Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Freud would say about Hamlet

Hamlet contains many aspects that Freud would find fascinating. The first would be Hamlet’s apparent loathing for his mother and uncle. A normal person would say that is because they are sleeping with each other, but a psychoanalyst would say that Hamlet loathed his mother for choosing his uncle over him, and that he loathed his uncle for being his rival. This is what Freud called the Oedipus complex. It is when a man has an incestuous desire to love his mother intimately. In Act three scene four, Hamlet accosts his mother in her bedroom, while Polonius hides behind a curtain. Hamlet berates his mother for her foul judgment in marrying Claudius. He says that Claudius is not half the man his father was and a murderer on top of that. Here, Freud would say that Hamlet only says this about his father because he is already dead and can no longer be a rival for his mother’s affections.
Another happening in this scene is the appearance of the deceased king’s ghost, which only Hamlet can see. The ghost tells Hamlet that he has to stay focused. He says that his mother is not the guilty one, that Claudius is. It is he who needs to be killed. Freud would say that this ghost is a manifestation from Hamlet’s unconscious mind. It is like a waking dream. Freud’s theory discusses both the latent and manifest dream. The latent dream is the hidden meaning within the manifest dream. The manifest dream is your dream at face value. In this wake dream Hamlet sees his father telling him to kill the true guilty party. This is the manifest dream. The latent dream could be that his father is actually him telling himself that his mother is not the one who deserves his rage but the true murderer and his own rival, Claudius. But according to Freud’s own theory of displacement the dream could just as easily be about his mother having an ear infection. This theory talks about an allusion that “are connected with the element they replace by the most external and remote relations and are therefore unintelligible; and when they are undone, their interpretation gives the impression of being a bad joke or of an arbitrary and forced explanation dragged in by the hair of its head.” One could say that Hamlet thinks his father was poisoned through his ear and that ears get infected and that his mother may be in pain because of it.
There are other scenes in Hamlet where he has these wake dreams. In the very first act he sees his father’s ghost and it tells him that he was murdered by Claudius and that Hamlet must seek revenge. But Hamlet only looks at the manifest dream and not the latent dream which is why he has so much trouble throughout the play. If a psychoanalyst had the chance to talk to Hamlet and interpret his dreams then maybe people wouldn’t have thought him mad and listened to what he said about his uncle.

1 comment:

  1. Good--like to have seen a bit more connection between the oedipus complex discussion at the beginning and the actual text of freud. Not that this is the case here, but one worries about those aspects of freuds thought that get applied without enough consideration of waht he meant. Here, though, I tink you're right on. And how do you feel about Freud's suggestion that some of Hamlet's anxieties are Shakespeare's own?