Psychoanalyzing Hamlet:frued A Essay

This essay has a total of 2590 words and 10 pages.

Psychoanalyzing Hamlet:frued A


The mystery of Shakespeare's Hamlet is a phantom of literary debate that has haunted
readers throughout the centuries. Hamlet is a complete enigma; a puzzle scholars have
tried to piece together since his introduction to the literary world. Throughout the
course of Hamlet the reader is constantly striving to rationalize Hamlet's odd behavior,
mostly through the play's written text. In doing so, many readers mistakenly draw their
conclusions based on the surface content of Hamlet's statements and actions. When drawing
into question Hamlet's actions as well as his reasons for acting, many assume that Hamlet
himself is fully aware of his own motives. This assumption in itself produces the very
matter in question. Take for example Hamlet's hesitation to kill the king. Hamlet believes
that his desire to kill King Claudius is driven by his fathers' demand for revenge. If
this were true, Hamlet would kill Claudius the moment he has the chance, if not the moment
he knows for sure that Claudius is guilty of murdering his father. Why does Hamlet
hesitate? One must call into question what Hamlet holds to be true. If Hamlet's given
motivation for killing the king is legitimate, then Claudius should die at about Act 3.
Because Hamlet's actions do not correspond with his given reasoning, one is forced to look
for an alternate explanation for Hamlet's behavior. In doing so, one will come to the
conclusion that Hamlet is driven by forces other than what is obvious to the reader, as
well as Hamlet himself. Given this example, one must denounce the assumption that Hamlet
is aware of the forces that motivate him, and understand that Hamlet's true motivation is
unconscious This unconscious force is the true reason behind Hamlet's mysterious behavior.
In naming this force, one must look beneath the surface of Hamlet's own level of
consciousness, and into what Hamlet himself is consciously unaware. The key to
understanding Hamlet lies in the realization of the unconscious energy that provokes him
to action and inaction. By channeling into Hamlet's unconscious, providing both Freudian
and Jungian psychoanalytical perspectives, Hamlet's true unconscious motivation will be
uncovered, and the mystery of Hamlet will be silenced.


The term consciousness refers to "one's awareness of internal and external stimuli. The
unconscious contains thoughts, memories, and desires that are well below the surface of
awareness but that nonetheless exert great influence on behavior."(Weiten) Jung and Freud
agree upon the existence of the unconscious, but their perspectives are vastly different.


The core of the Freudian perspective is centered around Hamlet's relationship with his
mother, and the aforementioned example concerning Hamlet and King Claudius. According to
the Freudian view, Hamlet is driven by unconscious sexual desire and aggravation. This
sexual aggression is directed towards his mother and Claudius.

The overall analysis of Hamlet's behavior is represented in Jones' statement, "So far as I
can see, there is no escape from the conclusion that the cause of Hamlet's hesitancy lies
in some unconscious source of repugnance to his task" When Hamlet first hears the ghost's
call for revenge, he answers:

Haste me to know't, that I with wings as swift
As mediation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge. (Act I, Sc. 5)
Hamlet says this in Act I, yet Claudius is not killed until Act 5. Surely Hamlet is not
"sweeping" to revenge. Hamlet's inability to act upon the ghost's request cannot be linked
to any uncertainty of the ghost's claims, for in Act 3 Sc.2 Hamlet states "I'll take the
ghost's word for a thousand pound". A probable conclusion lies in the possibly that Hamlet
does not want to kill the king.

Take into consideration the relationship between Hamlet and his mother. According to
Freud, all boys develop a sense of sexuality at the early age of three. Due to the
mother's proximity to the child, the boys sexuality is directed toward the mother. The
child then develops a hatred for the main opposition for his mother's affection-his
father. The stage of development where a boy falls in love with his mother and wants to
kill his father is called the Oedipus Complex. Hamlet exhibits signs of a lingering
Oedipus Complex.

Oedipus complex disappears when the young boy realizes "the impossibility of fulfilling
the sexual wish for the mother"(Hall) The main factor in making the young boys wish
impossible is the father. When Hamlet's father dies, his main opposition disappears. This
poses an opportunity for Hamlet to achieve his boyhood dream-to "have" his mother. As
Jones states, "The association of the idea of sexuality with his mother, buried since
infancy, can no longer be concealed from his consciousness." These feelings are what drive
Hamlet to self-repulsion, and ultimately to the question "To be or not to be-that is the
question",(Act3 Sc.2)where Hamlet questions the worth of his own life.

Hamlet's unconscious desire for his mother is, as Jones says "Stimulated to unconscious
activity by someone usurping this place exactly as he had once longed to do" In seeing
Claudius take his father's place by Gertrude's side, Hamlet unconsciously realizes his own
childhood desire to do the same. In Hamlet's statement "O, most wicked speed, to post with
such dexterity to incestuous sheets" (Act1 Sc.2) , Hamlet reveals this realization. In his
use of the word "incestuous" Hamlet projects his own feelings onto his mother and
Claudius. Weiten defines Projection as : "Attributing one's own thoughts, feelings, and
motives to another" By calling the union between Claudius and his mother Gertrude
"incestuous", Hamlet informs the reader of his own imagined union with Gertrude; a union
that would be "incestuous". When Hamlet learns that Claudius killed his father, he cries
"O my prophetic soul! My uncle?". Jones states "The two recent events, the father's death
and the mother's second marriage, seemed to the world to have no inner casual relation to
each other, but they represented ideas which in Hamlet's unconscious fantasy had always
been closely associated." These ideas found immediate expression in Hamlet's cry. The
murder of his father and the marriage of his mother are two concepts Hamlet has connected
since boyhood, his "prophetic soul" anticipated Claudius being his father's killer since
Claudius had already married Gertrude. Hamlet, having unconsciously recognized his sexual
desire for his mother by seeing Claudius take the throne, realizes the other half of his
lingering Oedipal complex in learning that Claudius killed his father. Claudius, by
marrying Gertrude and killing Hamlet's father, has done exactly what Hamlet has
unconsciously longed to do since boyhood.

As a result, Hamlet cannot kill Claudius, for Claudius in fact personifies Hamlet. This is
the answer to the original question. Hamlet hesitates to kill the king because "In reality
his uncle incorporates the deepest and most buried part of his own personality, so that he
cannot kill him without also killing himself"(Jones) Claudius represents Hamlet's deepest
and most secretive desires, and in killing Claudius, Hamlet would be forced to consciously
recognize these desires. For this reason, Hamlet hesitates to grant the ghost's call for
revenge. Instead, Hamlet takes advantage of his dual with Laertes to produce the final
solution-his own death, as well as the death of Claudius, his other self.


In the opposing view of the Jungian analyst, one would argue that there is much more to
Hamlet than unconscious sexual aggression. Sex as a basis for all human behavior is simply
too limited a concept; Jung claims that "there has to be more to it".

There are two forces that drive Hamlet. One is his anima, which is the "personification of
the feminine nature of a man's unconscious"(Platania). The second is Hamlet's desire to
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