The real love of Hamlet.
To understand this we should answer the most famous question been asked ever since William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, the question on everyone’s mind “Why didn’t Hamlet kill Claudius when he had the chance?”
Some people believe that fear of punishment keeps Hamlet from killing. Others believe that Hamlet refuses to kill Claudius during prayer because that would send Claudius to a “heavenly” afterlife.
Hamlet’s famous “delay” in killing Claudius. (This delay was Shakespeare’s big innovation when he wrote his version of the already extant Hamlet story: in earlier versions, Hamlet either flew swiftly to his revenge or spent a long time meticulously planning it.) Broadly speaking, there have been two explanations for the delay. The first is that Hamlet waits because he is a sane person in an insane world. To begin with, he is unsure about trusting the ghost and must stage “The Mouse-Trap,” the play within the play, to verify Claudius’s guilt, and then Hamlet has the perfect opportunity to kill Claudius in Act 3 Scene 3. Why doesn’t he? One interpretation is that Hamlet fears that killing Claudius will automatically send Claudius to heaven without punishment. Hamlet himself remarks:
And now I’ll do’t. And so ‘a goes to heaven;
And so I am revenged. That would be scanned:
A villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son
Do this same villain to heaven. (3.3.74-78)
Hamlet may believe he is delaying from fear of sending Claudius to a “heavenly” afterlife; however, there are times when Hamlet could have killed Claudius when he was not at prayer.
According to Lesser, “Claudius is not always well attended. In Act IV, Scene 1, Claudius and the Queen can confer privately simply by dismissing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There are no attendants about. If Claudius and Gertrude can be alone, even for a few minutes, surely Hamlet could have seized an opportunity to kill Claudius, simply by having the Queen sent away. There is another reason why Hamlet delays killing Claudius, and Hamlet himself is not even aware of it.
Around 1905 and 1906, Sigmund Freud wrote an essay, unpublished in his lifetime, called “Psychopathic Characters on the Stage.”
“Hamlet,” Freud thought, best exemplified the appeal of managed self-expression. Watching “Hamlet,” we think that it’s about revenge—a familiar, safe subject. In fact, “Hamlet” is about desire. The real engine of the play is Oedipal. Caught up in Hamlet’s quest to kill Claudius—and reassured by his self-censure—we can safely, and perhaps unconsciously, explore those desires. Freud thought that prudery and denial had for centuries prevented critics from acknowledging the play’s propulsive undercurrent, which, he believed, the new psychoanalytic vocabulary made it possible to acknowledge. “The conflict in ‘Hamlet’ is so effectively concealed,” he wrote, “that it was left to me to unearth it.”
Sigmund Freud attributed Hamlet’s delay to his Oedipal complex. Freud’s discovery of the Oedipal complex is based on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. In this drama, Oedipus unknowingly murders his father and sleeps with his mother. Through his research, Freud discovered that all men unconsciously desire to sleep with their mother. Freud also discovered that the human mind is composed of three distinct personalities—the id, ego, and the superego.
According to Freud’s model of the human mind, Hamlet’s Oedipal desire to sleep with Gertrude stems from his id, and his desire to avenge his father’s death stems from his superego. What does this have to do with Hamlet’s delay in killing Claudius? In his The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud remarks:
Hamlet is able to do anything – except take vengeance on the man who did away with
his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the
repressed wishes of his own childhood realized. Thus the loathing, which should drive him
on to revenge, is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which
remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish. (299)
Claudius represents Hamlet’s id, the part of Hamlet that desires to sleep with Gertrude. King Hamlet, however, represents Hamlet’s superego, the part of his mind that seeks to control his id, or his desire to sleep with Gertrude. Because King Hamlet died at the hands of Claudius, Hamlet’s id is gaining strength. This is what makes it impossible for Hamlet to kill Claudius. The strength of his id is stronger than his superego, especially since his superego (King Hamlet) is dead.
The strength of Hamlet’s id is quite apparent in the scene between Hamlet and Gertrude. In Act 3, Scene 4, Hamlet is berating Gertrude for her sexual behavior and the “rank sweat of an enseamed bed.” At this moment, King Hamlet appears as a ghost. At this point, Hamlet’s desire to sleep with Gertrude is at its strongest. When Hamlet’s desires (id) are about to become conscious, King Hamlet (superego) appears to prevent the desire from being realized. Hamlet remarks to the ghost, this revealing his guilty conscience of both his desire and delay:
Do you not come to tardy son to chide,
That lapsed in time and passion lets go by
Th’important acting of your dread command?
O, say! (3.4.107-110)
In response to Hamlet, the Ghost replies:
Do not forget! This visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose. (3.4.111-112)
Symbolically, Hamlet’s superego has gained control of his id, thus enabling Hamlet to get on with the business of avenging the Ghost’s death.
In Act 5, Scene 3, Hamlet does kill Claudius. What makes Hamlet finally kill Claudius after so long? Hamlet is finally able to kill Claudius because Gertrude has now died. Because Gertrude is the object of Hamlet’s desire, and she has now died, Hamlet’s desire for his mother has also died. Because Hamlet no longer has to repress his desire, his strength returns, thus enabling him to kill Claudius not just once, but twice. Hamlet first cuts Claudius with his rapier, then forces him to drink from the poisoned cup. Each of Claudius’ “deaths” represents different things to Hamlet. One death represents the death of King Hamlet, and the other represents the death of Hamlet’s id. As soon as Gertrude dies, Hamlet is able to kill Claudius. And only after the death of Claudius is Hamlet able to rest, symbolized by his physical death.
Because Hamlet’s unwillingness to kill Claudius is repressed, he is not even aware of the reason behind his delay of avenging his father’s death. According to Lesser, “He is troubled first and last by the mysterious force within him which keeps him from executing it”:
I do not know
Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do,’
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength and means
To do’t. (4.443-46)
what would be more evidence than Hamlet himself revealing that he does not even know why he delays in killing Claudius. if Hamlet does not know why he is delaying, any interpretation that Hamlet is delaying out of fear is invalid. Hamlet also may have plenty of time to kill Claudius when he is not in prayer, so any interpretation that includes Hamlet’s concerns for Claudius’ afterlife is also invalid. Both of these interpretations rely on Hamlet being conscious of his actions. And if Hamlet is not conscious of his behavior or lack thereof, it must be because his desire stems from that part of him in which he is unaware, his id.