The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0346 Tuesday, 13 February 2001
From: Andrew Walker White <
Date: Monday, 12 Feb 2001 13:20:12 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Hamlet and Oedipus?!?
Clifford Stetner refers to "unresolved Oedipal" issues Hamlet may have
with Gertrude. . . frankly, I wonder that we still haven't gone beyond
Dr. Ernest Jones' type of critique, which I find so willfully
superficial and unscientific that it should have been ditched long ago.
Is Stetner saying that there can be no other reasons, dramatic or
otherwise, for Hamlet's intemperate response to his mother's
re-marriage? Is he implying that the _only_ reason Hamlet lingers on
the time it took for remarriage was because he lusts for his mom? I
should certainly hope not.
If we are going to apply a scientific model, and we need to consider
Freud as a scientist (I know, that's a big if, but what can we do), then
the only way to prove the Oedipal theory is to take into account the
facts of the case, and come up with compelling reasons why other, more
down-to-earth theories don't apply. Here's my theory:
It doesn't take Freud or Jones to realize that step-parents are rarely
welcome. And if the new dad happens to be a drunken bastard of an
uncle, making the marriage not only ill-advised but _incestuous_ in the
eyes of any Church in Hamlet's day, I fail to see any reason for Oedipus
to intrude on the discussion. Hamlet's humiliation at his mother's
conduct can be easily understood by anyone who looks the situation
squarely in the eye. The original legend makes clear that Hamlet is
disgusted with the Queen's quick remarriage -- Shakespeare adds that
touch of pathos that he is also embarrassed for her, and the
embarrassment comes precisely because he remembers what a great
wife/queen/mother she used to be.
How simple humiliation and disgust can be twisted into carnal lust is
beyond me, and has yet to be proven. No matter how fine a stylist Jones
was, he was working from a deliberate misunderstanding of the play. He
doesn't even understand that, for Hamlet, revenge can never be just
killing off Claudius. (Do we need to go over the concept of
damnation-as-revenge again?) The hesitation in the chapel, again, is
perfectly understandable given the values of Shakespeare's time (and, if
you're a Baptist, even our own).
Sorry, but this one puts a bee in my hat, and I had to respond.