Freud Explains Hamlet.

Discussion in 'Writing' started by PoliticalChic, Mar 23, 2011.

  1. PoliticalChic
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    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

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    It's been years since I studied 'Hamlet,' probably as long for most of us...but I found this interesting.
    Perhaps some will, also.


    The following is from the novel by Jed Rubenfeld, “The Interpretation of Murder.”

    I kept coming back to Hamlet and to Freud’s irresistible but infuriating solution to its riddle. In two sentences, Freud had demolished the long-sanding notion that Hamlet was the overly intellectual aesthete, constitutionally incapable of resolute action. As Freud pointed out, Hamlet repeatedly takes decisive action. He kills Polonius. He plans and executes his play-within-a-play, tricking Claudius into revealing his guilt. He sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths. Apparently there is just one thing he cannot do: take vengeance on the villain who killed his father and bedded his mother.

    And the reason, Freud says, the real reason, is simple. Hamlet sees in his uncle’s deeds his own secret wishes realized: his Oedipal wishes.

    Claudius has done only what Hamlet himself wants to do. “Thus the loathing which should drive him on to revenge”- to quote Freud- “is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience.” That Hamlet suffers from self-reproach is undeniable. Over and over, he castigates himself- excessively, almost irrationally. He even contemplates suicide. Or at least that is how the ‘To be, or not to be’ speech is always interpreted. Hamlet is wondering whether to take his own life. Why? Why does Hamlet feel guilty and suicidal when he thinks of avenging his father? No one in three hundred years had ever been able to explain the most famous soliloquy of all drama- until Freud.

    According to Freud, Hamlet knows- unconsciously- that he himself wished to kill his father and that he himself wished to replace his father in his mother’s bed, just as Claudius has done. Claudius is, therefore, the embodiment of Hamlet’s own secret wishes; he is a mirror of Hamlet himself. Hamlet’s thoughts run straight from revenge to guilt and suicide because he sees himself in his uncle. Killing Claudius would be both a reenactment of his own Oedipal desires and a kind of self-slaughter. That is why Hamlet is paralyzed. That is why he cannot take action. He is an hysteric, suffering from the overwhelming guilt of Oedipal desires he has not successfully repressed.

    Psychobabble...perhaps, but it does deal with some of the questions...
     
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  2. PoliticalChic
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    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

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    The solution to the ‘To be, or not to be’ speech. Ibid, p. 300.

    People have been trying to solve the ‘To be, or not to be’ speech for centuries. But no one has, because everyone has always thought that ‘not to be’ means to die. But there is a problem if your read it that way. The whole speech equates ‘not to be’ with action: taking up arms, taking vengeance, and so on. So if ‘not to be’ meant to die, then death would have the name of action on its side, when surely that title belongs to life. How did acting get on the side of not being? If we could answer that question, we would know why, for Hamlet, ‘to be’ means not to act, and then we would have solved the real riddle: why he doesn’t act, why he is paralyzed for so very long.
    You see, ‘not to be’ has a second meaning. The opposite of being is not only death. Not for Hamlet. To not be also means to ‘seem.’
    The clue has been there all along, at the very beginning of the play, where Hamlet says “Seems, madam? Nay it is. I know not ‘seems.’” Think of it. Denmark is rotten. Everyone ought to be in mourning for Hamlet’s father. His mother especially ought to be in mourning. He, Hamlet, ought to be king. Instead, Denmark is celebrating his mother’s marriage to, of all people, his loathsome uncle, who has assumed the throne.
    And what most galls him is the feigning of grief, the ‘seeming,’ the wearing of black by people who can’t wait to feast at the marriage tables and disport themselves like animals in their beds. Hamlet wants no part of such a world. He won’t pretend. He refuses to ‘seem.’ He ‘is.’
    Then he learns of his father’s murder. He swears revenge. But from that point on, he enters the world of seeming. His first step is to “put an antic disposition on- to pretend” to be mad. Next he listens in awe as an actor weeps for Hecuba. Then he actually instructs the players on how to pretend convincingly. He even writes a script for them himself, to be played that night, a scene he must pretend is anodyne, but that will actually reenact his father’s murder, in order to surprise his uncle into an admission of guilt.
    He is falling into the domain of playing, of seeming. For Hamleet, ‘To be, or not to be’ isn’t ‘to be, or not to exist.’ It’s ‘to be, or to seem;’ that’s the decision he has to make. To seem is to act- to feign, to play a part.
    So, not to be is to seem, and to seem is to act. ‘To be,’ therefore, is ‘not to act.’ Hence his paralysis! Hamlet was determined not to seem, and that meant never acting. If he holds to that determination, if he would ‘be,’ he cannot act. But if he would take arms and avenge his father he must act- he must choose to seem, rather than to be.
    Hamlet must deceive his uncle. It is universal: all action is acting. All performing is performance. To design means to plan, but also to deceive. To fabricate is to make with skill, but also to deceive. Art means deception. Craft- deception. If we would play a part in the world we must act.
     
  3. midcan5
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    midcan5 liberal / progressive

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    What!!!!! Sounds like pure gobbledygook to me. Hamlet was based on what was probably a factual situation with Shakespeare's incredible genius transforming it into a play for all time. Remember too the time it was written in, the thought of the consequences of an afterlife judged by our actions.

    "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? To die: to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
    To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause: there's the respect
    That makes calamity of so long life;
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
    The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
    The insolence of office and the spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pith and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action."

    —Act III, sc. i
     
  4. PoliticalChic
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    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

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    Thanks for the sililoquy...I do it from memory. You too?

    But, have you tried to explain the nature of the sililoquy, and looked at
    Freud's explanation?

    He sure ties up a lot of the loose ends.
     
  5. Baruch Menachem
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    Baruch Menachem '

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    I will give frued a little, but not too much.

    He is, like you note, saying that to be is to be a force in once life, to make things happen, rather than a passive thing. To act means to have a real existence, to just be a leaf driven by passing storms is a form of death.

    If we act, we may die in acting. if we do not act, we are, in effect, already dead.
     
  6. Ropey
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    Ropey To Life! Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    Freud?

    Supposedly it was said that in a group of people you could always tell Freud.

    You just couldn't tell him anything. :lol:
     
  7. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    Hamlet might be thought of as a struggle between Hamlet's ego and his superego.

    His superego, which is offended by the incestuous nature of his mother's marriage with his uncle, ultimately wins, incidently.
     

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