Hamlet Navigator

The Oedipus-Complex as An Explanation of Hamlet's Mystery:
A Study in Motive
by
Ernest Jones

The ideas of Jones, a disciple of Freud, have had a strong influence on both the study and performance of Hamlet. This part of the Hamlet Navigator site presents a hypertext facsimile of Jones' article, which was first published in the January, 1910, issue of The American Journal of Psychology. In 1949 Jones expanded the article into a book, Hamlet and Oedipus.

Table of Contents:

  • Page 72. [First page of the article.] The importance of Freud's ideas to the study of artistic creativity.
  • Page 74. The importance of the problem of Hamlet's mystery. || Review of various solutions to the problem.
  • Page 76. Argument against the view, popularized by Goethe, "that Hamlet, for temperamental reasons, was fundamentally incapable of decisive action of any kind."
  • Page 78. Argument against the view that the "extrinsic difficulties inherent in the task were so stupendous as to have deterred any one, however determined."
  • Page 81. Argument against "the conclusion that the tragedy is in its essence inexplicable, incongruous and incoherent."
  • Page 82. The "third possibility," that there is "some special feature of the task that renders it repugnant" to Hamlet. || Review of theories about what this feature could be.
  • Page 84. Arguments "to establish the probability . . . that Hamlet's hesitancy was due to some special cause of repugnance for his task, and that he was unaware of the nature of this repugnance."
  • Page 89. "In short, the whole picture presented by Hamlet . . . points to a tortured conscience, to some hidden ground for shirking his task, a ground which he dare not or cannot avow to himself. We have, therefore, again to take up the argument at this point, and to seek for some evidence that may serve to bring to the light of day the hidden motive." || Explanation of psychological "repression."
  • Page 90. Examination of Hamlet's attitude towards Claudius' two crimes: the murder of Hamlet's father and incest with Hamlet's mother.
  • Page 93. "It is as though his devotion to his mother had made him so jealous for her affection that he had found it hard enough to share this even with his father, and could not endure to share it with still another man." || Arguments against "objections" to this thought.
  • Page 98. "As a child Hamlet had experienced the warmest affection for his mother, and this, as is always the case, had contained elements of a more or less dimly defined erotic quality."
  • Page 99. "Now comes the father's death and the mother's second marriage. The long 'repressed' desire to take his father's place in his mother's affection is stimulated to unconscious activity by the sight of some one usurping this place exactly as he himself had once longed to do." || "The two recent events, the father's death and the mother's second marriage . . . represented ideas which in Hamlet's unconscious fantasy had for many years been closely associated."
  • Page 101. [The heart of Jones' argument]. "The call of duty to slay his uncle cannot be obeyed because it links itself with the call of his nature to slay his mother's husband, whether this is the first or the second; the latter call is strongly 'repressed,' and therefore necessarily the former also."
  • Page 102. "It is here maintained that this conflict is an echo of a similar one in Shakspere himself, as to a greater or less extent it is in all men."
  • Page 104. "It is for two reasons desirable here to interpolate a short account of the mythological relations of the original Hamlet legend, first so as to observe the personal contribution to it made by Shakspere, and secondly because knowledge of it serves to confirm and expand the psychological interpretation given above."
  • Page 112. "It is as though Shakspere had read the previous story and realised that had he been placed in a similar situation he would not have found the path of action so obvious as was supposed, but on the contrary would have been torn in a conflict which was all the more intense for the fact that he could not explain its nature."
  • Page 113. "There is therefore reason to believe that the new life which Shakspere poured into the old tragedy was the outcome of inspirations that took their origin in the deepest and most hidden parts of his mind."