ENGL 202 Intro to English Studies II
Professor Samuel Smith
Draft Pages incorporating sources
28 March 2013
Motivations of an Avenger and Procrastinator
Now is his chance. His prey stands directly in front of him, completely vulnerable. The prey who has killed the hunter’s father and married his mother is finally unguarded with the hunter waiting in the wings. The killer has a perfect opportunity to enact revenge on the man who tore his family apart, but he hesitates. He cannot bring himself to murder a guilty man and claim the throne that is rightfully his. For centuries, scholars have debated what could have caused this moment of hesitation in Hamlet against his uncle, Claudius. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst of the late 19th and early 20th century, suggested in The Interpretation of Dreams that William Shakespeare’s marvelous character, Hamlet, suffered from what Freud named “Oedipus Complex,” a disorder in which a male holds an incestuous desire for his mother and therefore resents his father. Freud believed that “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” (163-164). At the moment when Hamlet could have taken revenge against Claudius, Freud believed that Hamlet’s repressed childhood desires resurfaced. This causes Hamlet to hesitate— how could he kill someone who has done the same thing that Hamlet subconsciously wishes to do?
While Freud’s hypothesis initially found popular support and influenced some of his followers, Hamlet’s hesitation in Act 3 scene 3 and his actions and motivations throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet can be attributed to something more verifiable than Freud’s “Oedipus
Complex” theory, for Freud’s speculations about the subconscious mind cannot be proven or disproven. By analyzing Hamlet’s words and actions, we can prove that Hamlet’s motivations comes from a deep love and reverence for his father and a desire to uphold his father’s reputation.
From Hamlet’s first moments upon the stage, he shows true allegiance to his father. Although King Hamlet died less than two months prior to the start of the play, Hamlet is the only one who still mourns for the beloved king. Meanwhile, Hamlet’s mother has remarried to Hamlet’s uncle. During a time when the country should mourn for its fallen ruler, they celebrate a new marriage and king. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he shows his dismay regarding this ironic situation: “But two months dead – nay, not so much, not two – / So excellent a king, that was to this / Hyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother…” (Ham 1.2.138-140). Hamlet showers praise on his father. He compares his father to Hyperion, “a summit of god-like perfections, beauty, and wisdom combined,” whereas Claudius is a satyr, a “hairy, horned, and lustful, a bestial creature of mere appetite” (Kahn 135). He cannot understand how his mother could have chosen Claudius so soon after King Hamlet’s death, especially since he treated her so well, not even “beteem[ing] the winds of heaven / Visit[ing] her face too roughly” (Ham 1.2.141-142). Before any knowledge of Claudius’s crime, Hamlet expresses partiality towards his father and a repulsion towards his uncle. Is this such a surprise? King Hamlet died less than two months before the events of Shakespeare’s play. Hamlet would obviously still mourn for his father, and would be upset that no one else joins him in mourning for this great king. Furthermore, his mother—possibly the person who could relate to Hamlet the best in this situation—has already moved on to another man—the king’s brother. Hamlet’s frustration and rage towards these events comes as no
surprise. In fact, it would be more shocking if Hamlet was not upset about the situation in which he finds himself.
Ultimately, Hamlet decides that it must be a fault...
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