Free Oedipal Complex Essays: Hamlet and the Oedipu
s Complex Hamlet essaysHamlet and the Oedipus Complex
That Hamlet is suffering from an internal conflict the essential nature of which is inaccessible to his introspection is evidenced by the following considerations. Throughout the play we have the clearest picture of a man who sees his duty plain before him, but who shirks it at every opportunity and suffers in consequence the most intense remorse. To paraphrase Sir James Paget’s description of hysterical paralysis: Hamlet’s advocates say he cannot do his duty, his detractors say he will not, whereas the truth is that he cannot will. Further than this, the deficient willpower is localized to the question of killing his uncle; it is what may be termed a specific abulia. Now instances of such specific abulias in real life invariably prove, when analyzed, to be due to an unconscious repulsion against the act that cannot be performed (or else against something closely associated with the act, so that the idea of the act becomes also involved in the repulsion). In other words, whenever a person cannot bring himself to do something that every conscious consideration tells him he should do-and which he may have the strongest conscious desire to do-it is always because there is some hidden reason why a part of him doesn’t want to do it; this reason he will not own to himself and is only dimly if at all aware of. That is exactly the case with Hamlet.
It only remains to add the obvious corollary that, as the herd unquestionably selects from the “natural” instincts the sexual one on which to lay its heaviest ban, so it is the various psychosexual trends that are most often “repressed” by the individual. We have here the explanation of the clinical experience that the more intense and the more obscure is a given case of deep mental conflict the more certainly will it be found on adequate analysis to center about a sexual problem. On the surface, of course, this does not appear so, for, by means of various psychological defensive mechanisms, the depression, doubt, despair, and other manifestations of the conflict are transferred on to more tolerable and permissible topics, such as anxiety about worldly success or failure, about immortality and the salvation of the soul, philosophical considerations about the value of life, the future of the world, and so on.
Now comes the father’s death and the mother’s second marriage. The association of the idea of sexuality with his mother, buried since infancy, can no longer be concealed from his consciousness. As Bradley well says: “Her son was forced to see in her action not only an astounding shallowness of feeling, but an eruption of coarse sensuality, ‘rank and gross,’ speeding posthaste to its horrible de. light.” Feelings which once, in the infancy of long ago, were pleasurable desires can now, because of his repression’s, only fill him with repulsion. The long “repressed” desire to take his father’s place in his mother’s affection is ~timu1ated to unconscious activity by the sight of someone usurping this place exactly as he himself had once longed to do. More, this someone was a member of the same family, so that the actual usurpation further resembled the imaginary one in being incestuous. Without his being in the least aware of it these ancient desires are ringing in his mind, are once more struggling. to find conscious expression, and need such an expenditure of energy again to “repress” them that he is reduced to the deplorable mental state he himself so vividly depicts.
Hamlet and Oedipus (London: Victor Gollancz, Ltd., 1949; New York: W. W. Norton & Company, inc., 1949), pp. 5253, 5960, and 82.