How Hamlet Enacts His Oedipal Desires
In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud posits the theory that dreams are manifestations of unconscious and repressed desires. He further states that male children often have an unconscious Oedipal desire to kill their father and replace him by being with their mother. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the titular character experiences this desire and it manifests itself in various dream-like ways. Since his uncle Claudius has already performed the actions that Hamlet himself desired, Hamlet struggles with anger, jealousy, and confusion as he tries to both suppress those feelings and come to terms with them. His conflicting desires manifest themselves in odd behaviors that those surrounding Hamlet take for madness.
Hamlet’s dream-like experiences take several forms. As his subconscious takes over, Hamlet’s suppressed desires are manifested. The first instance of this is the appearance of his father’s ghost and Hamlet’s discussion with that ghost. Whether or not the ghost is a real ghost, it plays the role of Hamlet’s subconscious for him. The ghost is able to say things that are suppressed in Hamlet’s subconscious and he is unable to admit to himself until the ghost says them aloud.
The ghost as a replacement for Hamlet’s dreams, or as a dream-like experience for Hamlet, takes the place of his ego. Freud stated that “[a]ll dreams are absolutely egotistical; in all dreams the beloved ego appears, even though in a disguised form” (Freud, 166). The ghost takes on the disguised form for Hamlet’s ego, and spurs him to revenge. The ghost tells Hamlet the story of how his uncle killed his father, so that he could replace him as king and marry his wife. This story mirrors Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother.