Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus Essay Sample


The sexual psychology seeks to explain the relationship that often exists between children and parents of the opposite sex. Sigmund Freud identified Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus as an exploration of repressed sexual childhood desires. Based on the assertion made by Freud in his theory, it is normally for a child to have a strong relationship with the parent of the opposite sex and to show hostility to the parent of the same sex. He states that such tendency is often realized in children who are three to five years of age, and that after, in older age, such feelings become suppressed. This discussion looks at Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus as explorations of the sexual psychology, which potentially underlines the relationships between Hamlet and Gertrude and Oedipus and Jocasta respectively.

Keywords: psychology, Oedipus Tyrannus, relationship, childhood desires

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Sigmund Freud identified Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus as an exploration of repressed sexual childhood desires. Critics continue interpreting Sophocles’ play in psychological terms. Shakespeare’s Hamlet exhibits a similar exploration of the psychological relationship between mothers and their sons. It is on this basis that the essay discusses Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus in terms of sexual psychology, representing relationships between the main characters of both books: Hamlet and Gertrude and Oedipus and Jocasta.  In their works, both Shakespeare and Sophocles potrayed the concept of psychologocal relationships that existed between mothers and their sons with respect to the principles of psychoanalysis.

A close look at psychoanalytic theory reveals that it has two distinct parts. For the sake of this analysis, the Freudian psychoanalysis will be taken as the main point of refernce. Freudian psychoanalysis addresses the unconscious mind with greater focus on external influences as it deconstructs the text. Freud states that a viable interpretation can hardly be achieved without doing an analysis of conflicts and symbols like the images in a dream and Freudian slips. The outlets are essential in making an analysis about the likeliness that one’s external behavior either coincides or conflicts the individual’s internal emotion. Freud mainly focuses on the aspect of sexuality and the Oedipus complex. It is an essential basis upon which one can understand the concept of repressed sexual feelings that a child is likely to develop toward a parent of the opposite sex. Wheelwright adds, “Oedipus performed both acts, the slaying of his father and the bedding of his mother…” (Wheelwright 1954, p 254).

The story of King Oedipus that slew his father Laius with an intention of marrying his mother Jocasta simply shows the fulfillment of people’s childhood desires (Feud, 1955, p.71). In the interpretation of dreams, Freud inaugurates the Oedipus complex theory but clarifies that the ‘riveting power’ of Oedipus is not entirely derived from the events. Its reason derives from the process of dramatic revelation and the great theatricality shown in the way in which a hero’s crime is portrayed and realized as it would be seen in a dream.

King Oedipus destiny is used in demonstrating it is everyone’s fate, “to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father” (Feud, 1955, p.70). The case of King Oedipus gives an indication of a situation where an individual’s childhood wishes are fulfilled. However, it is an indication of the need for children to detach their sexual impulses from the parent of the opposite sex. In using the Oedipus case, the poet compels his readers to be weary of the possibility of falling trap to the same negative feeling of the parents of the opposite sex. It warns children against living in ignorance of the kind of wishes that preoccupy their minds while embracing morality. The poet has brought about massive guilt that people can feel upon effective irresponsible acts of childhood desires (Feud, 1955, p.70).

Psychoanalysis determines the manner in which dreams are interpreted. Dramatization is the main technique of dreaming. He suggests that dreams are the hallucinatory fulfillment of an individual’s wish where people’s desires are replaced by their embodiments. In such situations, individual’s thoughts turn to become deeds. He suggests that thing-representation replaces world representations, hence qualifying the fact that a dream creates a world of picture-thoughts. The resemblance that exists between dream and drama is such that if a dream resembles drama, then the form of drama is embodied in dreams. Instead of simply acting as a mirror through which the outer world can be observed, drama provides an external form of the human mind’s internal dramaturgy that allows for invoking anything and bringing it to life.

Oedipus case also affirms the idea that dreams are hallucinatory fulfillment of one’s wish.  An oracle had warned Laius of a future predicament where the still unborn child would murder his father and take his mother for a wife (Feud, 1955, p69). Upon his birth, the child had to be rescued and taken to grow up as a prince in an alien court. He was warned to avoid his home for getting there would mark a fulfillment of the prophecy that he would murder his father. The fulfillment of the oracles prediction came when Oedipus met King Laius and slew him in a sudden quarrel.

Another instance of love between a mother and a son is evident in Shakespeare’s Hamlet   by the example of Gertrude and Hamlet. From the Hamlet, the sexual attraction between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude is evidenced when the mother married with Claudius. The action saw Hamlet despising his mother. It is evident that Hamlet was obsessed with his mother’s sexuality. He often complained about what he termed sexual actions as were portrayed by Claudius towards his mother, Gertrude. Though Hamlet has a choice to marry Ophelia, he does not portray the kind of attraction he expresses towards his mother. He even chooses to kill the King and persuade her mother that he is not mad. He said this in Act 3 scene 4.

The case of Hamlet depicts a child who can hardly forget his father even when all have resumed their merry lives and offerred conciliatory statements of wisdom. Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, seems to be comforted as she refers to the death of the husband as a common occurrence that is conditioned by God. Claudius also shows comfort as he calls upon God to protect them and to offer them peace on earth (Shakespeare,1999, xxx).  Hamlet feels much grief because of the observation that the mother and uncle do not feel any pain from the death of his beloved father. The pain intensifies due to the cold hearted act of the mother who made a move to marry her brother-in-law within a period of one month after the husband’s death. Hamlet had strong love for Gertrude but the act of treachery rips the fabric of his being. Hamlet tortures himself with memories of how tender the father was to his mother.            

As the play begins, we see a regular relationship of mother and son: Gertrude and Hamlet. When Getrude married Claudius, Hamlet got affected because he viewed the mother in a different manner for his childhood age (Shakespeare, 1999, p3). Gertrude notices some change in Hamlet but she avoids speaking it out to him. She does not openly show that she is affectionate towards the son to Act Three where she tells Hamlet about his offensive acts against Claudius. We then see Hamlet talking back by expressing his feelings. Gertrude’s love for her son was evident until the end. She made efforts to save her son to the point that she died doing so. The manner in which Shakespeare presents the relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet gives a clear indication of how childhood desires can manifest at older age. The way Hamlet was emotionally attached to the mother was manifested when the mother married Claudius. Gertrude also had a strong affection towards Hamlet as evident from her attempts to avoid harming him. An understanding of sexual psychology can be used to explain the underlining force of attraction that resulted in the lifelong relationship between the two. It is interesting that both the two male children have the autonomy to have their live away from their mothers, but this is never to be the case.

All through William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he depicts Hamlet to have similar behavior and challenges that are common to humans seen been Freud thereafter. Analyzing the relationship the mother had with her son, Hamlet makes the theory of Oedipus complex by Freud’s to appear in one’s mind.

In his book, “The Interpretation of Dreams”, Sigmund Freud first wrote about his theory. In a simple way, he states that it is very normal for children to have sexual desires for their parent of the opposite sex. He also suggested that the tendency of children to have feelings of hatred for the parents of the same sex is normal for children aged between three and five. Freud suggests that after this age the feelings either end or become suppressed by the societal morality. Freud states that the children that continue with the feelings into their adulthood are considered to have a state known as the Oedipus complex.

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Based on the Oedipus complex theory, children take their parents as their objects of erotic wishes (Freud, 1955, p71). The desire to have an intimate relationship with the parent of the opposite sex results in a rivalry between the child and the parent of the same sex. The relationship that Shakespeare portrays between Hamlet and his mother gives an indication that Shakespeare recognized the behavioral characteristics of the Oedipus complex in humanity as presented by Freud. He used the two characters to show this relationship as a true indication of the society and the human nature. The same is evident in the story of King Oedipus that slew his father Laius with an intention of marrying his mother Jocasta. The two instances simply show the fulfillment of people’s childhood desires.