Psychoanalysis of Hamlet

There are always three sides to a coin when it comes to psychology. Two being the heads and tails, the other being the thickness of the coin represented here by the why factor. No action is ever considered to be an accidental behavior, thus making Hamlet an intriguing subject of analysis. Critics of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet often debate the cognitive processes of young Hamlet’s mind. To examine Hamlet through a psychological perspective, one must use knowledge of behavioral psychology, which is the study of behavior that reveals inner thoughts.

Hamlet is a complex character full of deep emotions and developmental problems it is revealed through his actions, thoughts, and words portrayed during the play. Traumatic experiences in a person’s life can have serious mental repercussions, such as disconnection from others, self-blame, or permanent mental instability. Accordingly, Hamlet’s behavior demonstrates textbook symptoms of emotional and psychological damage. With the loss of his father, and the quick remarriage of his mother, the dramatic changes in the familiarity of life become the triggers for Hamlet’s change in behavior.

These psychological triggers are very relevant in patient cases today such as the remarrying of a parent, the death of close friend, or development during adolescence. The triggered behaviors become dangerous, as the ability of being able to confide in someone else does not seem a possibility to Hamlet. Losing a loved one is never easy, in Hamlets case the loss leads to a downward spiral of behavior that ultimately affects many different people in his kingdom. This problem of seeking comfort or advice in times of need is crucial for the development during adolescence.

Psychologists agree that bottling up emotions can cause explosive and irrational behavior, such as in the case of Hamlet. “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go. ” A person’s actions revel to the world what is going on in his or her mind to a tremendous extent. Hamlet’s actions in the play depict a mix of complex planning with sporadic displays of mental instability. Such actions such as the hesitation of killing Claudius, the murder of Polonius, and Hamlet’s interactions with Ophelia reveal Hamlets true mental state. Many critics have scrutinized the delay of Hamlet not killing Claudius over the years.

“Freud offered what seemed to many a decisive answer to this riddle for the ages: that Hamlet is stymied by the weird coincidence of Claudius’s crime with his own oedipal wishes. ” (Kilgore) This quote represents the deep internal conflict of Hamlet’s actions because of his obsession with his mother’s sexual behavior. “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” (Kilgore).

This quotation suggests that Hamlet wanted to be like Claudius subconsciously. In addition, this quote answers why Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Claudius is taken so heavily by young Hamlet. “Freud considered this complex the cornerstone of the superego and the nucleus of all human relationships. ” (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia) Next, the action of killing Polonius is one example of Hamlet’s temporary insanity. Moments after Hamlet fails to kill Claudius as he prays because he is unshriven; he slays Polonius under the impression it was Claudius.

The contradictory nature of these two decisions shows in behavioral psychology that Hamlet is emotionally unstable. This action also demonstrates that aggression has taken over reasoning. Emotions are one of man’s greatest strengths but can cause the greatest downfalls. For example, In Hamlet, Polonius’s murder eventually leads to Hamlets death at the hands of Polonius’s son. Hamlets lack of cognitive reasoning ultimately conflicts with his short-term plans as Hamlet is sent away from the kingdom by the man who he is trying to murder.

This shows that the catastrophe occurs as a result of instinctive reactions rather than pre-meditation. “To inhibit actively one’s behavior is stressful and disease related; when individuals do not or cannot express thoughts and feelings concerning a traumatic event (i. e. , when they engage in behavioral inhibition), there is an increased probability of having obsessive thoughts about the event and of having illnesses in the long run” (Kelly). Keeping secrets from people or being burdened by others secrets is an action that can be harmful in every aspect of health.

Hamlets action of keeping secrets from others is representative of his mistrust in people. Hamlet has no one to confide in which leads to irrational decisions and obsession. Most psychologists agree that having someone to confide in is crucial in the developmental process. The act of not revealing such traumatic information destroys Hamlet from a mental perspective and causes Hamlet to slip in and out of sanity. The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is an example of the destructive nature secrets can cause.

Good relationships are built on the fundamentals of trust and communication; neither of which is demonstrated in their relationship. Hamlet’s subconscious mistrust in the ability of people to keep secrets is projected into the communication of their relationship. Ophelia thinks that Hamlet has gone insane, and this lack of communication drives her into madness and her death. Secrets can inadvertently destroy many people, making them more dangerous through the subconscious influences. All authors project their own life experiences and thoughts subconsciously in to their literature.

“Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet who died of the bubonic plague years before the play Hamlet. ”(Wheeler 127-153) It is through this loss of Shakespeare’s own child that the play takes on a deeper psychological aspect. Hamlets “to be or not to be” soliloquy can be viewed as a projection into the troubles facing Shakespeare during his own life. The loss of a loved one is a powerful influence and subconsciously can cause feelings of depression and suicide. This soliloquy is one of the most recognized worldwide due to its contemplation of life and death due to the struggles that face Hamlet.

“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”. (Shakespeare) Hamlet is clinically depressed and overwhelmed by the troubles in his life. Not even being able to kill the murderer of his father, he is unlikely that to kill himself. “Shakespeare presents us with a vivid recital of the thought processes of a man making up his mind about a critical step in his life”.

Thus many people believe that hamlet is overthinking the problem. Thus if this soliloquy was recited to a psychiatrist he would recommend anti-depressant medication. Contemplating life and death is a process that we all do at different points in life. However, it is the manner in which we approach our lives and deaths that define us as individuals. Hamlet has received a liberal education; thus his learned critical thinking and questioning about every action causes obsessive self-criticism.

Hamlet’s soliloquy of Act 2 Scene 2 shows his innermost feelings of self-disgust about his inaction. “But I am a pigeon-livered and lack gall to make oppression better, or ere this I should have fattened all the regions kites with this slave’s offal. ” (Shakespeare) Thus, this harsh self-criticism leads to Hamlet making irrational decisions. In teenagers the frontal lobe is still in the developmental stages, and affecting his self-perception in addition to his decision making. Hamlet is the perfect storm of decisions based on pathos rather than logos.

Hamlet’s decisions, although sometime requiring calculation, often are unrealistic and impetuous representing the trial and error method of learning. Hamlet’s words are invaluable to the shaping of his character. His attitude towards the murder of Polonius disconnects him from the norms of society. Making jokes about the body of someone whom he just murdered demonstrates almost a psychopathic tendency brought about by intense levels of stress. In addition to this, Hamlet is in a position where his actions do not have repercussions evidenced by the town looking the other way on his actions.

The psychological effect of having no consequences for actions starting at a young age can have disastrous effects of the development during adolescence; and often in cases can lead to the development of Oppositional defiance disorder children. Children with ODD “have little (or no) regard for what their parents or society expect of them. ”(Abraham) Hamlet does not care about how he should behave in society and does as he pleases. Hamlet feels entitled to manipulate the lives of others for his own personal success and has no regard for anyone’s welfare but his own.

Hamlet was set up for failure in societal norms from childhood. Other insights into Hamlet’s mental state can be examined through Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship. The words” I loved Ophelia forty thousand brothers/ could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. ” (Shakespeare 296). Hamlet is under false pretenses of what love means due to his adolescence, demonstrated by his harsh words to Ophelia and inability to communicate his distresses and concerns with her.

In addition Ophelia’s and Hamlets relationship is skewed by how he perceives own mother and women in general. This is demonstrated by Hamlet’s command “Get thee to a nunnery,” which reveals that he holds the belief that all women are whores. Nunnery was a colloquium, which meant brothel in Shakespeare’s day. The projections of past experiences to present experiences dramatically affect his relationships. Hamlet’s unkind attitude and words to others ultimately affect the lives of people around him substantially.

In conclusion, Hamlets complexity and behavior is attributed to adolescence and going through life crises that trigger developmental and textbook psychology issues. Using Hamlets actions, thoughts, and words gives the reader a microscope for further examination the character. Shakespeare was a master of creating complex characters, some based on his real life experiences. Hamlet’s reactions to the changes in hi+s life much reflect the type of behavioral changes people in real life experience after similar trauma. Hamlet has been a popular subject for psychoanalysis since the discipline became popular.

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