The mystery of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a phantom of literary debate that has haunted readers throughout the centuries. Hamlet is a complete enigma; a puzzle scholars have tried to piece together since his introduction to the literary world. Throughout the course of Hamlet the reader is constantly striving to rationalize Hamlet’s odd behavior, mostly through the play’s written text. In doing so, many readers mistakenly draw their conclusions based on the surface content of Hamlet’s statements and actions.
When drawing into question Hamlet’s actions as well as his reasons for acting, many assume that Hamlet himself is fully aware of his own motives. This assumption in itself produces the very matter in question. Take for example Hamlet’s hesitation to kill the king. Hamlet believes that his desire to kill King Claudius is driven by his fathers’ demand for revenge. If this were true, Hamlet would kill Claudius the moment he has the chance, if not the moment he knows for sure that Claudius is guilty of murdering his father. Why does Hamlet hesitate? One must call into question what Hamlet holds to be true.
If Hamlet’s given motivation for killing the king is legitimate, then Claudius should die at about Act 3. Because Hamlet’s actions do not correspond with his given reasoning, one is forced to look for an alternate explanation for Hamlet’s behavior. In doing so, one will come to the conclusion that Hamlet is driven by forces other than what is obvious to the reader, as well as Hamlet himself. Given this example, one must denounce the assumption that Hamlet is aware of the forces that motivate him, and understand that Hamlet’s true motivation is unconscious This unconscious force is the true reason behind Hamlet’s mysterious behavior.
In naming this force, one must look beneath the surface of Hamlet’s own level of consciousness, and into what Hamlet himself is consciously unaware. The key to understanding Hamlet lies in the realization of the unconscious energy that provokes him to action and inaction. By channeling into Hamlet’s unconscious, providing both Freudian and Jungian psychoanalytical perspectives, Hamlet’s true unconscious motivation will be uncovered, and the mystery of Hamlet will be silenced. The term consciousness refers to “one’s awareness of internal and external stimuli.
The unconscious contains thoughts, memories, and desires that are well below the surface of awareness but that nonetheless exert great influence on behavior. “(Weiten) Jung and Freud agree upon the existence of the unconscious, but their perspectives are vastly different. The core of the Freudian perspective is centered around Hamlet’s relationship with his mother, and the aforementioned example concerning Hamlet and King Claudius. According to the Freudian view, Hamlet is driven by unconscious sexual desire and aggravation.
This sexual aggression is directed towards his mother and Claudius. The overall analysis of Hamlet’s behavior is represented in Jones’ statement, “So far as I can see, there is no escape from the conclusion that the cause of Hamlet’s hesitancy lies in some unconscious source of repugnance to his task” When Hamlet first hears the ghost’s call for revenge, he answers: Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift As mediation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge. (Act I, Sc. 5) Hamlet says this in Act I, yet Claudius is not killed until Act 5.
Surely Hamlet is not “sweeping” to revenge. Hamlet’s inability to act upon the ghost’s request cannot be linked to any uncertainty of the ghost’s claims, for in Act 3 Sc. 2 Hamlet states “I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound”. A probable conclusion lies in the possibly that Hamlet does not want to kill the king. Take into consideration the relationship between Hamlet and his mother. According to Freud, all boys develop a sense of sexuality at the early age of three. Due to the mother’s proximity to the child, the boys sexuality is directed toward the mother.
The child then develops a hatred for the main opposition for his mother’s affection-his father. The stage of development where a boy falls in love with his mother and wants to kill his father is called the Oedipus Complex. Hamlet exhibits signs of a lingering Oedipus Complex. Oedipus complex disappears when the young boy realizes “the impossibility of fulfilling the sexual wish for the mother”(Hall) The main factor in making the young boys wish impossible is the father. When Hamlet’s father dies, his main opposition disappears. This poses an opportunity for Hamlet to achieve his boyhood dream-to “have” his mother.
As Jones states, “The association of the idea of sexuality with his mother, buried since infancy, can no longer be concealed from his consciousness. ” These feelings are what drive Hamlet to self-repulsion, and ultimately to the question “To be or not to be-that is the question”,(Act3 Sc. 2)where Hamlet questions the worth of his own life. Hamlet’s unconscious desire for his mother is, as Jones says “Stimulated to unconscious activity by someone usurping this place exactly as he had once longed to do” In seeing Claudius take his father’s place by Gertrude’s side, Hamlet unconsciously realizes his own childhood desire to do the same.
In Hamlet’s statement “O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” (Act1 Sc. 2) , Hamlet reveals this realization. In his use of the word “incestuous” Hamlet projects his own feelings onto his mother and Claudius. Weiten defines Projection as : “Attributing one’s own thoughts, feelings, and motives to another” By calling the union between Claudius and his mother Gertrude “incestuous”, Hamlet informs the reader of his own imagined union with Gertrude; a union that would be “incestuous”. When Hamlet learns that Claudius killed his father, he cries “O my prophetic soul!
My uncle? “. Jones states “The two recent events, the father’s death and the mother’s second marriage, seemed to the world to have no inner casual relation to each other, but they represented ideas which in Hamlet’s unconscious fantasy had always been closely associated. ” These ideas found immediate expression in Hamlet’s cry. The murder of his father and the marriage of his mother are two concepts Hamlet has connected since boyhood, his “prophetic soul” anticipated Claudius being his father’s killer since Claudius had already married Gertrude.
Hamlet, having unconsciously recognized his sexual desire for his mother by seeing Claudius take the throne, realizes the other half of his lingering Oedipal complex in learning that Claudius killed his father. Claudius, by marrying Gertrude and killing Hamlet’s father, has done exactly what Hamlet has unconsciously longed to do since boyhood. As a result, Hamlet cannot kill Claudius, for Claudius in fact personifies Hamlet. This is the answer to the original question.
Hamlet hesitates to kill the king because “In reality his uncle incorporates the deepest and most buried part of his own personality, so that he cannot kill him without also killing himself”(Jones) Claudius represents Hamlet’s deepest and most secretive desires, and in killing Claudius, Hamlet would be forced to consciously recognize these desires. For this reason, Hamlet hesitates to grant the ghost’s call for revenge. Instead, Hamlet takes advantage of his dual with Laertes to produce the final solution-his own death, as well as the death of Claudius, his other self.
In the opposing view of the Jungian analyst, one would argue that there is much more to Hamlet than unconscious sexual aggression. Sex as a basis for all human behavior is simply too limited a concept; Jung claims that “there has to be more to it”. There are two forces that drive Hamlet. One is his anima, which is the “personification of the feminine nature of a man’s unconscious”(Platania). The second is Hamlet’s desire to reach individuation, which will be discussed later. In reference to the anima, Platania states that “we experience the opposite sex as the lost part of our own selves.
There is in each man a feminine side hidden beneath his masculinity. Ultimately, the anima seeks to gain balance by equaling out a man’s masculine and feminine tendencies. If there is good communication between the individual and the anima, balance can be achieved. But in Hamlet, as in most men, there is an inclination to ignore the voice of the anima. Hamlet is a victim to the age old belief that men cannot be in the least bit feminine. Because of this belief, Hamlet does not allow his feminine side to find conscious expression.
Within Hamlet, there is an unconscious battle between his anima, seeking an outlet for expression, and his conscious desire to be “masculine”. This battle is consciously expressed in the contrast between two of Hamlet’s sayings. In Act I Sc. 2 Hamlet says “frailty, thy name is woman! “, and in Act 2 Sc. 2 he says “what a piece of work is a man”. In contrast, these two statements show Hamlet degrading women-kind while uplifting man-kind. Hamlet is stating externally what is going on internally within his unconscious, namely his battle to repress femininity and promote masculinity.
One must assume that this battle between Hamlet’s anima and his masculinity is of great proportions, for in the process Hamlet develops a hatred for all femininity, namely women. This unconscious hatred is consciously expressed through Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia. Hamlet at one point loves Ophelia, “I loved you once”(Act3 Sc. 1), but then suddenly loses this love, “You should not have believed me, I loved you not. ” Hamlet’s change of heart is a result of his unconscious inner battle.
While he naturally wants to fall in love with Ophelia, Hamlet’s urge to repress all femininity within himself is so great that he comes to hate the femininity in Ophelia as well. The struggle within Hamlet is proven to be unconscious by Hamlet’s constant change of heart, as signified when Hamlet says “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum”(Act 5 sc. 1) Hamlet wants to love Ophelia, but is torn between his love and his unconscious desire to hate all femininity. Besides his animus, Hamlet is motivated by his desire to achieve individuation.
Jung says of individuation, “I use the term ‘individuation’ to denote the process by which a person becomes an individual”. Hamlet’s entire life is a journey to becoming an individual. To become an individual, one must become consciously aware of one’s own strengths and limitations. The actual journey to becoming individualized is unconscious, for the individual in not aware that he is on a journey. It is only after the individual has reached individuation that he becomes conscious of all aspects of his character. Before Hamlet can reach individuation, he must first recognize the part of himself that he keeps from consciousness.
The side of Hamlet that Hamlet himself restrains from acknowledging is known as the Shadow self. Platania defines the shadow as “an unconscious part of the personality characterized by traits and attitudes which the conscious tends to reject or ignore. ” The emergence of Hamlet’s shadow self is manifested in his “madness”. While in his state of “madness”, Hamlet says some very honest things about himself such as “I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in”(Act3 Sc. With this statement, Hamlet is acknowledging his shadow self; the parts of his character of which he is most ashamed.
Hamlet’s “madness” is the simple conscious recognition of the worst parts of his personality. In becoming consciously aware of his flaws, Hamlet is making the biggest step towards individuation. But remember, Hamlet at this point is still consciously unaware of his journey towards individuation. At this stage, Hamlet is not aware that he is on a journey, and is only semi-consciously aware of the worst parts of his character, and will not become fully aware until his journey is over.
Sadly, Hamlet does not make it to the end of his journey. Along the path to individuation Platania states that ” we split, we resist, we fly from the inevitable terror of our own personal death”. Perhaps this is the reason why Hamlet does not complete his journey. The realization of ones shadow self can be overwhelming, for with the acceptance of the shadow comes the “death” of one’s character. Hamlet does not reach individuation because he dies in his “madness”, having let his evil half tempt him into killing Polonius, Laertes, and Claudius.
Hamlet is not yet strong enough to recognize his shadow self, his “evil side”, and thus lets his darker half send him into death with blood on his hands. Provided both these Freudian and Jungian perspectives, two separate conclusions can be drawn concerning Hamlet’s unconscious motivation. The Freudian view would suggest that Hamlet is unconsciously inspired by repressed sexual desire and aggression. Hamlet, in witnessing King Claudius’ marriage of Gertrude, is reminded of his own boyhood fantasy to marry Gertrude. Likewise, Hamlet, in learning that Claudius killed his father, is reminded of own childhood fantasy to do the same.
The unconscious desires of Hamlet to kill his father and marry his mother is classified as the Oedipus Complex. Hamlet’s Oedipal complex is the reason for his self-reproach and loathing, finding expression due to the stimulation of his repressed desires. Hamlet comes to realize the duality between Claudius and himself, and therefore cannot bring himself to kill Claudius. In recognizing the similarities between himself and Claudius, Hamlet distinguishes the fact that Claudius is a part of his own personality, and that he cannot kill Claudius without killing himself.
As a result Hamlet’s only solution is to die along with Claudius. The Jungian view suggests that there is more to Hamlet than sexual desire. Hamlet is constantly trying to suppress his animus, the feminine side of his personality. In the struggle to do so, he develops an unconscious hatred for all femininity, as expressed in his relationship with Ophelia. The Jungian view also suggests that as a human being, Hamlet is on an unconscious spiritual quest towards individuation- the becoming of an individual. In order to become an individual, Hamlet must accept the darkest parts of his own personality, his Shadow self.
Hamlet’s supposed madness is a manifestation of the shadow self, in which Hamlet begins to accept his darker side. Yet Hamlet proves to be unready for the acceptance of his shadow self, and his dark half drives him to murder three characters, his step-father being one. Thus, by digging into Hamlet’s unconscious, his true unconscious motives have been unveiled. In overlooking the obvious, the true force behind Hamlet’s actions and inaction has been revealed, resulting in a final product that is an extensive comprehension of Hamlet’s character, and is, as Gertrude would say “more matter than art”.