As the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious mind and the act of repression have helped shape psychology. Many of Freud’s ideas best explain several of Prince Hamlet’s actions and thoughts in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Prince of Denmark. Long before psychologist Sigmund Freud wrote about the power of the unconscious mind, Shakespeare was suggesting that we are motivated by desires and aversions lurking beneath our consciousness.
Sigmund Freud devoted his time to studying psychoanalytic views of psychology such as the theory of the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is defined by Psychology, Eighth Edition as, “a reservoir of mostly unacceptable thoughts, wishes, feelings, and memories that we repress” (pg 597). Hamlet is a product of his own mind throughout the play and his thoughts and actions are rooted in his unconscious mind. Hamlet obliviously represses these emotions so he becomes mentally and emotionally confused when these startling thoughts are brought to his attention. Hamlet is described as acting differently and unnatural by many characters in the book; including Gertrude, who at one point describes her son as, “Mad as the sea and wind when both contend which is the mightier” (Hamlet Prince of Denmark; Act 4, Scene 1).
The Oedipus complex is described as, “The sexual feelings towards one’s own mother alongside feelings of jealousy and hatred for the rival father” (Psychology, Eighth Edition: pg 599). Throughout the play, Prince Hamlet struggles with the idea of avenging his father’s murder by killing King Claudius. Hamlets repressed thoughts of killing his father and marrying his mother are exactly the actions of King Claudius, so Hamlet draws a parallel between his own feelings and what Claudius has done. Hamlet hesitates to kill King Claudius numerous times because he sees himself and his desires fulfilled in Claudius’ actions.
Another expression of the Oedipus complex in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Prince of Denmark, is the questioning of his late father’s ghost. Since fathers are seen as a rival in the way of fulfilling a marriage with one’s own mother, Hamlet feels that he cannot fully trust this ghost. “Yea, and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me. (Hamlet Prince of Denmark; Act 2, Scene 2). Prince Hamlet despises his father’s ghost because he could potentially ruin Hamlet’s chance to fulfill his desires.
In the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet expresses thoughts of suicide and feelings of self-hatred. “To be, or not to be? That is the question- Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them? (Hamlet Prince of Denmark; Act 3, Scene 1). These negative feelings may stem from the parallel Hamlet draws between himself and King Claudius. Hamlet was told to kill his uncle to avenge his father’s death; but since he sees himself in King Claudius, he struggles to do so. Since these desires are repressed into Prince Hamlet’s unconscious mind, he does not realize that these suicidal thoughts are not actually true.
Although Sigmund Freud had no yet established the concept of the unconscious mind, Shakespeare utilized this theory in his own writing. Freud may have used literature such as Hamlet Prince of Denmark to help achieve his outstand theories. Prince Hamlet is a very complex character and the ideas of Sigmund Freud can help describe his actions and emotions.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet Prince of Denmark. N.p.: Penguin, 1970. Print. Meyers, David G. Psychology. 8th ed. N.p.: Worth, 2007. Print.