Back to: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Oedipus Complex is a theory propounded by Sigmund Freud in his book “An Interpretation of Dreams.” Freud says, “The child takes both of its parents, and more particularly one of them, as the object of its erotic wishes.”
The Tragedy of Hamlet was written by Shakespeare towards the end of the 16th century. It is the measure of Shakespeare’s genius that he had such an immense ability for the psychological study of human beings and their relationships.
The complexity of Hamlet is thought to be the sphinx of modern literature. His complexity and certain obvious inhibition from acting on his own thoughts can be studied under the idea given by Freud.
In order to notice the Oedipus complex in Hamlet, the interaction between his conscious and unconscious should be brought out and it can be done by examining the difference between his thoughts and his actions.
The unconscious mental activity is of paramount importance. Hamlet is introduced to us in the play in a mournful state. That’s the conscious part of him visible to us. If a human mind can be divided into three parts i.e. Id, Ego and Super-Ego then psychologically a balance is supposed to be formed due to a balance between these fragments in the mind.
Hamlet’s mind is disrupted at first by the death of his father and his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle Claudius. His Super-Ego, which is more ideal, is fully conscious of social reality. It can be argued from the way he stages the play “The Murder of Gonzago.”
But the question arises when he doesn’t act upon the intense need he feels for the revenge. That’s when one can try to explain it through the Freud’s theory of Oedipus Complex. The name Oedipus Complex is derived from Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrranius.
According to this idea, a son is naturally attracted to his mother and feels an unconscious repulsion for his father, mostly up to the age of five and then it slowly goes away but in case it doesn’t happen naturally then the son may fail from having any accomplished relationship with any other woman.
In the play, Hamlet confesses his immense love for Ophelia in the beginning but it erodes and finally, he declares his disgust for her when he shouts at her to “go to a nunnery.” Even when the ghost clarifies about his uncle being the killer of his father, Hamlet keeps delaying from the decision to kill Claudius. His excuses are loosely based.
According to this theory, he must be trying to avoid killing Claudius, his uncle because he could do what unconsciously Hamlet himself wanted to do. Throughout the play, Hamlet despairs over his mother’s hasty marriage. He labels it as incestuous again and again.
His Oedipus complex can be located when he shouts at his mother to not go to his “uncle’s bed.” For Hamlet, killing Claudius, unconsciously, must’ve been like attacking his own psyche.
When he finds Claudius in praying position, he could kill him right there but he doesn’t act like that rather gives a reason that it may send him to heaven. He may do so in the end due to the Ego which is conscious in him but his delay from acting on revenge proves the Oedipus Complex in him.