McLeod explains, “It also has the function of persuading the ego to turn to moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones and to strive for perfection” (Saul McLeod, 1). Many factors play a huge role as to why Hamlet struggles to complete his scheme of murdering his uncle. For example, Hamlet doesn’t actually witness his father being murdered by his uncle. As of right now, all he has to believe are the words of the ghost he witnessed. Also, Hamlet is somewhat young and perhaps is reluctant in throwing his life away by becoming a murderer. From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, Hamlet’s superego is mainly what causes him to do what’s right at the moment. For instance, McLeod claims, “The superego function is to control the id impulses, especially those which society forbids, such as sex and aggression” (Saul McLeod, 1). So wrap things up, Hamlet acts unexpectedly at some points in the play because his superego involves his ethics to make a final judgement in what he does.
In addition, the psyche structure that allows Hamlet to make his final decision in the play is known as his ego. The ego usually finds a balance between the id and superego which make up people’s personality. For example, McLeod writes, “The ego considers social realities and norms, etiquette and rules in deciding how to behave” (Saul McLeod, 1). So in reality, everything is left on Hamlet’s end to decide what he will do, according to Freud’s theory of id, superego, and ego. At the end of the play, Hamlet ends the life of King Claudius because he feels lots of anger towards him. Gertrude is poisoned through her drink which King Claudius is guilty of doing. Once it’s revealed that King Claudius was the person held responsible for causing Gertrude to be killed from poison, Hamlet decides to hold back no longer. He forces his uncle to drink the same potion his mother did. Hamlet indicates, “Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, / Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? / Follow my mother” (Act 5, Scene 2). The end result is what Hamlet chose to make of it since he followed his psyche aspect of ego.
Perhaps he would have never went through with his plan to murder King Claudius, but chose to end up doing it after having his dearly mother killed. After all, Hamlet seemed super hesitant the entire time to do as his father wished. Since Hamlet appears to be stuck in the Oedipus Complex, his strange obsession with his mother might have been his fuel that helped him decide what to do. Besides killing King Claudius, Hamlet also helps stop Horatio from committing suicide. McLeod asserts, “The ego engages in secondary process thinking, which is rational, realistic, and orientated towards problem-solving” (Saul McLeod, 1). Hamlet truly appreciates that Horatio has never left his side and remained loyal to him, which may be why he doesn’t want to see him end his life out of impulse. Horatio can then let everyone else know Hamlet’s life story since he’s been a part of it throughout most of it. Therefore, the final decision of Hamlet came from Freud’s theory of ego, which is the ultimate settlement to do something based on your ethics and social morals.
To illustrate, Hamlet manifests his destiny as well as those of others by a process of three stages of personality which is id, superego, and ego. First of all, Hamlet promotes his desire for his mother’s attention only to himself, by means of acting on id. Id is when someone seeks instant gratification for themselves. For example, newborns tend to only act on id because they don’t consider other people’s wants and needs, only theirs. Seeing how he wants his mother’s love to himself, some psychoanalytic critics may say that Hamlet reveals to be stuck in the Oedipus Complex.
This was apparent in the play when Hamlet is frustrated with his mother for choosing to be with his uncle. The superego part of Hamlet is what actually keeps him from not murdering King Claudius when he first got the chance to. This phase permits the person to control their id, also known as desires. When Hamlet chose to not kill King Claudius during his prayer scene, the readers see that his conscious played a huge role in preventing that. Eventually, Hamlet’s ego steered him to make his final decision on his own. One’s ego considers society’s morals, personal ethics, and reality principle to finally allow the person to make up their mind. In this case, Hamlet’s ego lead him to murder King Claudius and prevent Horatio from committing suicide. As a final thought, psychoanalytic critics such as Sigmund Freud, believe the three phases that Hamlet went through which are id, superego, and ego produced him to take the measures he did at the end.
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