Hamlet and Gertrude Relationship/ Oedipal Complex

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In 'Hamlet', there is suggestions of Hamlet being a suffer of the 'Oedipal Complex', invovling his mother, Gertrude.

In certain adaptions, it seems to be apparent, in the Mel Gibson (Zeffirelli) version, Hamlet (gibson0 is quite sexually violent towards Gertrude.

Could anyone shed some light on their views of this topic?

-- Carolyn Howard (angry_bumblebee@yahoo.co.uk), December 23, 2004


There's a lot of good information in the thread titled "Oedipus Complex": http://greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl? msg_id=004XT6

-- Virginia (vsmleong@yahoo.com), December 23, 2004.

But briefly, the topic you have is simply wrong.

In "Hamlet" there is no suggestion of Hamlet being a sufferer of the 'Oedipal Complex'. This is a suggestion that has been made ABOUT the play, since the twentieth century. That is, it is something theoretical that some people like to try to impose on the play, but it isn't in the play itself.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), December 25, 2004.

I was plesently surprised that someone actually replied to this. Thanks everyone who did.

I'm an A-Level English Literature, and our topic is 'Hamlet'.

I chose a question, asking 'Is Hamlet a loving son who wants to save his mother's soul or does it run deeper that this....being a lover torn apart by Gertrude and Claudius.

It is pre-freudian...of course. Maybe basis on this suggests that Hamlet is a suffer?

Thank you once again for replying and maybe we can discuss this further?


-- Carolyn Howard (angry_bumblebee@yahoo.co.uk), December 28, 2004.

There is no way that Hamlet has and Oedipus Complex, even a pre-Freudian one. It just does not fit with the words and language he uses, ever, about Gertrude, nor with his love and admiration for his father. In addition, his hatred of Claudius is wholly and only because of Claudius's incest in marrying Gertrude, Claudius's dissolute character (indicated by drunkenness as well as the incest), and of course Claudius's murder of King Hamlet. That is all quite enough, without there being any suggestion that he is jealous of Claudius.

But your question seems a bit academic. Certainly III.iv and elsewhere shows that Hamlet is a loving son who wants to save his mother's soul. However it is natural that he can't view this wholly calmly and detachedly. Whilst not being 'a lover', 'in love' with his mother, he is nevertheless very much emotionally torn apart by the situation. He hates Claudius for the reasons given above. He is angry with his mother for marrying Claudius so fast - as if just immediately forgetting her love for King Hamlet - as well as for marrying Claudius at all. He is probably deeply afraid for his mother's soul, just as he shows in a few places that he is for his own, since he does love her deeply as her son.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), December 28, 2004.

To counter your reply:

The 'Closet' Scene

hamlet has a long speech in this and he uses sexual remarks about his mother's insecurity and inability to control sexual desires; 'Sense you sure have, Else could you not have notion'...Sense meaning sexual desire.

'Nay, but to live In the rank sweat of a inseaméd bed, Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love, Over the nasty sty'

This 'obsession' with his mother and claudias in bed is very strong to prove that his is a oedipal sufferer.

Also, I have to compare text with movie versions (Zeffirelli and Branagh).....the Mel Gibson (Zeffirelli) is quite explicit in the 'Closet' scene because there is a bed used in the process of telling Gertrude what has happened and what he thinks of her. It is very sexually driven.

I don't know if you have seen any versions like this...surely strong suggestion?

I have to argue both sides of it so if you could see and suggestion, I'm thankful.

-- Carolyn Howard (angry_bumblebee@yahoo.co.uk), December 29, 2004.

As Virginia said, we've been over all this territory at length in the other question, and I've given my four thousand plus words' worth there. But I just have to say again to what you've put forward here with the quotes - look, Hamlet's anger with his mother for having sex with her husband's brother does not 'prove' he has any sexual desire for her himself. I don't even get the logic of the claim that it does.

As to comparing Zeffirelli's and Branagh's versions with the text, with a stipulation that you have to argue both sides, I think that's a bit Irish. As far as I'm concerned there are two different things. There is what the text says, and there is not the faintest suggestion in it anywhere that Hamlet is sexually desirous of his mother. Then there is what a director such as Zeffirelli wants to make his actors do whilst they are speaking the text. Obviously in my view, Zeffirelli's direction of that part of III.iv simply doesn't make any sense with the words of the text that the characters speak, both there and in the rest of the play. So I would want to argue this.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), December 29, 2004.

I quite agree, any Oedipal undertones in the closet scenes are a needless perversion of the text. Perhaps a more plausable explanation for Hamlet's disgust, and one which has been overlooked here, is that Hamlet feels uncomfortable with the fact that his mother is still sexually active. Her hastiness to remarry proves this. When he says to her: 'You cannot call it love, for at your age/ The hey-day in the blood is tame' he is saying what he wants desperately to be the truth. This would not be a Freudian interpretation; the feeling that middle-aged women shouldn't be having sexual desires was widespread throughout the literature of the age and is expressed in several of Shakespeare's works.

A modern audience may well feel that Hamlet's response is discreditable, and of course they are entitled too. However, the original audiences would've seen nothing out of the ordinary in his views.

-- Vivien Jones (vivra_la_diva@hotmail.com), January 10, 2005.

Yes. I think this was mentioned this in the other question too. But I think that his disgust is not exactly at her sexual activity, but at her giving herself over wholly to immoderate lust (purely fleshly desire). It seems as though he wouldn't have minded appropriate sexual activity in the context of love such as she was supposed to feel for King Hamlet.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), January 10, 2005.

Yes, you have a good point there Vivien. This is all interesting. I have to do a comparative essay on the parent-child relationships. I have decided to do Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet Sr.'s relationship with Hamlet. I think I have my work cut out for me. Otherwise I could do Ophelia-Polonius and Laertes-Polonius.

-- Jessily Turcotte (jturcotte88@aol.com), January 11, 2005.

You could also maybe compare different parents with the children - say, compare Ophelia-Polonius with Hamlet-Claudius, or, probably very interesting, Ophelia-Polonius with Hamlet-Gertrude.

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), January 11, 2005.

This is actually a question, I hope someone answers this quickly i have a debate due monday. If anyone knows strong points on how the Oedipus complex relates to Hamlet please send me some information or a website. I don't want to hear about how it doesn't apply i didn't choose what i was debating so please just say information on how it is present. Thank you very much

-- Christine (snowbaby_007@hotmail.com), January 20, 2005.

The Oedipus Complex means that a son falls in love with or desires his mother, and he may therefore hate his father, because his father has an access to his mother that he desires for himself. So if it related to Hamlet, it would be that Hamlet is in love with Gertrude, and perhaps also hates his father King Hamlet (or, as some would have it, hates his uncle/step-father Claudius).

-- catherine england (catherine.england@arts.usyd.edu.au), January 24, 2005.

I am doing an essay on this kind of subject;

Compare two versions of Act three scene four. What critical interpretations have informed the directors in these two Scenes?

And I'm finding it quite difficult. I am looking at the Gibson and the Branagh versions, and well, it is hard. I am looking at a critical essay from 1949 by Ernest Jones, and this suggests that Hamlet's hatred for Claudius is jealousy. Claudius has achieved Hamlet's Freudian ideal; killed his father and taken his place.

Another idea is that boys grow up out of being in love with their mothers, or at least that the feelings are suppressed. Old Hamlet's death and his mother's 'o'er hasty marriage' then brings out Hamlet's feelings once more.

But i agree that i don't actually think that they are there. If it was, Shakespeare would have made it obvious. I think that it is an interesting idea, but that Zeffirelli has actually twisted the text to make it fit the Freudian idea. Shakespeare generally makes things pretty obvious; and i do not see any reason for his hiding this, which would surely be a central point to the play.

-- Anna Macnaughton (sorcerorsock@hotmail.com), January 30, 2005.

I really feel that Hamlet acts like both an angry lover and a jelous son. I feel as though Hamlet suffers from the Oedipus complex without being aware of it. My class watched both the Branaugh version of that scene and the Gibson version of Act 3 Scene 4. It can be agrued either way.

-- Lauren Y. (lgirlie1025@hotmail.com), February 23, 2005.

I'm not sure if this has already been said, but perhaps when he swears allegiance to his mother in (I believe) the first act, and when he seems to want to scorn his mother by sitting next to Gertrude rather than her when they watch the play supports the Oedipal thesis. On the other hand, I could easily see other interpretations of these events.

On the subject of Hamlet, what does everyone think about the supposition that the whole, or at least parts, of the play only exist in Hamlet's mind? It definitely seems like we are seeing things from Hamlet's perspective, and he also talks about how sleep would be bearable if it were not for the "bad dreams;" how "Denmark is a prison," but his real prison is his mind; how he lives between earth and heaven, etc. I propose that when he speaks of dreams he is speaking of his earthly existence and that he would like to sleep without this, in other words, be dead.

Pardon my lack of specific scene references. Also, does anyone know where it is that he seems to scorn monarchy, or at least specifically his princely
-- David (dmf88@earthlink.net), March 05, 2005.

I'm actually writing a thesis at the moment, supporting the theory that Hamlet suffers from the Oedipus Complex. Since this is such a well-known concept, one would think that there would be an ample amount of information on this topic. If anyone knows of any good books SUPPORTING this thesis (outside of Jones' "Hamlet and Oedipus") please email me. Thanks a lot

-- Kelly Tiernan (crewchica287@hotmail.com), March 06, 2005.

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