The Psychoanalysis of Hamlet

The Psychoanalysis of Hamlet, a Shakespeare’s work

By: Syayid Sandi Sukandi
A Former Student of English department, Faculty of Letters, Andalas University, for the academic year 2003-2007
Reg. No. 03185014

1. Introduction

Literature is writings that are valued as works of art, especially fiction, drama, and poetry (Hornby, 1995:687). English Literature is literature written in English (Long, 1950:2). Obviously, English Literature is drama, fiction and poetry written in English. In English literature, we know some elements of literary work. One of them is character. Character is all the mental or moral qualities that make a person, a group, nation etc. different from others (Hornby, 1995:186). In this definition, there is a word ‘mental’. This word has a relation to psychological condition of the character. Meanwhile, dealing with the psychology, it is defined as the science or study of the mind and how it functions (Hornby, 1995:935).

Literature and psychology cannot be made and seen distinctively. Bernard Paris on his book The Uses of Psychology (233) stated that it is extremely valuable to bring literature and psychology together. The psychologists and artist often know about the same areas of experience, but they comprehend and present their knowledge in different ways (Fish, 2000:85). It means both artist and psychologists have statement that literature and psychology ara able to be in one body. Psychology helps us to talk about what the novelist knows; the fiction helps us to know what the psychologists are talking about. For writing about drama, analysis (a separation into elements) is an especially useful method (Kennedy, 1991:1523). This analysis method can be used to analyze Hamlet. The base of the analysis is related to character analysis. The character is Hamlet. In analyzing Hamlet, we will not be able to analyze it as we want to. We have to use theories so that the work can be analyzed.

2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

The plays of Sahkespeare are so full of contradictory thoughts expressed so convincingly in different context, that it is not possible to formulate a system of psychology out of them (Quennell, 1973:47). One of them is the system of psychology. Besides, it is also supported by the characteristics of Elizabethan play. It is long in written and poetic dialogues (Waluyo, 2001:67). The short synopsis taken from Hidayat (2003:10-19) and Ketut (1993) as follows: The drama or play is started with the scene about the situation after the late king is dead. The deaths of the king of Denmark make the people wondering. And also they wander why the Claudius, brother of the late king appoints himself as a new king and marries the queen Gertrude whereas Hamlet as prince of Denmark has right to be a new king of Denmark. The death of Hamlet’s father makes him so sad. Previously, he was known as an active, energetic, and cheerful man. Nowadays, he becomes a melancholic and sullen. He feels that there is something wrong with his father’s death. But his uncle Claudius whispers him that his father’s death because of snake’s bite.

Hamlet does not believe it, he thinks that his uncle is the snake who bites his father. Then, there are some guards guarding on platform before the castle of Elsinor. The time is midnight and the weather is very cold. Some guards are relieved; the new sentinels have brought their friend Horatioo, a scholar of Witterberg to guard with them. Horatio tells Hamlet that there was an awful event. It was when they were discussing, the fearful spectacle, the ghost, reappears so that sentinel who have been skeptical, is forced to believe. For the first time, Hamlet does not believe but Horation convinces him. At least Hamlet wants to watch it together with them. Hamlet feels curious to know why his father wanders in the night. Hamlet pretends to be mad. He acts this to avoid Caludius’ suspection. Because Hamlet’ successful, the king and the queen become sure that Hamlet has been mad. They consider that the death of his father makes him sorrowful, so that he gets mad. When they are on the platform, they discussed about the bad habit of the aristocracy. The king and his followers often make the drunken feast, so they forget their duty to the kingdom. While they discuss, the ghost reappears. Hamlet approaches the ghost and the ghost about say to secret of his murder. Then, the scene change into an action of Hamlet’s mourning being left by the king. Then, the scene comes to the Polonius family.

Polonius gladly gives a second blessing to his son, as it enables him to show off some superficial knowledge of the world which he calls wisdom. This time, Hamlet is described about Ophelia. A second night has come. The prince has going to meet his royal father’s spirit. With perfect moral courage he approaches the ghost. The ghost reveals to his son alone the secret of his violent death at the hands of a brother. He asks Hamlet to revenge for his foul. Hamlet seems doubt about the spirit of his father. It is real or it just a devil. In another side, he had a conflict with Ophelia and then showing his attention to his mother. (You can read the synopsis through the book we use to read it further)

3. Psychoanalytic Criticism

Based on the Oxford dictionary, psychoanalysis means a method of treating somebody’s mental problems or disorders by making them aware of experiences in their early life and tracing the connection between these and their present behavior or feelings (Hornby, 1995:935). In literary criticism, we also can call it as psychological criticism. For literary criticism, aside from the obvious biographical clues, psychoanalysis ha illuminated the whole province of imagery and symbolism (Muller, 1973:155). Imagery and symbolism means a part of the analysis on the literary work, which for this context is character. Until this time, the most obvious used theory in psychoanalysis is the theory of Sigmund Freud (1856-1989) stated by Ratna (2005:62). Freud’s main principles are so familiar and so generally accepted today that they no longer require explanation or defense; their usefulness has been thoroughly demonstrated, both in practice and theory (Muller, 1973:144). In addition, it can also turn from the author and the work to the reader seeking to explain why we, as readers, respond in certain ways (Barnet, 2003:114). Fundamentally, Freud’s view of mental life is congenial to the artist, even apart from the ease with which it maybe translated back into the ancient dramatic terms of the conflict between the powers of light and darkness, good or devil (Muller, 1973:156). Moreover, the most important issues on psychoanalytic criticism are the center of literary criticism recently, and it is focused on the unconscious processes (Muller, 1973:152). There are psychoanalysts focused on the unconscious processes in literary criticism. They are not only Sigmund Freud but also Carl Jung, Maud Bodkin, Ernest Jones, Jacques Lacan, and Julia Kristeva (Selden, 1992:222).

4. Psychoanalysis on Hamlet

There are some statements from psychoanalysts about Hamlet. The Shakespeare and the character are central to any discussion of Shakespeare’s work. Hamlet has been described as melancholic and neurotic, as having and Oedipus feeling, as being failure and Indecisive, as well as being a hero, and a perfect Renaissance prince. These judgments serve perhaps only to show how many interpretations of one character may be put forward (Carter, 2001:80). The example of Hamlet usually illustrates the different kinds of Freudian. Interpretation which are possible. Freud threats Hamlet as a subject for psychoanalysis. He finds in him a conflict between impulse and repression. While Hamlet’s instinct (his oedipal feelings) are repressed, he remains ‘normal’, but once his drives are force into consciousness, he is flung into a state of neurosis. It is not clear whether Freud believes that Shakespeare possessed psychoanalytic insights, or that the play projects the dramatist’s own psyche (Selden, 1992:223). In Hamlet and Oedipus (1949), Ernest Jones amplifying some comments by Freud, argued that Hamlet delays killing Claudius because Claudius’ (who has killed Hamlet’s father and married Hamlet’s mother) has done exactly what Hamlet himself wanted to do. For Hamlet to kill Claudius, then, would to kill himself (Barnet, 2003:114). The word ‘Oedipus Complex’ means the unconscious sexual desire of a child for the parent of the opposite sex, especially, of a boy for his mother and the resulting jealous feelings toward the other parent (Hornby, 1995:81). Based on this definition, the feeling of jealousy tom Caludius in marrying his father has led him to the process of unconsciously wanted to kill Claudius. But then, he realized that it was a simple victim so he changes to Polonius.

5. Conclusion

In a whole definition based the psychoanalyst, we conclude that the Oedipus complex in Hamlet existed because the feeling of jealousy to Claudius after Hamlet’s father death. The culture of marrying brother of the dead husband has caused a conflict internally to Hamlet’s character. As we can see, the feeling of Oedipus complex is not only in Hamlet but all of human being felt that. Nevertheless, it is not as harmful as Hamlet.


(If you want to have the books that I use, you may click the link that I have provided for you under each item that you think important)

  • Hidayat, Arif. 2003. Oedipus Complex as seen In D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. A thesis. Padang; English Departement, UNAND.
  • Ketut, Pangestu. 1993. Tragedy and Distraction in Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet Prince of Denmark’, antropos of love, murder and revenge. Unand.
  • Ratna, Nyoman Kutha. 2005. Teoti, Metode dan Teknik Penelitian Sastra. Yogyakarta; Pustaka Pelajar.
  • Reaske, Christopher Russell. 1966. Analyze Drama. USA: Monarch Press. (Get the book here: How to Analyze Drama)
  • Waluyo, Herman J. 2001. Drama: Teknik dan Pengajarannya. Yogyakarta: Hanindhita Graha Widia.

Author: Syayid

Syayid Sandi Sukandi is a person who is just like you. He loves to meet new people. He likes to learn new things and opens his horizon to understand how this world works. He is happy to help you when he can. His personal blog is Sparkling Silent Silhouette ( He can be contacted at e-mails: or He has a YouTube channel @Mr.Syayid's Corner. He is active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You may follow and subscribe to his creativity and works there. Enjoy different perspective and insightful ideas!

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