Freud’s Critique of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Freued’s theory of Oedipus Complex is best demonstrated in his analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Oedipus complex is the strong affinity that the child develops for his mother in its intense urge to possess the mother, wishes to kill the father. Prince Hamlet, throughout the play ponders and procrastinates the task of killing Claudius, to avenge his father’s murder. Freud proposes that Hamlet is unable to make up his mind to kill Claudius owing to his own Oedipus Complex the repressed but continuing presence in the adult’s unconscious, of the male infant’s desire to possess his mother and do away with his rival, the father.

hamlet-play.jpgFreud derived the term from Sophocles Oedipus Rex (who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother). Further, Freud links Hamlet’s situation to Shakespeare himself, as the play was written immediately after the death of Shakespeare’s father in 1601. Also, Shakespeare’s son who died at an early age bore the name Hamnet.

Freud’s views on Hamlet were later taken up by Ernest Jones in his work Hamlet and Oedipus (1949), in which he proposes that Hamlet’s conflict is “an echo of a similar one in Shakespeare himself.” There is a famous sustained literary pastiche of this psychoanalytical/ autobiographical view of Hamlet in Joyce‘s Ulysses (1922).

 

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