Freudian Psychoanalysis of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”

I have chosen to talk about the psychoanalytical approach on “Hamlet” because this is the exemplification of the Oedipus complex that Sigmund Freud defined and also this is one of the best exemplifications of what is Id, Superego and Ego. Hamlet is just a projection of Shakespeare. The play is inspired by the author’s life, by the people around him. “In fact, literature offered unique insight into the mind that regular people do not.” (Radhika Gangadhar, Literary Theory and Criticism).

In this essay I will try my best to apply Freud’s theories about Oedipus complex and Id, Ego and Superego on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.

Next I am going to explain shortly who is Oedipus, what says the theory Freud made and to exemplify and apply the theory on the play. Freud built up a theory according to which a baby boy, since he is breastfed, he develops an “object-cathexis” for his mother. Moreover, in chapter “From the Dissection of the Psychical Personality”, Sigmund Freud defines the Id, Ego and Superego and Hamlet symbolizes all of them at different times.

I am going to start with the Oedipus complex, theory and application. Oedipus is a Greek mythological character, who unconsciously killed his father in order to marry his mother. In compliance with Freud’s theory as the little boy is growing, sexual wishes with respect to his mother are growing. In the beginning he tries to identify himself with his father but afterwards he starts seeing his father as someone who prevents him from voicing his emotions:

“The boy deals with his father by identifying himself with him.

For a time these two relationships proceed side by side, until the boy’s sexual wishes in regard to his mother become more intense and his father is perceived as an obstacle to them” (Freud, Sigmund, Psychoanalytical approaches , chapter From the ‘Ego and the Id’ (1923) )

According to Freud, in time, the “object-cathexis” is given up. Her place may be taken by: “either an identification with his mother or an intensification of his identification with his father” (Freud, Sigmund, Psychoanalytical approaches, chapter From the ego and the Id (1923) ). The Oedipus complex is remarked during the play because the relationship between Hamlet and his mother is more like a lover to lover relationship rather than a mother-son relationship. They kiss often and in Act three, Scene four, to a certain extent, Hamlet expresses his feelings for his mother by making sexually allusions. Also, he once confronts his mother for wanting to marry Claudius, revealing that he is jealous.

“Nay, but to live

In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,

Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love

Over the nasty sty” (Act III, Scene 4, Lines 91-94)

Additionally, Oedipus complex prevents him from being with Ophelia. They had feelings for each other but Hamlet’s desire to be with his mother made him unable to carry on, to have a relationship or even to marry Ophelia.

One way or another, Hamlet defined himself with Claudius, feeling he is in a way that he is his father. Thus, he murders Claudius that is when Oedipus complex is fulfilled.

Freud defines the three parts of the personality as follows: Id is the impulsive, driven by desire part of the personality, Superego is the cautious, ethical and moral part of the personality and the Ego is the one that maintains harmony between the two “[The id] is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality”,” The supper-ego applies the strictest moral standard to the helpless ego which is at its mercy” (chapter From the Dissection of the Psychical Personality (1933)

This can be seen throughout the whole play as Hamlet is going through an internal struggle. After he is shown by a ghost that his father was murdered by his uncle, Claudius, his plan is to avenge his father. However, he hesitates a few times. On one hand, in the play, the Id can be illustrated by his desire to be with her mother, but also by the desire to kill Claudius. Further, I will take them one by one. The Id can be defined by the desire to have a relationship with the mother because that is an immoral wish, based on instincts, which does not regard ethical norms. I think that is an unconscious, irrational wish, driven by sexual desire and definitely does not take consequences into account. Therefore, the Superego is represented by the feelings Hamlet had for Ophelia, as that would have been a moral, rational decision. On the other hand, Id can also be defined by the desire to kill Claudius that being also an immoral, irrational thought, driven by jealousy. In that case, Superego is represented by the second-thoughts he had during the play regarding the killing of Claudius. In both cases, the Id won Hamlet did not go on with the relationship with Ophelia and he murdered Claudius. That caused the feeling of guilt. Nevertheless, if we look at the facts differently, in the case where the Id was represented by the feelings towards his mother, the Superego may have won. That is because at some point he acknowledged the relationship was impossible so he represses his desire. According to Freud, this is the moment when the boy understands that there are physical differences between him and the mother.

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