Often in literary works there are what can be gained by applying a psychoanalytic lens to the text. This holds true in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet in which it is exemplified. Particularly, Shakespeare has moulded the very unique Hamletian psychology, fully revealing Hamlet’s individual fallacy and conflict. Psychoanalysis and the five stages of grief work mutually to reinforce, the protagonist, Hamlet’s inaction of revenge throughout the play. The former one focuses on id, ego and superego; the latter one roots in his experience of the stages of grief after the death of his father. Comparatively two supporting characters, Fortinbras and Laertes, are more decisive. On one hand, Fortinbras’s id earnestly pursues political conduct and finally ends with the acceptance of dominion of Denmark after the first failure. On the other hand, Laertes’s id strongly prevails his superego on personal revenge, leading him to the acceptance of release and acquittal before his death.
To begin with, Hamlet’s psychoanalysis is artfully featured.
First, being affected by his depression and indignance, his id has ingrained the seed of revenge in his miserable heart. The king’s death lays a heavy desolation in his heart, turning mourning into his very first instinct. His grief fully brims him from both inside and outside: “But I have that within which passeth show, these but the trappings and the suits of woe”(Shakespeare I. ii .85). None of his clothes, weeping or sighs can display what he truly feels inside—deep distress of losing his beloved father and swallowed jealousy of his uncle Claudius’s claim to the throne and forcibly occupying his beloved mother. Hamlet is constantly described as having an “Oedipus complex,” This can be defined as, “the association of the idea of sexuality with his mother, buried since infancy, can no longer be concealed from his consciousness. The long ‘repressed’ desire to take his father’s place in his mother’s affection is simulated to unconscious activity by the sight of someone usurping this place exactly as he himself had once loved to do. More, this someone was a member of the same family, so that the actual aspiration further resemble the imaginary one in being incestuous.” (E Jones,67-72) Under this explanation, Hamlet’s complicated feelings can be better interpreted. In addition to his oppressive mourning from the death of his father, the fact that he is now perplexed with the precipitate illegal seizing of power and love is adding the new disaster piled up on the other. His jealous of those deprivation comes from his id. By instincts, his id gives him envy along as it urges him to be “happy” again, so it precipitates him to struggle from desperation. In addition, when the ghost of his father tells the truth of his cruel persecution, he asks Hamlet to get revenge on Claudius his true murdurer; Hamlet then adds, ”Yea, from the table of my memory, I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past that youth and observation copied there, and thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, unmixed with baser matter.” (Shakespeare I. v. 98) In this instance, Hamlet reveals his awareness of the unjust truth, and for the briefest of moment he is stuffed with aggrieved emotion. He is pursuant to the ‘pleasure principle” which works as an instinctive desire that satisfies absolutely with no constraint. The only purpose of his id is to successfully achieve revenge on behalf of his father, regardless of the realistic conflicts and actual crisis. Consequently, this intense feeling driven by his id serves as the foundation of his revenge.
Secondly, Hamlet’s superego believes that moral standards and religious norms should also be observed as they buffer against his incentive of revenge. Morally, Hamlet is rather sensible and prudent about the revenge. His superego makes him ponder over the ghost’s utterance: “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil, and the devil hath power T’ assume a pleasing shape. Yea, and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds more relative than this.” (Shakespeare, II. ii.560) Granted, Hamlet doubts about the accuracy of the information from the ghost since the suspenseful ghost can be classified as mysterious, unknown, or even vicious. To uncover the veil of the mystery, Hamlet deliberately devised his scheme to test if his uncle demonstrates any guilt by using the adapted play The Murder of Gonzago which shares the similar traits of the prince and his uncle in the character of the poisoner. Hamlet’s caution is also not separable from his respect to Claudius: “Hamlet is also facing the obstacle of ethical kinship. His revenge target is not only his uncle, but also his so-called ‘stepfather’. If he insists on revenge, he will be nowhere in ethical terms.” (WANGJuan, 34-37) Although Claudius is a newly crowned king, no matter how high he ranks in the public love and esteem, he is the king of Denmark after all, thus Hamlet’s superego is intended to evaluate the unethical disaster that the revenge can bring. In addition, Hamlet’s superego also impulses him to consider political factor: “Hamlet would not set about the murder on consideration of Claudius’s role as the monarch, which will possibly lead the country into the chaos. In Hamlet’s political conviction, he attaches much importance to the order of hierarchy in the governing system.” (WANGJuan,48-51) Even though Claudius is the most detestable enemy to Hamlet, the murder of his uncle and now King, is substantially against his political beliefs. As Bingshan Liu wrote in History and Anthology of English Literature, ‘If the king is killed rashly, the sudden death of the king may cause panic among the people and endanger the security of the country.” (Bingshan Liu,22-24) Hamlet, exemplifies this in that instead solely focusing on his private desires, he is also thinking about the fate of the country. This leads Hamlet to delay based upon trying to find a balance between these two contradicting ideals.
Moreover, Hamlet’s delaying of the revenge can be escribed to religion. “But that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler retunes, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of ?” (Shakespeare III. i. 79-82) The quote argues about Hamlet’s considering about neither life or death is satisfying since life can be exhausting while death can be even more unknown and evil. Here Hamlet first expresses his vision of life and death and reflects that owns a rather deep spirituality. He believes in traditional doctrine and the immortality of souls. Hamlet’s religious view gives does not condone suicide, nor the mutilation of other people’s lives. Again, his value orientation coincides with this soliloquy, “Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggers with them? Mine ache to think on’t.”(Shakespeare.Ⅴ.ⅰ.9-10) Now Hamlet is bemoaning about the dead bones which the gravedigger is digging and valuing of human life is fully demonstrated. “The highest level of fraternity is loving others as ourselves. Christian belief holds that only God is allowed to punish sinners. If someone commits crimes instead of the God, he is blaspheming against the God and will be punished more severely.” (WANGJuan,58-60) If Hamlet killed Claudius, he would violate the code of his religious doctrine, and live in fear justice forever. His religious belief also further delays the revenge later in the play. On seeing Claudius’s confessing and praying due to his guilt and remorse of murdering his brother, Hamlet abandons the best opportunity because he knows if he kills Claudius who is praying, he will send the repentant king to heaven. “To take him in the purging of his soul when he is fit and seasoned for his passage? No.” (Shakespeare III. iii. 86) However, Hamlet maintains his bitter hatred towards Claudius, which made him eager to send Claudius to hell but must wait for another opportunity to see it through. In conclusion, Hamlet’s superego provokes him to reflect on moral standards and abide by his religious tradition, thus stifling his revenge.
Thirdly, Hamlet’s ego works as the mainstay to adjust between his id and superego, and finally leads to the sad denouement. Before analyzing his ego, reality in the play must be examined. Throughout the tragedy, Hamlet’s own status and power can be the objective reasons of the inaction. “Hamlet, as a humanist, has the weakness of being isolated from the masses while battling.” (WANGJuan,79) Indeed, Horatio is the only one who he truly trusts. Although Hamlet and Horatio maintain their friendship, Hamlet hardly pours out his heart to Horatio. Hamlet is isolated and helpless—he is vested with no power, army nor counsellor. While his opponent Claudius is the king who holds sovereign rights of the country. Facing the king’s ferocity, Claudius’ accessory minister Polonius’s duplicity, his beloved Ophenlius’s repulsion, the swindle fallen down on his mother, and the surveillance from betrayed friends, he can’t manage to wholly give consideration to his revenge plan, he is forced to prefer defense rather than offense. Now, Hamlet’s ego takes the field to adjust between his id, superego and reality and reconciles their claims, demands and conflicts. When his id, superego and reality struggle and collide fiercely in Hamlet’s hear, the ego follows the principle of reality, and the purpose is to delay the release of his energy—revenge. The inner contradiction cannot be promised, and instead, it causes Hamlet’s disincentive and delay. “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.” (Shakespeare.Ⅲ.ⅰ.84-86) Here Hamlet has made a decision based on the ‘principle of reality” which delays the implementation of this revenge until he can finally find the right opportunity. “Oh fie! Hold, hold, my heart, and you, my sinews, grow not instant old, but bear me stiffly up.” Hamlet has to forbear his impulse caused by his bile from knowing the choice because of his haunted ego. Next, Hamlet is wavered by his superego which believes in ethics and religion and thus lets slip the now-or-never chance to revenge. If Hamlet wants to send Claudius to hell, he must seek another scrumptious opportunity, no matter how difficult it is or how long he has to wait. Otherwise, he would forgo any chance to revenge. Only in this way, can his ego consequently be able to reconcile with his id and superego and thus it can conform to his revenge principle despite of whatever fates await. This opportunity finally arrives when Hamlet is stabbed by the poisonous sword. Knowing that it was Claudius’ scheme, he then finally kills Claudius with a poisonous sword for revenge at the risk of his life. His ego finally succeeded in the negotiation between his id and superego but it is under the condition of knowing that Claudius sets him up first. In this way, his ego needs to balance his id which reaches the extremum and persuades the superego to kill Claudius. Hamlet makes a decision based on the ‘principle of reality’: delaying the implementation of this action until he finds the right opportunity. And this is also the opportunity which he has been agonizingly waiting to get involved in the revenge. Only at this moment can these three aspects-superego, ego and id reach an agreement and Hamlet’s spirit can finally reach a real balance and extricate itself to liberation.
Beyond that, psychoanalysis is also interspersed with five stages of grief to unscramble Hamlet’s hesitation. Hamlet’s depression and bargaining are connected together to constitute his first stage. Similar to the depressed emotions brought by his id, they are brought by the loss of his father. “Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw m and resolve itself into a dew, or that that Overland had not fixed his canon’ giants self-slaughter! O God, God! How weary, stale, fat and unprofitable seem to me all the sues of this world!” (Shakespeare. Ⅰ. ⅱ.129-131) Here Hamlet is feeling so weary and desperate that he contemplates suicide. He also compares his life as the “unweeded garden that grows to seed.” (Shakespeare. Ⅰ.ⅱ.135) The death of his father makes him feel like being discarded as he is doomed to a meaningless life. At the same time, he is bargaining with his fate—maybe death would be better off for him to let go all his sorrow. His depression coupled with bargaining is the origin of revenge.
Additionally. instead of only dwelling on depression, Hamlet also moves to the second stage: denial and isolation which is mainly caused by his unrequited love Ophelia. Ophelia fails to win the argument with her father and has no choice but to break with Hamlet with one stroke of the knife, and this adds more saddened burden onto Hamlet’s weak shoulders which are already tortured by his orphaning feeling after the loss of his father. “If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry. Be thou as charts as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.” (Shakespeare. Ⅲ. ⅰ.136-140) Here maddened Hamlet is still processing his mawkishness of the loss of his devoted Ophelia. After sensing his mother’s fickleness and betrayal, he longs for another woman’s love. However, he is slashed with Ophelia’s ruthless refuse. Feeling stone-cold, he tries to deny and somehow curses Ophelia for not getting her, building up the walls to isolate himself from the reality that he deems will harm him. His dissatisfy of his mother finally outbreaks here due to his drowning in the misery. His denial and isolation distracts him from focusing on the revenge.
However, since he couldn’t grin and bear the mentioned grief anymore, his rage outbursts. On one hand, his extravaganza is the reflection of his madness. “Anger is often associate with madness as it impedes the objective observation skills and, like insanity, can cloud the mind with anything but the truth.”(Kübler-Ross) There is a dialogue which Polonius is confronting with Hamlet with mouthful of ravings. “(Polonius) Do you know me, my lord? (Hamlet) Excellent well. You are a fishmonger.” Here, Hamlet is calling Polonius a fishmonger. It is better to see his madness as a clever angry sarcasm rather than pure meaningless wild talk. Hamlet may compare Polonius to fishmonger to insult Polonius’s low class and frivolousness. Hamlet sees through his chicanery, and driven by his anger, he refutes him boldly. On the other hand, his anger comes from the censure of his mother’s disloyalty. He criticizes: “That blurs the grace and blush of modesty, calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose from the fair forehead of an innocent love and sets a blister there,makes marriage vows as false as dicer’s oaths.”(Shakespeare. Ⅲ. ⅳ. 43-46) Gertrude doesn’t want to take it: “ O, speak to me no more! These words like daggers enter in my ears. No more, sweet Hamlet.” (Shakespeare. Ⅲ. ⅱ. 18) Their argument makes Hamlet even more unpleasant. Now his accumulated emotions are mingled together and turn into a blast of fury inside which he is not able to restrain anymore. At this time, he senses someone behind the arras and stabs blindly though it. The despicable eavesdrop seems intolerable to Hamlet and his anger peaks and lets out. This killing crime gives him somewhat guts to commit his revenge to the king. His anger incites him to revenge.
Finally, Hamlet moves to the final stage of the process: acceptance. After killing the king, he is also hurt from the poisonous sword point. He said, “But let it be.—Horatio, I am dead. Thou livest. Report me and my cause aright to unsatisfied.” (Shakespeare.Ⅴ.ⅱ.333-336) He claims he is ready to “let it be” and also bids Horatio to tell the story without any concealing. Now he feels purely released for eliminating his patricide enemy Claudius and is free from those previous misfortune and anguish, and this might be his happiest moment. Soon afterwards, he leaves the words: “But I do prophesy the election lights on Fortinbras. He has my dying voice.”(Shakespeare. Ⅴ.ⅱ. 354) Here, his zero burden can be further seen.