When examining Hamlet through the lens of the Oedipus complex, it is
critical to first define and thoroughly explain the Oedipus complex,
then to apply it to Hamlet's relationships, before a final conclusion
The Complexities of the Complex
Before one can understand the Oedipus complex, one must understand
Sigmund Freud's theory on infantile sexuality. The Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out that the roots of Freud's theory
can be found in the work of an older colleague of Freud's, Josef
Breuer. Breuer discovered that traumatic events in childhood could
have destructive repercussions in adulthood. Freud generalized
Breuer's discoveries and added that sexual experiences in early
childhood were the most important factors in shaping adult
personality. Freud believed that the male human is instinctively
driven to do whatever needed to receive bodily or sexual pleasure,
seen by Freud as the desire to release mental energy.
Freud divided the male child's early years of development, in which he
has the strongest attachment to his mother, into three separate
stages. Initially, from birth through two years, in the "oral" stage
of development, infants receive both pleasure and release this energy
through sucking, likely through breastfeeding (Myers 492). Later,
between ages two and three, the point of release of a child's energy
moves to the anus in what Freud called the "anal" stage of
development. Then, between the ages of three and five, the child's own
genitals will be the new center of pleasure and release, in the
"phallic" stage of development. During this stage, the young male
child realizes some very important distinctions between his parents.
In what is called the "primal scene," according to a lecture by Kai
Ehnes, the child discovers the physical difference between his mother
and father: his father has a phallic much like his own, while his
mother has no phallic.
The child now draws many conclusions from this. He will conclude that
his father must have taken his mother's phallic away. Since the
mother, in the child's mind, is being more or less controlled by the
father, and the father still has his phallic, then the phallic is not
just an organ, but a symbol of power over these "castrated men,"
called women. The boy now develops "castration anxiety," the fear that
his father will take away his phallic, and make him more like his
mother whom he sees as weak. His father is now his enemy, and he
develops a deep "sexual" attraction to his mother, called the Oedipus
complex. Freud taught that psychologically healthy boys overcame the
complex, made the important decision, and at age 6, begin to bond with
and attach to their fathers.
There are other ways this could play out. If the male child is denied
the attachment it needs with his mother...