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Week 7: Hamlet II

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Anne Jamison

on 31 July 2018

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Transcript of Week 7: Hamlet II

Freudian Psychology and Madness

2. Hamlet and Gertrude
3. Ophelia and Female Madness
1. Freudian Psychology
Sigmund Freud,
Interpretation of Dreams
(1900): http://producer.csi.edu/cdraney/2011/175/etexts/repression-hamlet_freud.pdf
'Insofar as Hamlet names Ophelia as 'woman' and 'frailty', substituting an ideological view of femininity for a personal one, is she indeed representative of Woman, and does her madness stand for the oppression of women in society as well as in tragedy?'

Elaine Showalter, 'Representing Ophelia', rptd. in William Shakespeare,
(London: Norton, 2011), p. 283.
Hamlet's Dilemma: to take revenge, or not to take revenge...

1. The veracity of the Ghost's story;
2. The morality of revenge;
3. "Am I a coward?";

4. Freudian psychology: the Oedipus Complex

Is there something in Hamlet's subconscious mind that prevents him from taking action against his Uncle and fulfilling his father's request to take revenge for his murder?
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Austrian physiologist, neurologist, and medical doctor;

Founding father of modern psychoanalysis;

Proposed a radically new conceptual and therapeutic frame of reference for the understanding of human psychological development and the treatment of abnormal mental conditions;

Specialised in nervous and brain disorders, including 'hysteria', and developed treatments for these mental diseases which relied on the recall of previous painful emotional and traumatic experiences;

From these early treatments and experiments, Freud concluded that humans have an 'unconscious' where sexual and other aggressive desires and impulses often compete for dominance in our conscious minds. Freud believed that human dreams were the unconscious expression of these desires.
'The plot of the drama ... shows us that Hamlet is by no means intended to appear as a character wholly incapable of action. On two separate occasions we see him assert himself: once in a sudden outburst of rage, when he stabs the eavesdropper behind the arras, and on the other occasion when he deliberately, and even craftily, with the complete unscrupulousness of a prince of the Renaissance, sends the two courtiers to the death which was intended for himself. What is it, then, that inhibits him in accomplishing the task which his father’s ghost has laid upon him? Here the explanation offers itself that it is the peculiar nature of this task. Hamlet is able to do anything but take vengeance upon the man who did away with his father and has taken his father’s place with his mother- the man who shows him in realization the repressed desires of his own childhood. The loathing which should have driven him to revenge is thus replaced by self-reproach, by conscientious scruples, which tell him that he himself is no better than the murderer whom he is required to punish. I have here translated into consciousness what had to remain unconscious in the mind of the hero; if anyone wishes to call Hamlet an hysterical subject I cannot but admit that this is the deduction to be drawn from my interpretation.'
The Interpretation of Dreams

Study of infantile sexuality

All young boys select their mother as their primary object of desire, and thus wish to subconsciously usurp their father's place.

Sigmund Freud, "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" (1909).
1. Thinking he might be the King, or one of the King's spies, Hamlet unwittingly murders Polonius:

'HAMLET: Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better: take thy fortune;
Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger.'
(Act 3, Scene 4)

2. Hamlet also engineers the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:

'HAMLET: Why, man, they did make love to this employment.
They are not near my conscience. Their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow.'
(Act 5, Scene 2)
If we can see that Hamlet is, sometimes, a man of remorseless and brutal action, what is it that truly prevents him from murdering the King?
1. King Claudius reawakens Hamlet's infantile and thus far repressed sexual desires for his mother;

2. Hamlet cannot act because Claudius represents Hamlet's repressed Oedipal desires and, unconsciously, Hamlet recognises himself in Claudius;

3. The waking life symptoms of this repression/recognition are Hamlet's anxiety over the morality of revenge and the veracity of the ghost's story, as well as his 'self-reproach', i.e. 'Am I a coward?'
Hamlet's Oedipal Desire
'As a child Hamlet had experienced the warmest affection for his mother, and this, as is always so, had contained elements of a disguised erotic quality ... 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 ... Feelings which once, in the infancy of long ago, were pleasurable desires can now, because of his repressions, only fill him with repulsion. The long 'repressed' desire to take his father's place in his mother's affection is stimulated to unconscious activity by the sight of someone usurping this place exactly as he himself had once longed to do ... 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.'

Ernest Jones, 'A Psycho-analytic Study of Hamlet' (1922) rptd. in William Shakespeare,
(London: Norton, 2012), pp. 265-67.
Female Sexuality
'HAMLET: O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer!
Oh, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!'
(Act 1, Scene 2)
Re-awakening of Hamlet's 'association of the idea of sexuality with his mother'
'HAMLET: Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty.'
(Act 3, Scene 4)

'HAMLET: Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed,
Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse,
And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses
Or paddling in your neck with his damned fingers.'
(Act 4, Scene 1)
Hamlet's repressed infant desires now fill him with repulsion for the female sexual body and this repulsion vies with the reawakening of these same desires.
'QUEEN: Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.
HAMLET: [Approaching OPHELIA] No, good mother, here's metal more attractive.'
(Act 3, Scene 2)
Hamlet exhibits an unconscious jealousy at his mother's marriage to the King.
'HAMLET: Frailty, thy name is woman!'
(Act 1, Scene 2)

'HAMLET: Get thee to a nunnery.'
(Act 3, Scene 1)
Hamlet subconsciously recognises that his Uncle is living out his repressed, infant desires to kill his father and sleep with his mother, and this governs his subsequent and conscious actions in the play and leads to Hamlet's madness.
If Hamlet is guided and controlled in his actions and behaviour by his unconscious repressed desires, can he also be said to act autonomously and rationally?
Madeline LeMaire (1880)
The Source of Ophelia's Madness

1. The death of her father, Polonius, by the hand of the man she loves, Hamlet:

'KING: Oh, this is the poison of deep grief; it springs
All from her father's death.'
(Act 4, Scene 5)

2. The loss of Hamlet's affections, as well as grief at his madness:

'OPHELIA: Oh, what noble mind is here o'erthrown!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled out of time and harsh,
That unmatched form and stature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. Oh, woe is me,
T'have seen what I have seen, see what I see!'
(Act 3, Scene 1)

3. Patriarchal Oppression?
Ophelia, at first, has her sexuality governed and controlled by male members of the court and her family, but as she descends into madness, this corresponds with a flowering of her free sexual expression.
Female Madness and Sexuality
Ophelia's expression of sexuality in her madness:

1 singing erotic/bawdy songs;
2. symbolic deflowering/losing of virginity.

'OPHELIA: There's rosemary, that's for remembrance
And there is pansies, that's for thoughts
There's fennel for you and columbines.'
(Act 4, Scene 5)
Madness or Autonomy?
Lecture Learning Objectives

1. What do you understand by the term 'Oedipus Complex'?

2. From a psychological perspective, how might you describe the nature of Hamlet's relationship with his mother, Gertrude?

3. Name one way in which Ophelia potentially demonstrates agency and autonomy in the play?
Autonomy and Gender

1. Hamlet attempts to make an informed and rational decision with regard to his deceased father's request to take revenge against King Claudius, and debates the right or moral course of action.
Hamlet is, thus, autonomous.

2. Ophelia's agency and autonomy in the play appear to be limited by virtue of her gender. She is not treated by others as someone who can make her own rational decisions about her body, her life, or her sexuality, and she largely obeys the commands of her father, her brother, and the King, even when these commands go against her own thinking.
Ophelia is, thus, not autonomous.
The Maiden (1912)
Gustav Klimt
1. Dreams represent unfulfilled sexual desires;

2. Dreams are often an attempt to resolve conflict in our lives.
and Freud
Hamlet acts quickly and without remorse in the matter of the deaths of Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern.
2. From a psychological perspective, how might you describe the nature of Hamlet's relationship with his mother, Gertrude?
'The sexual aversion which Hamlet expresses in conversation with Ophelia is perfectly consistent with this deduction.'

Sigmund Freud,
The Interpretation of Dreams
3. Name one way in which Ophelia potentially demonstrates agency and autonomy in the play?
As a result of his competing desires of attraction and revulsion for his mother, Hamlet begins to extend this revulsion to all women, including Ophelia.
'GERTRUDE: There on the pendant boughs her crownet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook.
Her clothes spread wide
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chaunted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element.'
(Act 4, Scene 7)
1. Is Ophelia truly mad or, like Hamlet, is there a possibility that her madness is feigned?
2. If her madness is fully or even partially an act, then can it be interpreted as an act of defiance and an explicit taking control of her own sexuality, as well as an expression of her so far repressed feelings for Hamlet?
3. Does Ophelia, in her madness, thus demonstrate agency and autonomy?
Suicide or Accident?
If Ophelia's death is by suicide, rather than by accident, can her death be interpreted as an act of agency and autonomy? A final rebellion against the patriarchal court of Elsinore and one which costs her her life?
'CLOWN: Will you ha' the truth on't? If this had not been
A gentlewoman, she should have been buried out o'
Christian burial.'
(Act 5, Scene 1)
Eugene Delacroix
Mariah Gale (2009)
Like Hamlet, does Ophelia feign, or partly feign, her madness?
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