3. Hamlet, King Lear and Romeo & Juliet

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As you all know, William Shakespeare is the most important playwright from the XVII century until now. We have all seen films about his plays, plays in itself and we have read some of his works, but some of us have not realized that  there are some facts that have not been deeply analyzed. Through the method of psychoanalysis, we are going to break this silence and carry out the task of analyzing three of Shakespeare’s most important plays that are: Hamlet, King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. Then, we will try to explain what do they have in common and what different facts they present.

First of all we are going to talk about Hamlet, the most famous one of the three plays, which original name was: “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark“, was probably written by Shakespeare in 1600 a.C.. It belongs to the tragical period of Shakespeare’s plays with another works such as: Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Sir Thomas More, etc. Originally it was written to be performed in a theatre but, with the tecnological advances, all has changed; It has been adapted to the cinema, audiobooks, etc.

This play tells the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, whose father has been murdered by his uncle Claudius. The King Hamlet’s ghost appears in front of his son and he orders that Hamlet has to take revenge on him, killing his uncle. At the same time, in the play, a love story unfolds between Claudius and Gertrude, mother of Hamlet and Queen of Denmark. Also we can see how Hamlet develops a dreadful affection towards Ophelia, daughter of Polonius (King Claudius’s chief counsellor). Finally the story ends with the death of many people, included: Polonius, Ophelia (commits suicide), Laertes (Polonius son), Claudius, Hamlet and Gertrude, who kills herself by accidently drinking a poisoned cup of wine.

All this characters have an important role inside the play but, we are not going to analyze what they do or how they perform, we are going to extract their interpretations by using some psychoanalitic methods.

On one hand, we have Hamlet, as the main character. He is young, strong and skillful but, along the play, we can see that he is coward when making decisions (killing his father). Despite that fact, he ends killing not only his father, but also another people that was not directly related with Claudius actions. This could be an example of his ego repressing what he feels. The process of repression is when the conscious mind acts as a censor as it suppressed thoughts and instincts that are seen as unacceptable. An example of such suppression can be found as Hamlet first prepares to slay Claudius, but then has second thoughts. He has these thought for a rather logical reason, Claudius is praying, if Hamlet were to kill Claudius at the point he would be sent to heaven.

There is only a moment in the play when Hamlet seems to have no doubt about the situation, the Polonius death:

“How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!” (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4)

This scene continues with a dialogue with his mother, Gertrude, that has a strong relation with him. So we can deduce, by looking at Hamlet’s performance, that he deeply loves his mother, in fact he can not forgive her for marrying his uncle, which is jealous of. This has been interpreted by Freud and is a clear characteristic of the Oedipus complex that Hamlet had with her mother. Also we can realize that, Hamlet, has the intention of replacing Claudius in the throne, what also makes us think about the Oedipus complex that has been mentioned before.

However, on the other hand, the most important exemplification of Freud’s theory can be found in his idea of the id, ego, and superego. Many characters in Hamlet show signs of their id, ego, and superego, both through their actions and intentions, but no characters exhibit these more so than: Claudius, Hamlet, and Old King Hamlet.

In Hamlet, Claudius is portrayed as a devious, nearly childlike man who goes to great lengths to benefit himself or to find himself a more pleasurable situation. In this sense, it is best to see Claudius as the id for the most part. The id is best described as “our instinctual ‘hard wired’ responses, reactions, drives, etc”. Claudius’ behavior throughout the play, as well as in the events, leads up to it clearly show him to respond to his own drives and reason more than those of others. Within Hamlet, Claudius himself often points out that self-interest is a value he holds highly. In regard to Hamlet’s sorrow he responds:

“Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green (we must be) together with remembrance of ourselves.” (Claudius, Act I, Scene 2)

Claudius’ desires for both Gertrude and the throne are so clearly overwhelming that he had to act upon them, though he does not feel remorse for his actions. This remorse is overridden by his mad desires of both flesh and power, desires that drive him to awful acts.

In terms of Psychoanalytic theory, this is a rather animal instinct, as sexual desires often leads to this sort of response. The id houses the libido or the source of psychosexual desires and psychic energy. Claudius is not this way at all times, however, often he exhibits characteristics of the superego. This can be seen as he is very concerned with his outward appearance in regard to the death of King Hamlet. He is something of a schemer in that not only does he conspire with Laertes to kill Hamlet, but he construes a backup plan involving the poisoned cup of wine. In this sense, Claudius’ animalistic nature and therefore sexual nature drives him towards Gertrude and along with it, the Kingship.

The final bit of the unconscious Freud suggested is the Superego. This is the part of the mind that is constantly concerned with social norms and the perceptions that others have of themselves. This part of the mind could also be construed to be a sort of higher thought, a sort of system of justice. In the case of Hamlet, the recently deceased King Hamlet could be seen as the superego figure of the play. Though his appearances are brief, he is the very character who seeds the thoughts of justice and retribution in Hamlet’s mind. The superego is meant to be the moral guide for an individual, but it may be at times excessive and needs to be repressed by the ego. The ghost instructs Hamlet to:

“Let not the royal bed of Denmark be 
A couch for luxury and damned incest?
But howsomever thou pursues this act, 
Taint not thy mind, let not thy soul contrive 
Against thy mother aught”  (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5)

In this quote the ghost expresses his anger for what his brother has done. However, he cautions Hamlet to not go too far and harm Gertrude, as he would prefer to leave her judgment to God himself. In this sense the ghost of King Hamlet is a superego, he is concerned with exacting vengeance, but is cautionary of going too far, for fear of what may happen. Unfortunately it is Hamlet who is caught in the middle.

“¿Alguien comprende ni tan solo a Hamlet? No es la duda, sino la certeza lo que lo enloquece… (…) Todos tenemos miedo de la verdad.”    Friedrich Nietzsche                                    

Quotings: Shakespeare’s Hamlet Subjected to Freudian Psychoanalysis,           Bradley Lovett (22/05/2013)

Now, we are going to talk about King Lear, ahother Shakespeare’s masterpiece that was probably written in 1605. It talks about a king, who apparently is old and senile, that wants to leave his kingdom to his three beautiful daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Unfortunately, the smallest of his daughters, Cordelia, makes a mistake in her speech, and she goes with France’s king. Her piece of the kingdom is divided between the other two sisters. Lear reserves for himself the title of King and a hundred men to his service.

Realizing that both of his two favorite daughters ignores him and, increasing his madness, he notices that who really loves him is Cordelia, his little daughter. He goes in his search and they both fight, on the side of the France’s army, against his old kingdom. They are imprisoned and sentenced to death, but only Cordelia is executioned. Finally, Lear carries Cordelia’s body, laments all his sorrows and in front of everyone dies.

Though it’s original purpose was beeing performed in a theatre, it has been adapted to the cinema, but also it has contiued to be played in theaters, here you have an example:

 Shakespeare in the Park production, produced by Joe Papp. NYC (22/05/2013)

Addressing the issue for which I have done this work, King Lear has the same characteristics as Hamlet but, in this case, the revenge that we have already seen in Hamlet is transformed into a repentance by Lear for not believing in his daughter.

In King Lear, chaos in the kingdom, represented by the king’s division of the territory, symbolizes King Lear’s corrupt personal relationships, when he tries to quantify his daughters’ love. In the first act, King Lear commands his daughters to perform an outward show of love for payment, in order to get a part of the kingdom. In respect for her father, Cordelia refuses to put a price on her love. This paper will investigate King Lear’s underlying motives for his unreasonable demands by using Freud’s psychological theories, while connecting King Lear’s motivations with his monologue in Act 5, Scene 3.

The confrontation in Act 1, Scene 1, reveals King Lear’s underlying motivations, suggesting that he, unaware of his own desires, is sexually attracted to his daughter and does not wish to give his daughter away in marriage, a usually seen fact between a father and a daughter. In keeping with these darkest desires, King Lear damages Cordelia’s marriage prospects, although she is both dutiful and truthful. In light of this analysis, Cordelia’s words, which are not offensive, become hurtful to her father, who desires all her love. She says:

You have begot me, bred me, lov’d me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Happily, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
[To love my father all]. (Act I, Scene 1)

Cordelia’s words, that she loves Lear like a daughter, but half of her love and care must go to a husband, are not acceptable answers to King Lear. In rage, he disinherits his daughter. Continuing the scene, King Lear presents Cordelia, divested of her dowry. The King of France accepts Cordelia, and ironically, places her in a position where she can assist her father to regain both his sanity and his kingdom. In his words, King Lear’s betrays his underlying need for Cordelia:

“Come let’s away to prison: We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage”
( Act IX, Scene 10)

King Lear’s words, which are incompatible with his circumstances, reveal his happiness to be with his daughter and represent his love, which is strong enough that even in prison he will be content if he can be with his Cordelia. These emotions, more appropriate to a lover than to a father, expose his underlying need for his daughter, making us look at Electra’s complex.

In conclusion, King Lear’s demand for a public display of devotion from his daughters become comprehensible when analyzed in the context of a father’s sexual interest in his daughter. Even his act of sabotaging his daughter’s marriage prospects reveals his desire to own his daughter and to keep her with him. Although King Lear has more power than a father does today, according to Freud, this psychological need is still being played out in our modern relationships.

Quotings: Literary analisis: Pshychoanalysis of King Lear, Cyn Bagley (22/05/2013)

Freud’s psychological components of the id, the ego, and the superego can be also used to analyze King Lear’s spiral downfall into madness. These three forces continually interact with one another, sometimes in conflict. Similarly, Shakespeare successfully reveals King Lear’s unconscious thoughts, through the play’s characters.

The id represents the first part of Freud’s psyche model or the pleasure principle. King Lear’s childish and selfish behavior at his eldest daughter’s house demonstrates the id in full bloom. However, this certainly does not reflect the fairness of the situation. Imagine, for example, Lear’s id impulsively signaling him to lash out aggressively. Normally, the ego will redirect aggressive behavior towards something more acceptable. Since Lear’s ego fails to redirect his aggressive behavior, Lear experiences the unpleasant consequences of his actions. Later in the play, we see Lear making a gentler id driven plea for his pleasures. He tells Regan:

“Tis not in thee to grudge my pleasures, to cut off my train…” (Act II, Scene 4).

Now that we have a better understanding of the id and its presence in Lear, we are going to give the ego further consideration.

The second part of Freud’s three-part model is the ego. Early in the play, Lear’s ego appears to operate rationally and logically. However, Lear’s id signals him to aggressively lash out, once Cordelia refuses to flatter him. Hence, Lear’s ego fails him and his id misguides him into madness. In essence, Lear’s ego is so overwhelmed and weakened by the traumatic event, it triggers psychotic madness. For instance, King Lear voices his deepest fears, as he foretells of his own madness :

“I fear I am not in my perfect mind.” ( Act IV,Scene 7)

Moreover, the ego maintains control over the id, superego, and reality. While the id screams for primal gratification and the superego demands morality, the ego is balancing out their differences. King Lear struggles to maintain control:

“Oh, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heavens! Keep me in temper…”
(Act I, Scene 5)

However, by the end of Act III, Lear becomes completely mad. Lear does not feel the violent storm, crashing around him.

Now that we have clear insight into the Lear’s id and ego, we are going to turn our attention toward the third part of Freud’s model, the superego. At the beginning of the play, King Lear seems to lack a conscience, when Lear foolishly divides his kingdom. Then when Cordelia responds to King Lear:

“I love your majesty, according to my bond, no more nor less” (Act I, Scene 1)

illustrates a daughter’s moral bond to her father. During this scene, a clash occurs between Lear’s moral duties, as a father, and moral ideologies, as a king. Lear seems to think that he can keep these two roles separate, but he can not. Consequently, Lear goes mad.

To conclude, we can say that Freudian and Laconian theories are helpful in the critical analysis of Lear’s psychological state. Freud’s psychological components of the id, the ego, and the superego and the Electra’s complex, serve as wonderful tools for psychoanalyzing King Lear’s spiral downfall into madness.

Quotings: A Psychoanalytical reading of King Lear, Karen Tanguma (22/05/2013)

We will finally end talking about Romeo and Juliet, a great one of Shakespeare’s plays that was written in 1595, five years before Hamlet and ten before King Lear. As it was one of the first tragedies he wrote, we are not going to be hard or profound in the analysis due to its pressure.

Romeo and Juliet talks about two rich families, Montague and Capulet, who are sworn enemies. From Montague family we have Romeo, who is a handsome boy, and from Capulet family we have Juliet, who is a beautiful girl that has only 15 years old. In a meeting of both families, Romeo and Juliet know eachother and they fall in love. As Juliet’s parents have promised her to another guy, they decide to marry in secret. The dispute between the two families ends with the death of two of its members, one from each family. Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, taking revenge on him by murdering Mercutio, good actor and Hamlet’s friend. Romeo is finally exiled from the city. Juliet, knowing that has to marry with Paris, the boy that her parents promised, takes the decision of drinking a potion that will keep her under the effects of sleeping by 48 hours.   The family thinks that she is dead, but she is only sleeping. When Romeo comes to se Juliet and notices that she has “dead”, he decides to commit suicide by drinking a death poison. When Juliet wakes up and sees Romeo dead, she stucks a dagger in the heart and dies.

The moral of this story is that however different we believe to be, we should not fight  between us, or we all will lose.

 Psychoanalytic explorations of Romeo and Juliet have identified a number of unconscious factors which might affect the two protagonists’ personalities: primitive pre-oedipal drives and defenses, a basic linkage of love with the death instinct, miscarried adolescent need to find non-incestuous objects, etc. For Romeo, critics have suggested phallic violence impelled by a patriarchal structured society.

These studies transform Romeo and Juliet from a chronicle of fortuitous happenings afflicting young lovers, into a representation of the corrosive effect of unconscious forces. However, they do not concentrate on early developmental issues. We can enrich our understanding if we pretend Romeo is a real person with a childhood and residues of that childhood in his unconscious. To be sure, we need to construct his childhood from his language. But if we are willing to do that, we can infer a repressed childhood trauma in Romeo. Warner (William Beatty,) points out that early traumata, partiuclarly primal scene experiences, have:

“a decisive effect upon the person, his neurotic symptoms, his relationships with others, his style of thinking and feeling; in other words, it is a contributing factor in much of what we take an individual person to be.” 

As the play opens, friends and family are concerned about Romeo’s unhappiness. His friend Benvolio attempts to discover what troubles him:

“What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?” (Act I, Scene 1)

Then he reluctantly reveals the true cause of his misery: he is in love with a woman who rejects him:

“Out of her favor where I am in love.” (Act I, Scene 1)

This woman, Rosaline, is not only uninterested in him, she has no interest in any man. Moreover, Rosaline is a Capulet, as  I said before, a family that has sworn enmity to Romeo’s family, the Montagues. But, despite his clear knowledge of her oath of chastity and her lineage, Romeo remains hopelessly in love. Surely the real cause of his unhappiness is his own choice of such an unavailable woman, not the woman herself. He perceives himself as helpless in his present situation, unable to heed Benvolio’s advice to:

“forget to think of her” and “examine other beauties.” (Act I, Scene 1)

But, if we consider Romeo as a real person, not a character, his sense of complete dependency on Rosaline for his happiness and his perception of himself as helpless, closely resemble the feelings of a small child for its caretaker. Such feelings may represent repressed childhood memories displaced onto his current situation. Romeo is unconsciously reliving his childhood, a time of helplessness and dependency on the will of another.

 The fact that Rosaline never appears in person in the text then becomes a dual metaphor for Romeo’s inner life. On one level, her absence indicates that her identity is unimportant; her only role is someone with whom Romeo repeats his early trauma. On another level, her absence symbolizes the loved woman (his mother) who must have been unavailable to him, at least sometimes. We notice that we are entering in the territory of the Oedipus Complex, the son that loves her mother.

 Romeo retains this painful attachment to Rosaline, even as he is on his way to the Capulets’ feast, only agreeing to go because Rosaline might be there. He tells his friends:

I am too sore enpierced with his shaft
To soar with his light feathers, and so bound
I cannot bound a pitch above a dull woe;
Under love’s heavy burden do I sink (Act I, Scene 4)

Suddenly, Romeo is able to heed Benvolio’s advice to forget to think of Rosaline, because he finds another beauty, Juliet. This immediate substitution of Juliet for Rosaline without an interval of mourning is another indication that his attachment to Rosaline was not based on real love but to a trauma.

Finally, in taking his own life, Romeo lives out the final act of the primal scene. He makes love to Juliet, embracing, kissing, and finally dying. Making us think about the love that he has to his “mother”. This fusion of lovemaking with destructiveness represents coitus as it is misunderstood by the child: an act of violence between the parents.

Marvin Krims “Romeo’s Childhood Trauma? — “What fray was here?””. PSYART (22/05/2013)

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