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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Freudian Slip
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0570  Monday, 29 March 1999.

From:           Daniel Traister <
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Date:           Sunday, 28 Mar 1999 22:11:55 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Freudian Slip

Freudian Slip by Hamlet?
Filed at 12:02 p.m. EST
By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Ooops!

Although Hamlet is supposed to have lived some 300 years before Freud,
it seems he made a Freudian slip nevertheless.

And the slip, says a leading psychoanalyst, sheds light on the darkest
corner of his mind, and also shows Shakespeare's genius in depicting a
person's inner life.

Dr. Eugene J. Mahon, training analyst at Columbia College of Physicians
and Surgeons, discusses his discovery in the annual journal
Psychoanalytical Study of the Child, a publication that showcases the
latest psychoanalytic thoughts and theories on a variety of subjects.

Hamlet, one of the most popular of Shakespearean heroes, makes the slip
in his first soliloquy. Lamenting his mother's hasty remarriage to his
uncle only one month after his father's death, the Prince of Denmark
mumbles:

"But two months dead! -- nay, not so much, not two."

Why does he say two, instead of one, and immediately correct himself?
That's because Hamlet, in his unconscious Oedipal fantasy, killed his
father a month before his uncle actually did, Mahon argues.

"Children want exclusive possession of one parent and want to get rid of
the other one," the analyst explained in an interview. "Usually for a
boy, that would be, he wants complete possession of his mother and wants
to get rid of his father. But he feels guilty about it because he loves
his father, too. It is a conflict, and it's almost impossible for the
child to make sense out of it. So, at about age 6, he represses it. When
adolescence comes, however, his Oedipus complex is rehashed, making it
possible for a new resolution to be achieved in adulthood.

Oedipus is a hero of Greek legend who unknowingly slays his father and
marries his mother. Sigmund Freud, who conceptualized this psychological
process, also believed that Hamlet must have had his own unconscious
wish to kill his father, Mahon said.

The founder of psychoanalysis theorized that his uncle's carrying out
the very deed Hamlet himself was pondering might have retarded Hamlet's
ability to bring him to swift justice.

In his paper, Mahon offers his own version of what Hamlet might have
been unconsciously thinking when he made the slip:

"But two months dead! -- nay, not so much, not two. I mean to say one,
one, one, one. I am the one now, the only one in her (my mother's) life.
But she betrayed me for another twice. First with him (my father), now
with Claudius (my uncle). But two into one won't go, the awful
impossible mathematics of love. But two months dead. I killed him a
month before Claudius did."

Slips of the tongue occur when one's unconscious thoughts break into
consciousness, Mahon explained. It is part of a phenomenon Freud called
"fehlleistung," or faulty function. Translated into English as
parapraxis, it includes such everyday mistakes as slips of the tongue,
faulty memories and misplaced objects.

Intrigued by Hamlet's slip, which he caught while watching Kenneth
Branagh's movie, "Hamlet," Mahon proceeded to check the other 37 of
Shakespeare's plays and spotted as many as 20 parapraxes.

In "Julius Caesar," for example, he found a case of faulty memory
occurring as Brutus and Cassius squabble after they assassinated Caesar.

"Cassius is angry with Brutus and says something like, 'I'm older than
you. How dare you talk to me like this.' Later, Brutus accuses him of
having said, 'You're better than me.' If indeed Brutus has misheard him,
what's Shakespeare's aesthetic methodology here? What Shakespeare is
really saying is that Brutus has killed an older, better man, namely
Caesar. Maybe all smaller, younger people, namely children, kill older,
better people in their own Oedipal fantasies of childhood," Mahon said.

"So the subtext of this battle about older-better is the notion that
Brutus is guilty of killing an older, better man, Caesar or father
perhaps, and it is his unconscious guilt about this that triggers the
squabble with Cassius leading to the parapraxis of the faulty memory. I
think you can see how the parapraxis, which is seemingly trivial, has
multiple, deeper meanings if one is able to ferret them out."

Even though Freudian parapraxes weren't discovered until 100 years ago,
Shakespeare was clearly very aware of their psychological significance
400 years ago, Mahon observed.

"What's even more amazing to me is that he then began to use them
cleverly, aesthetically in his own depiction of characters," Mahon
concluded.  "Characters are made even more complex by virtue of these
slips of the tongue that they have. When the characters make a slip,
they realize it, and that deepens the audience's sense that they are
thinking unconsciously."
 

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