Thursday, December 18, 2014

Psychoanalysis and Hamlet



Note: I feel like this is probably not my best paper but I'm posting it anyway.
            Hamlet is considered one of the most flawed characters in English Literature. After the death of his father, and his mother remarrying immediately afterwards to of all people his Uncle Claudius, Hamlet is pushed towards the brink trying to deal with all of these sudden changes. All of these changes put together can create instability in Hamlet’s mind as his world is shaken by the sudden changes. When psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams he introduced the world to the ideas of the id, the ego and the superego in which encompass the way the mind is influenced by events from their younger years. Freud said that “the predominantly passionate, irrational, unknown, and unconscious part of the psyche the id, or “it.” The ego, or “I,” was his term for the predominantly rational, logical, orderly, conscious part. Another aspect of the psyche, which he called the superego, is really a projection of the ego. The superego almost seems to be outside of the self, making moral judgments, telling us to make sacrifices for the good causes even though self-sacrifice may not be quite logical or rational.” (242) Freud’s theory is based on how each part of the brain works within the ranges of the three areas of the brain. The events such as the ones that take place throughout Hamlet that show how the main character deals with each revelation can also be interpreted through Freud’s psychoanalytical criticism.  Freud’s theory is a complicated weaving of the way that the character deals with the loss of his father and also his mother to his uncle Claudius, as well as the fragile state of Hamlet’s psyche during all these events.
            The state of Hamlet’s mind throughout the play is the key to applying Freud’s theory since each piece plays a part in how the protagonist deals with each situation throughout the play. The id is impulsive and unorganized in what it sees and how it responds. It’s easily noted in the beginning that Hamlet himself made an impulsive choice when he had spoken to the ghost of his late father and agreed to take revenge for his father’s death. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father says to him that “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown” (1.5.38-39) by saying this he’s telling Hamlet of how the person who had killed him was now residing the throne which is King Claudius. Hamlet is already torn over how his mother’s marriage to Claudius within a month of his father’s death, in hearing this he agrees to take revenge. The ego which is based on the reality principle and is supposed to keep the unrealistic world and the outside real world in check since it’s based on reality is destroyed at that same moment. How can a physical human talk to their father’s ghost? The protagonist has no way of telling reality from fantasy of talking with a dead family member. Hamlet does redeem himself when he is presented with the opportunity to kill his Uncle Claudius. When Claudius is praying Hamlet decided not to kill him, Hamlet says “A villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven.” (3.3.76-78) Hamlet knows that if he kills Claudius then he would be sending the man who killed his father straight to heaven without judgment for his crimes. This coincides with how the ego is supposed to suppress the impulses of the id crimes and uses a defense mechanism in order to tell Hamlet that Claudius’ crimes are punishable when everyone has  knowledge the crimes committed by the new king.
The Superego is the part of the mind that used the rules set by society and taught by the parents, and helps the story’s protagonist be able to decipher what’s right from what’s wrong. It also control’s the id’s impulses but also helps the ego make judgments based on morals and not just reality. Since Hamlet’s mind is in disarray because of how he handled the death of his father and his mother’s immediate remarriage to Claudius the superego has no true way of functioning and controlling Hamlet’s impulses or moral compass. There are moments in the play where it looks as though he has everything under complete control but by the end of the play every instinct that he has changes once his mother dies. This plays a role in the way Freud’s psychoanalysis works in deciphering Hamlet’s mood due to the nature of Freud’s Oedipus Complex, which is when the hero must kill his father and marry his mother and is based on Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus the King. For Hamlet the object of his desires is not Ophelia but his mother who was taken from him when Claudius marries her. Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius throughout the play changes because of how he feels towards her and when the Queen dies Hamlet now has the courage to kill Claudius. Hamlet wounds him and tells him “Here, thou incestuous, [murd’rous], damned Dane, Drink [off] this potion! Is [thy union] here? Follow my mother!”(5.2.307-309) In his anger at losing the object of his affections he makes sure that Claudius follows his wife to the afterlife by taking his own life even though it was forced.
The tragedy of Hamlet is more about not having ample time to grieve with his mother over the loss of his beloved father, but also the breakdown of his mind over the time it takes him to actually commit to the murder of his Uncle Claudius. Freud’s theories didn’t exist when Shakespeare wrote the play and if it did would it have truly helped the troubled mind of the protagonist of the play? This all depends on whether Hamlet would have actually listened to someone or even confronted his mother and uncle about what happened instead he made calculations and planned the death of these two people.


Works Cited
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts... Ed. Susanne Lindgren Wofford. Boston: Bedford of St.Martin's, 1994. Print.