Psychoanalytical Criticism in Hamlet
Psychoanalytical criticism in Hamlet There is a whole lot that goes on inside our bodies and minds that most of us are unaware are even occurring. Looking into one’s psyche, these unknown occurrences become clear as well as the motives behind them. Psychoanalytical criticism takes a look at all these psychological occurrences. It explores how the human mental and psychological development occurs and how the human mind really works. It also looks at the root causes of psychological problems in individuals.
Sigmund Freud, the man who developed psychoanalytical criticism, explained how the psyche works together with the help of his iceberg theory. Freud’s iceberg consists of the conscious mind which is the part of the iceberg that is above water and the preconscious and unconscious mind that is hidden beneath the surface of the water as well as deep within our minds. The conscious makes up our thought process and everything we know and remember. The preconscious consists of all our stored knowledge and our memories.
Our unconscious mind holds all our fears, violent motives, selfish needs, immoral urges and wishes, shameful experiences, and unchecked sexual desires (Topography of Mind: Freud’s Iceberg Model for Unconscious, Pre-conscious, ; Conscious). While each level of the mind contains its own set of qualities, these traits work together as one “iceberg” to make up our human psyche. Freud furthered his iceberg theory as he developed the id, ego, and superego character types.
The id makes up our unconscious mind (Cube of Space: Psychological Space: The Metapsychology of the Cube of Space: The Dimensions of Consciousness ; the Structure of Human Experience: With Qualia) and all the “evil” that, if not controlled, will seep out into the conscious mind. Being composed of rage, depression, and addiction amongst other “evils” (Psychoanalytic Criticism Notes), it is fair to say the id is the little devil perched on your shoulder urging you to do something that goes against morals or that society disapproves of.
Its these morals and social influences that make up the superego, which responds to the parental demands and immediate social influences such as laws or religious morals (Psychoanalytic Criticism Notes). The superego is the angel sitting on the other shoulder telling us to do “what’s right”. In our conscious mind, the superego is what we know as our conscience. Both the id and superego sway greatly on direction making them comlete opposites, but the ego is the “ideal self” trying to find the happy balance between the id deires and the superego restrictions (Psychoanalytic Criticism Notes).
The ego and superego both make up the preconscious mind as we are more respondant to them than we are to the “evils” of id character (Cube of Space: Psychological Space: The Metapsychology of the Cube of Space: The Dimensions of Consciousness ; the Structure of Human Experience: With Qualia). But once again, all three parts work together to make up Freud’s iceberg of the human psyche. Freud also had a theory about our parental relationships and how they significantly determine how we relate to others throughout life.
Freud believed the id in all of us desired the destruction of the same sex parent in order to be in union with the opposite sex parents (Psychoanalytic Criticism Notes). In other words, we tend to seek life partners that resemble our opposite sex parent, wether we consciously know we are doing this or it is an unconscious occurance. Taking a look into William Shakespear’s Hamlet, Freud’s theories are supported in one way or another.
In Act III Scene I during Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” (Literature Connections, Line 57) sololique, the id, ego, and superego can all be seen. Hamlet says “To be or not to be” refurring to committing suicide – suicide which falls into the “evils” of the id. Since wanting to kill oneself is not a normal thing to desire, it can be concluded that Hamlet has lost control of his id psyche which is understandable given his father was recently murdered by his uncle who then married Hamlet’s mother (Literature Connections).
It is these traumatic occurances that caue Hamlet to be unable to control these emerging suicidal thoughts. Just as Hamlet seems to have hit rock bottom, the superego in him reminds him suicide is against his beliefs and he must not go through with these evil desires (Literature Connections, Line 71-79). Hamlet must do “what’s right” as his superego calls him to. The battle back and forth between suicide and what’s right is Hamlet’s ego trying to find the balance between his id desires for suicide and the superego protesting he must not ill himself. Claudius also shows id character when it is revealed he is an alcoholic (Literature Connections, Line 176) early in Act I Scene II. It is obvious that alcoholism is an addiction, and addiction is a characteristic of the unconscious mind and the id character. Claudius’ id comes our again later in the play when the audience finds out he killed his brother, King Hamlet, for his own selfish desires for the thrown and kingdom. Claudius inability to control his desire for power exposed violent motives contained in our unconcious id.
Claudius’ confession of his foul deed is seen in Act III Scene III when he is unable to pray for forgiveness of his acts (Literature Connections, Lines 46-49). In this same scene, Claudius’ superego and ego are seen as well considering he knows he must ask for forgiveness since it is “what’s right”, but the superego balance is not met when the id’s continuing selfish desires for the crown of Denmark overpowers doing “what’s right” and asking for forgiveness.
Freud’s theory on parental relationships is evident in the scene where Hamlet scolds his mother for her marriage to Claudius (Literature Connections, Act III Scene IV). Hamlet asks his mother to not “live In the rank swear of an esteamed bed, stewed in corruption” (Literature Connections, Line 93-95). At first glance it seems as though Hamlet is simply asking his mother not to have a sexual relationship with Claudius, but looking deeper an alternate motive for him asking about his mother’s sex life.
Due to the way Hamlet brings up this subject without any real reason to, suggests that Hamlet’s alternate motive would be he desires to have his mother for himself. According to Freud, Hamlet most likely does not even realize he desires this type of relationship with his mother since it fits into the properties of the unconscious mind that hold immoral and unacceptable desires. These desires for his mother also give Hamlet another motive for killing Claudius other than the revenge the ghost has called for Hamlet to obtain.
Hamlet’s actions and motives easily fall into Freud’s unconscious id characteristics that influence parental relationships. At first Freud’s theories on the human psyche seem to be a extreme, but put into perspective, Freud’s psychoanalytical theories are not far off of how the human mind functions wether we are aware of these psycological occurances or not – that is the difference between out conscious and unconscious mind. Developed many many years ago, Freud’s iceberg theory is still used today to analysize both the human mind and the minds of characters in literature.