William Shakespeare explores the fundamental concepts of modern psychology in his plays. In one of his longest plays, Hamlet, he not only utilizes characters and time to portray the beliefs of the late 16th century but to additionally examine basic principles and interactions of humans. The psychoanalytical notion that children have a repressed desire to be with the opposite-gendered parent is based on plotlines such as Hamlet and is evident through the main character, Hamlet.

Throughout the play, Hamlet is forced to feign madness with various characters to conceal his repressed desire for his mother. For instance, he convinces Polonius and Ophelia he is simply insane and acts irrationally due to his father’s abrupt and callous murder. Moreover, he proves to Claudius he is insane in order to divert his attention and eliminate him. Furthermore,

Essentially, Hamlet feigns madness to disguise his psychological yearning for his mother’s passionate affection.

Sigmund Freud, a 19th century physiologist, suggested the theory of the Oedipus and Electra complex. Each theory essentially maintains that the “child yearns for love, attention, and sexual intimacy with the opposite-gendered parent” (Klein, 67). However, the child is also in rivalry with the same-gendered parent.

This concept, according to Sigmund Freud, is crucial in a child’s development for a mature, sexual role and identity. If the child does not experience parental envy or connection, the “unsuccessful resolution of the complexes might lead to neurological complications, pedophilia, and insanity” (Klein, 69).

(Klein, M. (1945) ‘The Oedipus Complex in the Light of Early Anxieties’, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 26, 11-33)

Hamlet’s repressed desire for Gertrude’s love and attention was in a constant competition with his father prior to the murder. Therefore, because of his posited feelings of discontent toward his father, he must feign madness in order to convince others that he was exceedingly angry.

As a consequence of the competition with his father, Hamlet does not feel the seemingly obvious melancholic emotions that would be typical in his position. Instead, there is a sense of relief and callous, frigid reactions when his father died.

For example, when Marcellus and Horatio explain their encounter with the ghost to Hamlet, he simply asks, “Arm’d, say you? /From top to toe? /What, look’d he frowningly?” (I.ii. 227-230). Not only does Hamlet’s tone emit an uninterested and apathetic emotion, but the questions themselves hardly demonstrate love for his father. One might be skeptical, or curious of the ghost’s human-like appearance, and amongst other possible enquires; however, this merely troubles him.

Moreover, in Hamlet’s opening soliloquy, he expresses his feelings of discontent toward his mother and father’s relationship. Despite his missing father, he exclaims, “Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him /As if increase of appetite had grown” (I.ii. 143-144). This excerpt reveals Hamlet’ prior disgust and frustration with his parent’s relationship. Freud’s suggestion that Hamlet was in a constant rivalry with his father is apparent; his emotions escalate to tangible jealousy.

However, because Hamlet is forced to convince the other characters that he is simply mad, and with no “method in’t” (II.ii.203-204), he utilizes anger to divert attention from his underlying, yet unintentional, desire for his mother. Successfully, Hamlet convinces Polonius he is insane. With Gertrude, Polonius explains that “your noble son is mad” and he is “to be nothing else but mad” (2.2.92-94). Moreover, he convinces Ophelia of his insanity. She explains his visit to Polonius – that Hamlet physically illustrates his madness:

He took me by the wrist and held me hard.
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
And, with his other hand thus o’er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stayed he so.
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being. That done, he lets me go,
And, with his head over his shoulder turned,
He seemed to find his way without his eyes,
For out o’ doors he went without their helps,
And to the last bended their light on me. (II.i.87-100)


This passage clearly demonstrates his act of madness. Seldom do people act in such a random and peculiar way; Hamlet is “mad in craft” (III.iv.190). In essence, Hamlet successfully convinces various characters in believing his madness over his father’s death with the intention of achieving love with Gertrude.

Strong quotes of him playing mad

2 Disgust of incest, rid of clad, move in with mom

3 Freud’s Oedipus complex suggests that Hamlet was in a battle for his mother’s attention and love.

Hamlet continues to feign madness in order to eliminate Claudius and obtain greater affection from Gertrude. Immediately after the king’s death, Gertrude marries Claudius “within a month” and with “most wicked speed” (I.ii.153, 156).  After Hamlet’s sense relief of his father and the subconscious rivalry, another male advances in his position. Consequently, Hamlet countlessly expresses his state of dissatisfaction with Claudius across various events. He claims that they married “with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” (I.ii.157). 

Hamlet clearly demonstrates his disgust of his mother’s new marriage. Moreover, the Ghost explains his death to Hamlet. He elaborates the technique Claudius used to murder him in extensive detail, stating that it was “with juice of cursed hebenon in a vial” and it was of “leperous distilment” (I.v.62, 64). The Ghost continues and urges Hamlet to seek “revenge [for] his foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.25). He also provides a subtle yet crucial reminder to Hamlet: that his uncle is an “incestuous [and] adulterate beast” (I.v.42).

With the freshly implanted idea of committing regicide in revenge for his father, Hamlet also realizes the prime opportunity to achieve two goals: eliminate Claudius out of vengeance and to remove competition for his mother’s love and affection. However, Hamlet’s feigned madness needs to convince Claudius in order to successfully accomplish the act of regicide. When Claudius sends Rosencrantz and others to retrieve Hamlet to investigate his crime of murdering Polonius, he becomes worried and anxious of Hamlet.

He fears Hamlet because of “how dangerous [it would be if] this man goes loose” (V.iii.2).  With the growing fear of his insanity and now prevalent danger, he plots to send him away to England. He explains, “To bear all smooth and even, /This sudden sending him away must seem /Deliberate pause. Diseases desperate grown by desperate appliance are reliev’d” (V.iii.7-10).

In another example, prior to Polonius’ death, Claudius is discussing Hamlet’s “antic disposition” (I.vi.180). He claims, “this something settled matter in his heart, /Whereon his brains still beating puts him thus /From fashion of himself. What think you on’t?” (III.ii.173-175). The fact Claudius asked Polonius reveals his uncertainty with Hamlet.

He posits that there is something on his mind beyond his father’s death. His idea might be revenge, which explains Claudius’ growing anxiety and fear of Hamlet. Thus, Hamlet comfortably succeeds in confusing Claudius through his feigned madness.

Hamlet just can’t seem to leave his mother alone. In fact, the ghost returns at one point to remind Hamlet that he shouldn’t be fixating on Gertrude (3.4.1). You can check out our discussions of “Sex” and “Family” for more on this.

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