William Shakespeare 's The Oedipus Complex Essay

William Shakespeare 's The Oedipus Complex Essay

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In the early 20th century, the famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud described an idea that he termed “the Oedipus Complex.” According to Freud’s theory, every man, at some stage in life, has a desire to kill his father and marry his mother. The first appearance of the Oedipus Complex in literature is in the tragic play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. In this tragedy, Oedipus returns to his hometown of Thebes, kills his father, and marries his mother, although at the time he does not know they are his parents. In addition to referencing Oedipus Rex, Freud also uses Hamlet by William Shakespeare as a literary example of the Oedipus Complex. According to the Freudian interpretation of the play, Hamlet harbors a secret desire to sleep with his mother, Gertrude. This inner yearning of Hamlet’s, which is a significant theme throughout the play, manifests itself in the beginning of the play with Hamlet’s unusual obsession with his mother’s sexuality. As the play continues, Hamlet’s subtle comments turn into more obvious, explicit remarks that clearly convey his desires and emotions. The scene which is most crucial to the development of the character of Hamlet and his Oedipal Complex is act 3 scene 4, when he speaks with Gertrude in her bedroom.
At the beginning of Hamlet, Hamlet’s Oedipal Complex slowly reveals itself through vague references to his mother’s sexuality. For example, Hamlet says early in the play, “O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (31). Normally, a son should not discuss his mother’s sex life, but here Hamlet openly speaks about his mother’s eagerness to get in bed with his uncle. This atypical obsession with his mother’s sexual history reveals his subconscious sexual attraction to her. ...


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...t. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet’s Oedipal Complex consists mainly of vague, sporadic references that betray an obsession with his mother’s sexuality. As the play continues, Hamlet displays his discontent with Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage by referring to it as incest, and he cannot kill Claudius because Claudius achieved Hamlet’s goal of marrying Gertrude. Hamlet’s Oedipal Complex peaks in act 3 scene 4, when Hamlet uses more vivid, sexual language than before, and he expressly forbids his mother from having sex with Claudius. This scene is pivotal in the development of this central theme to the play. Shakespeare may have been ahead of his time creating a character such as Hamlet with abnormal desires towards his mother and father, but, as Freud posited centuries later, this fictional depiction reflects hidden feelings that are more common than we think.

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