Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hamlet on Freud's Couch

Hamlet is a work that has been analyzed by critics through many different lenses. However, I would say that by far a psychoanalytic criticism of the work is the most interesting when referring to theorists like Sigmund Freud. In our day and age it is weird to envision the possibility of a mother and son having a sexual relationship, but Freud brings some sort of rationale to this theory and applies it to Hamlet. A psychoanalytic critic would definitely analyze the relationship between Hamlet and his mother. Most famously a critic would say that Hamlet is suffering from the Oedipus complex. According to Sigmund Freud, one of the many repressed unconscious desires we have “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” (504). With the absence of his father, Hamlet is very resentful towards Claudius, his uncle that his mother Getrude marries after his father’s death. Hamlet claims his mother’s marriage to his uncle prompts his resent because it is a detestable act that disgraces his father’s honor, but a Freudian would believe that Hamlet has desires to be with his mother and that Claudius is “taking his shine”. In a scene where Hamlet confronts his mother about her actions the wrath of his anger comes forth. Not only does he speak to his mother rudely with lines such as, “you are the queen, your husband’s brother’s wife and would it were not so! -you are my mother” but he also kills Lord Polonius.

The appearance of Hamlet’s father’s ghost is also something a psychoanalytic critic would note as essential. The ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius killed his father and urges Hamlet to avenge his death. A psychoanalytic critic would question whether or not Hamlet is going crazy as when speaking to his mother he “sees the ghost” and speaks to him. Freud might say that after the ghost first confronts Hamlet, he begins to act in accordance with his superego. “The superego almost seems to be outside of the self, making moral judgments, telling us to make sacrifices for good causes even though self-sacrifice may not be quite logical or rational” (503). The ghost urges Hamlet to seek revenge and in a soliloquy it is questionable whether Hamlet will commit suicide or “self-sacrifice”.

Although Claudius is not Hamlet’s natural father, he technically holds the title through marriage with Getrude. A psychoanalytic critic would point out that Hamlet’s hatred of Claudius could instead be a fear of castration that Freud wrote about. “A boy-and it should be remarked in passing that Freud here concerns himself mainly with the male-may fear that his father will castrate him, and he may wish that his mother would return to nursing him” (504). Hamlet may have this fear that Freud describes and as a result represses this fear. In the famous scene with Getrude and throughout the text this fear, along with his repressed feelings for his mother overwhelms Hamlet causing him to explode. Freud would have a lot to say about Hamlet and although sometimes twisted, his theories maybe have some validity.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. If you're thinking about whether freud is 'twisted' remember that one can think about the desire for the mother as love or a need that isn't necessarily explicitly sexual but still sets up the same rivalry with the father, etc. Not all readings of Hamlet, that is, are Mel Gibsons.