Psychoanalytic readings of Shakespeare take their cue from Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and later from the “French Freud”, Jacques Lacan (1901-81). Freud fancied himself a critic of Hamlet, in which he predictably saw a dramatization of the Oedipus Complex.
THE CONFLICT IN HAMLET IS SO EFFECTIVELY CONCEALED THAT IT WAS LEFT TO ME TO UNEARTH IT. HE BELIEVED SHAKESPEARE TO BE MOURNING BOTH THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER AND THAT OF HIS SON.
Freud psychoanalysed Hamlet in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), and claimed to have finally solved its theme: “I have translated into conscious terms what was bound to remain unconscious in Hamlet’s mind.”
Hamlet is a good psychoanalytic patient who admits to the shrink …
I COULD BE BOUNDED IN A NUTSHELL, AND COUNT MYSELF A KING OF INFINITE SPACE — WERE IT NOT THAT I HAVE BAD DREAMS. JUST AS FREUD PSYCHOANALYSES THE CHARACTER OF HAMLET, ONE COULD ALSO PUT LEAR OR IAGO INTO ANALYSIS. THE TEMPEST EXPRESSES ITS OWN DEEP LINGUISTIC ANXIETIES ABOUT COLONIALISM. OTHER PSYCHOANALYTIC CRITICS EXAMINE SHAKESPEARE HIMSELF, USING HIS WORKS AS CASE NOTES, OR TREATING THE INDIVIDUAL TEXTS AS INDEPENDENT PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITIONS …
Bearing in mind the extent to which Shakespeare inspired (or wrote) Freud and his theories, it is not surprising that the American Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom finds Shakespeare to be the more sensitive instrument of psychology.
INCREASINGLY IT SEEMS TO ME THAT LITERATURE, AND PARTICULARLY SHAKESPEARE, WHO IS LITERATURE, IS A MUCH MORE COMPREHENSIVE MODE OF COGNITION THAN PSYCHOANALYSIS CAN BE. IN ANY CASE, THERE IS AN IRONY IN THE FREUDIAN ANALYSIS OF SHAKESPEARE … FREUD BEGAN AS A “GROUPIST”, BELIEVING THAT SHAKESPEARE WAS A COLLABORATION OF SEVERAL DIFFERENT PLAYWRIGHTS. THEN I THOUGHT HE WAS A FRENCHMAN CALLED JACQUES PIERRE, BEFORE I DECIDED THAT EDWARD DE VERE, EARL OF OXFORD, WROTE IT ALL.