Oedipus Complex

Published 03 Jan 2017

Oedipus complex is a term defined as a state wherein a child, specifically a boy, develops a lustful desire towards her mother and sees his father as a rival. The child feels the urge to compete with his father for his mother’s love and attention. Sometimes they even develop evil thoughts of killing him. The counterpart of Oedipus complex, which involves girls developing desires for their fathers, is known as Electra complex. This theory is closely related to castration complex which is “the early childhood fear of castration that Freud and Lacan both saw as an integral part of our psychosexual development” (Felluga 2002). Oedipus complex was coined by a psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, based on the story of King Oedipus by Sophocles.

The story revolves on the life of Oedipus, a man destined to kill his father and marry his mother because of a prophecy. Because of this prophecy, his parents pierced his feet and sent him away to perish shortly after birth. He was adopted by the King and Queen of Corinth. Years after, he had suspicions about his true identity and left home to seek the truth. True to the oracles words, the prophecy came true. On his journey he unknowingly killed his father, the King of Thebes, and the Sphinx who terrorizes the kingdom. With an empty throne, the grateful people of Thebes offered Oedipus the position because he saved them from the Sphinx.

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He readily agreed and married the widowed queen who happens to be his real mother. He fathered four children by her. The truth about Oedipus unfolded because of a deadly plague. It is said that the plague would leave Thebes alone if the person who murdered the king would be punished. Oedipus soon learned that the old man he killed in the crossroad was King Laius, his father. Realizing what he had done, he blinded and exiled himself to death.

Much of these Oedipus complex is said to be evident in one of William Shakespeare’s famous plays Hamlet. Hamlet is a story full of anger, revenge and deception. King Hamlet, the young Hamlet’s father, just died and shortly after his death his mother married his brother, newly crowned King Claudius. At the beginning of the play Hamlet saw the ghost of his father and revealed a horrible truth about his own death. The king was not bitten by a serpent. He was murdered. He was poisoned by his brother, King Claudius. Hamlet was fuming mad and swore to kill his uncle for revenge.

He was more determined than ever to break his mother’s marriage to the king. He decided to act insane so as to avoid suspicion while planning his revenge. He went to Ophelia, his love interest, and convinced her that he had gone mad. Ophelia’s father spread his theory that Hamlet had gone insane because Ophelia refuses to accept his love. The king and queen were disturbed by the news that Hamlet might be going insane. Then, Hamlet arranged actors to sort of re-enact the death of the king with the hopes of getting his uncle upset and guilty. As expected, King Claudius was angered and he ordered to stop the play. Having confirmed his suspicions, Hamlet went to see and warn his mother about this shortly after the play.

Unknown to Hamlet, Polonius, Ophelia’s father and the king’s friend, was hiding behind the curtains and eavesdropping on them. He killed him through the curtains thinking that he was King Claudius. The king soon realized that Hamlet was becoming a threat to him. He planned ways to kill Hamlet but to no avail. He sent him to England with two English men who were tasked to kill him. Hamlet was able to escape and went home. Then he tried to poison his wine but it was the queen who drank it.

Finally, he sought the help of Laertes, Polonius’ son. He was to wound Hamlet with a poisoned sword. He readily agreed because he wants to avenge the death of his father and sister who committed suicide. He succeeded but he, too, was scratched with the same sword. On the verge of death, Leartes confessed that King Claudius was behind all this. Though wounded and weak, Hamlet still managed to stab his uncle with the poisoned sword. Moments later, he died. The play ended with Horatio, Hamlet’s dear friend, bidding him farewell.

Although there is no direct reference that Hamlet has Oedipus complex, some parts of the play show some indications that he has a “thing” for his mother. He happens to be close to his mother. That’s probably one of the reasons why he seemed upset about his mother’s marriage to his uncle right after the death of his father. “She married. O, most wicked speed” says Hamlet in Act I Scene 2 of the play. It is evident that he does not approve of his mother’s early marriage to his uncle.

“But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue”, in this line we can feel Hamlet’s pain and frustration. It could be that he expects his mother to be fonder of him now that his father is gone. But then, Claudius came into the picture. He may be extremely jealous of his uncle and it’s heartbreaking for him to see the two of them together, especially now that he knows that Claudius killed his father. Though he disapproves of the queen’s decisions he cannot voice out his views as much as he wanted to. He knew that there would be grave consequences if he will give in to his forbidden feelings.

When his father was still alive, Hamlet seems to be jealous of him too. “Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him, as if increase of appetite had grown” this line describes how his mother hungers for his father’s love and affection. There may be a tinge of bitterness in this statement. Now that his father is dead, he expected his mother to mourn longer considering the fact that she loved him dearly.

In spite of the suspicions about Hamlet having Oedipus complex, his story revealed that he once fell in love and courted a lady named Ophelia. The sad part is that her father and brother does not approve of Hamlet. Even though she was beginning to let Hamlet sweep her off her feet, she chose to obey her family’s advice rather reluctantly. Soon, she convinced herself that Hamlet is not the man for her when he appeared before her acting very strange.

She lost hope on the promise of his love in later parts of the play when Hamlet said that he never really loved her. In fact, he told her many times to go to a nunnery. Maybe Hamlet really has Oedipus complex. He never showed Ophelia deep concern unlike his mother. There was never a scene in the play where he professed much attention and affection to her. He even denied giving her the gifts she was returning in one part of the play. He never talks about her the way he talks about his mother.

In Act III Scene 4 of Hamlet, entitled The Queen’s Closet, Hamlet showed his disgust to his mother. He let all his suppressed emotions out. Hamlet was angry because his mother married his father’s murderer but for some reason instead of confronting her about this, he focused on “his mother’s sexuality” (Anonymous 2002). He kept on stressing that she had sinned greatly being married to her husband’s brother no sooner after his death, which clearly shows jealousy. He also said something about his mother’s bed being all sweaty and stained with semen because of their love-making.

He talked to her rudely and warned her to stay away from the king. Some of the lines goes like this; “Good night: but go not to mine uncle’s bed”, “Not this, by no means, that I bid you do: Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed; Pinch wanton on your cheek; call you his mouse; And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses, Or paddling in your neck with his damn’d fingers ” (Hylton 2000). Obviously, Hamlet does not want her mother to go to bed with his uncle or to even show him affection. Hamlet’s sexual thoughts and choice of words suggest that he has been thinking of his mother in a lustful way. He could even be fantasizing about her all this time.

It is quite amazing that William Shakespeare was able to think of very controversial angles to his play. Who would have thought that long before psychoanalysts and psychologists formulated theories such as Oedipus complex, one of our greatest writers of all times already incorporated it in one of his master pieces.

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