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Psychoanalytical Analysis of Hamlet

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Ashley Barajas

on 6 May 2015

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Transcript of Psychoanalytical Analysis of Hamlet

Ego Defense Mechanisms

In George Eman Vaillant's (1977) categorization, defenses form a continuum related to their psychoanalytical developmental level. Vaillant's levels are:
Level I - pathological defenses (i.e. psychotic denial, delusional projection)
Level II - immature defenses (i.e. fantasy, projection, passive aggression, acting out)
Level III - neurotic defenses (i.e. intellectualization, reaction formation, dissociation, displacement, repression)
Level IV - mature defenses (i.e. humor, sublimation, suppression, altruism, anticipation)
("Ego Defense Mechanisms - Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory.")
Level I - Pathological

"The mechanisms on this level, when predominating, almost always are severely pathological. These four defenses, in conjunction, permit one to effectively rearrange external experiences to eliminate the need to cope with reality. The pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear irrational or insane to others. These are the "psychotic" defenses, common in overt psychosis. However, they are found in dreams and throughout childhood as well."
"Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn't exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality."
This is seen when looking at the similarities of Hamlet and Claudius. Hamlet and Claudius are similar in how they choose to gain power, through murder, because of this Hamlet puts off killing Claudius. He is in denial of them being similar, and does not want to be compared to Claudius.
Splitting: An individual sees others as ultimately evil/bad or ultimately good. There is no in between for them.
Hamlet sees Horatio as a perfectly good person, whereas Claudius is purely bad. He never considers seeing the one as either of the opposite.

Level 2 - Immature
"These mechanisms are often present in adults and more commonly present in adolescents. These mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety provoked by threatening people or by uncomfortable reality. People who excessively use such defenses are seen as socially undesirable in that they are immature, difficult to deal with and seriously out of touch with reality. These are the so-called "immature" defenses and overuse almost always leads to serious problems in a person's ability to cope effectively. These defenses are often seen in severe depression and personality disorders. In adolescence, the occurrence of all of these defenses is normal."
Acting out: Behaving out of character.
"I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."
Hamlet's arguable "Madness"
"Fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts."
Hamlet "sees" the ghost of his father in his mother's closet. The "ghost" acts as Hamlet's conscience, helping and scolding him with his current situation.
Level 3 - Neurotic
"These mechanisms are considered neurotic, but fairly common in adults. Such defenses have short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause long-term problems in relationships, work and in enjoying life when used as one's primary style of coping with the world."
Displacement: Placing negative feelings for one individual(s) onto an other or others because the original target or cause of these feelings may be too "frightening or threatening. For example, a mother may yell at her child because she is angry with her husband."
"Get thee to a nunnery"
In this conversation, Hamlet isn't actually mad at Ophelia, he is frustrated with himself and that he is being watched by his family. To get rid of some of this frustration, Hamlet scolds Ophelia and points out here faults, even though she hasn't done anything to harm him.
"Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one's personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought."
Hamlet's madness can also be viewed in this way. He is still mourning over his father and is still depressed, shown through his major soliloquies, but he chooses a different approach to these feelings, covering them up with his "insanity".
Level 4 - Mature
"These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature, even though many have their origins in an immature stage of development. They have been adapted through the years in order to optimize success in life and relationships. The use of these defenses enhances pleasure and feelings of control. These defenses help us integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts, while still remaining effective. Those who use these mechanisms are usually considered virtuous."
Humor: Usually because the original topic of conversation is unpleasant to speak of, an individual will try to avoid speaking of it with humor.
Hamlet's conversation with Polonius (93-97) and then with Claudius (195-199).
Although these are both supposed to be serious conversations, Hamlet makes them humorous and out smarts them both, making them seem like his lesser.
Psychological Disorders
A mental disorder or psychiatric disorder is a mental, behavioral pattern or anomaly that causes distress or disability, and which is not developmentally or socially normative. Mental disorders are generally defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, or thinks.
Hamlet can be diagnosed with multiple psychological disorders, most of which can be seen within his “ To be or not to be" soliloquy . Of the few disorders listed below, acute stress disorder would be his closest diagnosis because it was the death of his father that initially sent him into depression and caused his stress. His father's second coming can be taken as a hallucination which is a result of his schizophrenia. Although he fits the criteria of many disorders, he can not be diagnosed unless he was able to fit all requirements to any said diagnosis. This leaves us to conclude he may not have been crazy, just troubled. He struggled with seeking revenge on his fathers death, and the new addition of Claudius to his family.
Sabrina, Ashley, Janelle, and Drew
Symptoms include
1. Delusions
2. Hallucinations
3. Disorganized speech
4.Abnormal psychomotor behavior
Hamlet shows some of these symptoms throughout the story. The most memorable is in Act 3 when hamlet interacts with the ghost and his mother which could be taken as a delusion or hallucination.
While speaking with Polonius in Act 2, his speech is disorganized
Hamlet's Soliloquy
Acute Stress Disorder
Context: Hamlet is left alone in this moment of Act 2, Scene 2 after speaking with Polonius and the players, recently discussing the play they would be acting and rehearsing for the actual performance.
Criteria: The person was exposed to death or threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violation, in one or more of the following ways: experiencing the event personally, witnessing the event, learning that a violent or accidental death or threat of death occurred to a close other, or experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the event
Psychological Context:
Hamlet's subconscious is in battle at this moment, thus making his ego suffer, since it is the compromises the ideas of the id and the superego. As seen in this soliloquy, Hamlet is angry, full of hate towards himself, and full of jealousy towards a player. In example, he says insults to himself by saying that he is "a rogue and peasant slave" and "remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain" because it is torturing him that the player has the ability to move his audience and probably fulfill Hamlet's revenge quicker than Hamlet's 'peaking' "Like John-a dreams".Hamlet's angry is caused by the conflict by the id, who has the strong desire to kill Claudius immediately, and by the superego, who just doesn't want to kill Claudius because Hamlet fears that he would be called "villain" and be punished, in example, breaking '[his] plate across" and plucking "[his] beard...", even though the real villain is Claudius. The two opposite ideas of the id and superego are making Hamlet hate himself and hate the player.
Psychoanalytic criticism is the analyzing of a piece of literature through theories of psychology. The main theories are derived from Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry from the Czech Republic. He developed a method through which an analyst unpacks unconscious conflicts based on the free associations, dreams, and fantasies of the patient. He theories on child development and the ego are some of the most influential academic concepts of the 20th century.
Subjective sense of numbing, detachment from others, or reduced responsiveness to events
Inability to remember at least one important aspect of the traumatic event
Avoids internal reminders of the trauma
Avoids external reminders of the trauma
Hyper vigilance
Irritable or aggressive behavior
Exaggerated startle response
Agitation or restlessness
Sigmund Freud
Child Development
1) Oral Stage
-Begins at birth
-Primary focus - Oral Cavity
-Pleasure of sucking and accepting things into the mouth
-Primary conflict of weaning - both deprives the child of sensory pleasures of nursing and of the psychological pleasure of being cared for, mothered, and held.
-Lasts about one and one-half years
2) Anal Stage
-The child's obsession with the erogenous zone of the anus and with the retention or expulsion of the feces.
-Child meets the conflict between the parent's demands and the child's desires and physical capabilities in one of two ways:he puts up a fight or he simply refuses.
-The resolution of this stage permanently affects the individual propensities to possession and attitudes towards authority.
-Lasts from one and one-half to two years.
3) Phallic Stage
-Erogenous zone - Genitals
-Stage in which the child will develop an unconscious sexual desires for their mother (Oedipus Complex)
-Oedipus Complex - Child competes with his father out of fear of castration. By identifying with his father, the boy develops masculine characteristics and identifies himself as a male, and represses his sexual feelings towards his mother.
4) Latency Stage
-The period in which the sexual drive lies dormant
-Children interact and play mostly with same sex peers
5) Genital Stage
-Final stage of development
-Child's energy focuses back on the genitals
-Adolescents direct their sexual urges onto opposite sex peers

"Ego Defense Mechanisms - Freudian Psychoanalytic
Theory." Tom&Ruth. N.p., 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://www.thomas-n-ruth.com/ego-defense-mechanisms.html>.

"Hamlet’s Modern Day Diagnosis |." N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013. <https://

"Psychoanalytic Criticism (1930s-present)." Purdue OWL:
Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism. N.p., 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/04/>.

Stevenson, David B. "Psychosexual Development." The
Victorian Web. N.p., 27 May 2001. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.victorianweb.org/science/freud/develop.html>.

Transmedial Shakespeare. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013. <http://
Death of King Hamlet created stress on hamlet because he was consumed by wanting to seek revenge
He became irritable, seen in his interactions with his family, and displaced his frustration on those around him for example his "get thee to a nunnery" monologue
he became detached and he no longer wished to interact with his family and friends because he felt decieved
Feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt
Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
ID, Ego, and Superego
"Freud asserted that people's behavior is affected by their unconscious: "...the notion that human beings are motivated, even driven, by desires, fears, needs, and conflicts of which they are unaware..." (Tyson 14-15).
Id, Ego, and Superego
Freud maintained that our desires and our unconscious conflicts give rise to three areas of the mind that wrestle for dominance as we grow from infancy, to childhood, to adulthood:
id - "...the location of the drives" or libido
ego - "...one of the major defenses against the power of the drives..." and home of the defenses listed above
superego - the area of the unconscious that houses Judgment (of self and others) and "...which begins to form during childhood as a result of the Oedipus complex" (Richter 1015-1016)"
("Psychoanalytic Criticism (1930s-present)")
Sigmund Freud, being a neurologist, understood that certain actions and processes occurred in the subconscious area of the mind. He began to develop theories relating these to the subconscious, specifically to dreams. He believed that dreams were connected to the dreamer. So, these dreams would be able to reveal information about the dreamer. Among developing other theories, he expanded upon his ideas of the Id, Ego, and Superego. Freud’s ideas are over eighty years old which has led to their outdating, but while his ideas are not directly used, they influence much of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. The Freudian concepts also maintain a high level of respect in the two fields of study.
Starting off, one must understand what the Id, Ego, and Superego are. Freud broke the mind down into several categories, as previously stated. The Id is the part of the mind that was the subconscious. The Id holds the libido, or “the sex drive”, and all unconscious wants and desires. The Id is a person’s ability to want to fulfill these desires immediately. It has been related to a child in the essence that a child wants something “now”, and if he or she doesn’t receive it, the child would have a tantrum. The Ego is your own conscious mind. The Ego serves as a form of mediator of the Id. Its purpose is to suppress intense feelings until there is a proper time for these emotions to be employed. The Ego would be a parent to the child, regulating the child’s desires to maintain his best interests. The Superego is mainly subconscious, but in part, it is conscious. The Superego is the portion of the mind that strives for a person to achieve perfection. The Superego wants to achieve perfection through being a “perfect person” as well as properly conforming to societal standards. It is also believed that the Superego generates the feeling of guilt in mankind. The Superego would be the boundaries of modern society set forth by the human mind. Combined, the Id, Ego, and Superego make up a person’s own mind.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Freud’s ideas are present. The Freudian creation of the concept of the Id, Ego, and Superego are specifically present in key characters in the play, these characters being King Claudius, uncle of Hamlet, the Ghost of the father of Hamlet, and Hamlet himself. As these characters are analyzed through the highly Freudian approach to psychoanalysis, we can understand the characters from the famous Freudian perspective. Claudius represents the Id in its entirety. He is at times childish in his behavior. He fuels his actions off of what he wants personally to benefit his own gain. He wants to keep hold of the throne and Gertrude, and he will partake in devious actions to do so, such as plotting to kill Hamlet while receiving no backlash or accusations against him. He thinks only in terms of what he wants and will not be stopped by anyone one who is in his way. The Ghost serves as a form of Superego to the trio. While he does want to have Claudius killed, he wants to right the wrongs made by his brother. If Claudius is killed, he will have been punished for his crime, resolving the quarrel. If vengeance is taken, while the concept goes against Victorian belief, balance will be brought back to the kingship of Denmark, and if balance is achieved, then perfection has been attained. Hamlet is the Ego. He wants to suppress the Id, Claudius, by killing him. But, throughout the play we see Hamlet delay his taking of revenge, like the Ego suppresses the Id. Hamlet still wants to satisfy the Id, but he waits till an opportune time to strike.
This method of the breakdown of the mind also applies individually to some of the characters, for example, Hamlet. Hamlet is a prime example as he demonstrates every section of the Id, Ego, and the Superego. The Id is Hamlet’s desire to avenge his father and secure the throne of Denmark for himself. The guidance of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father has only stimulated Hamlet’s Id. Before the Ghost’s appearance, Hamlet’s only possible motivation was his gain of the throne, swiftly taken by Claudius, but after the appearance, he has new motivation to act against his uncle. Hamlet eventually however, does take Claudius’ life. Perhaps, indirectly, the rampant state of Hamlet’s Id was what caused his death. Hamlet’s ego is shown throughout the play when he debates and stops himself from acting out against Claudius. Hamlet constantly deals with the internal battle to take revenge, and his Ego suppresses this feeling until it cannot any longer. While his Ego suppresses his Id, Hamlet’s Superego is also at work. The Superego’s purpose is to be perfect in the eyes of society. So, through speculation, it is possible that Hamlet’s thoughts of suicide and life after death are his Superego trying to be a perfect being. Perhaps the only way for Hamlet to accept the current state of society is for him to take his own life, so that the society and Denmark can function efficiently.
The End

What is it?
Psychoanalytic criticism adopts the methods of "reading" employed by Freud and later theorists to interpret texts. It argues that literary texts, like dreams, express the secret unconscious desires and anxieties of the author, that a literary work is a manifestation of the author's own neuroses. One may psychoanalyze a particular character within a literary work, but it is usually assumed that all such characters are projections of the author's psyche.
To be or not to be
Now I am alone...
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