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Hamlet and the Oedipus Complex

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play about indecision, apprehension, and inner turmoil. Hamlet, the main protagonist, struggles within himself, attempting to muster the courage to avenge his father’s death by the hand of the current King, Claudius, who is also his late father’s brother. There seem to be many possible reasons for Hamlet’s delay in doing so. However, the one theory that answers all the questions is that Hamlet was possessed by his own Oedipus Complex , that is, he was deeply in love with his own mother, Gertrude. This can be seen throughout the play in several ways.

Hamlet was understandably upset over his father’s death, but he was much less angry about the loss than he was disgusted with his uncle. His “girlfriend” Ophelia was not his lover, the relationship was a cover-up for his true feelings. King Hamlet’s spirit was aware of this. When he finally gave his blessing to Hamlet and Gertrude, he still did not act against Claudius. And most significantly, when Hamlet finally did take revenge and murder Claudius himself, he only did so because he knew Gertrude would approve at that point. Hamlet did not seem angry with Claudius as much as he seemed disgusted.

After Claudius’ marriage to Gertrude in the first act, Hamlet is clearly suicidal in his first soliloquy: O, that this too too solid flesh would melt Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God! (I, 2, 129-132) However, the soliloquy is not about the loss of his father, or about Claudius taking the throne, but about his hasty marriage to Gertrude: Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married. O, most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not nor it cannot come to good: But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue. (I, 2, 154-159) This undue preoccupation with Gertrude’s personal life and suicidal tendencies show his self-hate and inner turmoil over his feelings for Gertrude, and the repressed desire to have her for himself. It seems as if he had been privately waiting for the inevitable death of his father for a long time, and was extremely bitter that Claudius married Gertrude before he had her to himself for any amount of time.

Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia was a guise put up for two reasons: Firstly, a cover-up for Hamlet’s inappropriate feelings for Gertrude, and secondly, a sexual release for Hamlet. Whether Hamlet consciously realized this or not, he showed displays of love for Ophelia when he felt he was obligated, such as when he jumped into her grave, but when the two of them were together in private, he did not treat her as one should treat a significant other. It was seen how Hamlet treated Ophelia in private when he spoke to her in the castle: You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot o inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not. (III, 1, 118-120) Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. (III, 1, 121-128) He told her, essentially, that he never loved her and discourages her from breeding immoral beings like himself.

It seems that he may have begun to realize his complex around this point, and while he cared for Ophelia enough to try and let her go, he did not love her enough to continue the guise. However: When Hamlet was in the graveyard in Act 5 Scene 1, he speaks matter-of-factly about death and dying with Horatio: No, faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it: as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he as converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel? Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away: O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw! (V, 1, 192-202) He seems apathetic towards the bodies in the graveyard, and even after Ophelia’s corpse was brought to the grave, he did not react until Gertrude said: Sweets to the sweet: farewell! I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife; I thought thy bride-bed to have deck’d, sweet maid, And not have strew’d thy grave. (V, I, 230-235)

It was then that Laertes leapt into Ophelia’s grave, and presumably for the sake of attaining Gertrude’s approval, Hamlet did as well. His feelings for Ophelia were of lower priority than pleasing his mother. He stayed with Ophelia for a sexual release, and when Ophelia found out that Hamlet did not love her and what he was using her for, she went mad. The songs she sang before the time of her death were about her dead father, Polonius “He is dead and gone, lady/He is dead and gone/At his head a grass-green turf/ At his heels a stone,” (IV, 5, 34 37). “I hope all will be well.

We must be patient: but I/ cannot choose but weep, to think they should lay him/ i’ the cold ground. My brother shall know of it” (IV, 5, 73 75). This shows how Ophelia was consumed and eventually driven to madness and suicide by the influence of controlling men over her life: Hamlet was the catalyst to her destruction. King Hamlet’s spirit seemed to be well-aware of the nature of Hamlet’s love for Gertrude. While the ghost did come back to ask Hamlet to avenge him, there was an underlying implication that he was conscious of Hamlet’s true feelings, and disapproved of them. So to seduce! –won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen! ” (I, 5, 48-50) King Hamlet stated throughout the scene several times that his love for Gertrude was dignified, and that he was against incest in Denmark’s royal bed. However, when speaking about incest, he never specifically says that he only means Claudius. Throughout the play, Hamlet showed an indecent interest in Gertrude’s sex life. It is highly irregular for a son to go into such graphic detail when expressing his unhappiness with Gertrude’s choice in partners.

Hamlet actually says to Gertrude: Nay, but to live In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love Over the nasty sty— (III, 4, 91-94) This outburst seems unnecessarily sexually explicit. Hamlet’s preoccupation with Gertrude’s personal life is strange, given that he could have addressed the situation with critique of Claudius’ leadership or Gertrude’s marriage without the graphic imagery. In the 3rd scene, Hamlet is invited into Gertrude’s closet, a strangely intimate situation for mother and son, and speaks with her about her marriage to Claudius.

King Hamlet’s ghost appears and tells Hamlet to “Step between her and her fighting soul” (III, 4, 113) presumably encouraging Hamlet to help her put an end to her relationship with Claudius. However, Hamlet is still scared to act, as he says: Do not look upon me Lest with this piteous action you convert My stern effects: then what I have to do Will want true color. (III, 4, 129-132) Hamlet meant that he was afraid to eliminate Claudius, because he was afraid of the desire deep within him to consummate his relationship with Gertrude, which he knows that his father would definitely not approve of.

This shows the conflict between his own complex and his respect for his father: The cause of his delay of action throughout the entire play. The time when Hamlet finally acts and murders King Claudius is when Gertrude, after drinking poisoned wine that had been intended for Hamlet, was dying and realized that Claudius had done. Despite his contempt for Claudius and respect for his father, Hamlet had always been hesitant to murder the King because deep inside, he was more desperate for his mother’s approval than he was his father’s.

As these instances show, Hamlet had a deep love for his mother, Gertrude, on platonic, maternal, and sexual level. It was Hamlet’s own Oedipus Complex, the neurosis that turned maternal love into a silent competition with his own father for her complete love, that kept him for so long from murdering Claudius to avenge his father. It seems as if Shakespeare knew enough about the workings of the human mind to discover the “Oedipus theory” long before Sigmund Freud or the science of psychology itself even existed.

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