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Movie Essays – Oedipal Hamlet in Film

Oedipal Hamlet on Film

It has commonly been suggested by such disciples of Sigmund Freud as Ernest Jones that Shakespeare’s character of Hamlet is the victim of an Oedipus complex. While any reading of the play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark that focuses on the text and not the psychoanalytical fads of the current age disproves any notion of Hamlet’s oedipal nature, many film artists have followed popular psychology and have adopted this theory for the screen. Whether out of precedent, pressure, or some need to discover some complex in Hamlet, this has become a very popular trend for filmmakers. Seeing as how it is impossible to do a production of Hamlet without addressing Hamlet’s relationship with Gertrude, Hamlet, Sr., and Claudius, the following will be a discussion of several filmic Hamlets, and the presence, or absence of these Freudian notions.

While certainly not the first production of Hamlet for the big screen, Laurence Olivier’s 1948 adaptation is the first full length commercial version, and is still highly regarded today. In this film Gertrude looks at Hamlet more like a lover than a mother, gazing at him lustfully whenever he is present. Gertrude’s affection is not limited to these gazes, however, as upon Hamlet’s agreement to remain at Elsinore she kisses him deep and long on the lips, like a lover.

Olivier’s Hamlet is initially aggressive toward Gertrude during the closet scene, but after the visit from the ghost he becomes as affectionate as Gertrude is in the beginning. Hamlet speaks to Gertrude tenderly, and she responds accordingly. He then gives her a deep long kiss to seal their pact against Claudius. Taken out of context the scene would appear to be a conversation and love-pact between two …

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…ed complexes and have given us Hamlets free of supposed incestuous wishes and confused notions. This reverence for the script and lack of supposition give the viewer a more accurate view of Hamlet that is more in keeping with the complex mind Shakespeare offered his audience.

Works Cited and Consulted

Branagh, Kenneth. “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare: Sreenplay, Introduction, and Film Diary. New York: W.W. Norton

Reality and Illusion in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Reality, Appearance and Deception

Reality and Illusion in Hamlet

Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, begins with the appearance of a ghost, an apparition, possibly a hallucination. Thus, from the beginning, Shakespeare presents the air of uncertainty, of the unnatural, which drives the action of the play and develops in the protagonist as a struggle to clarify what only seems to be absolute and what is actually reality. Hamlet’s mind, therefore, becomes the central force of the play, choosing the direction of the conflict by his decisions regarding his revenge and defining the outcome.

Shakespeare begins Hamlet’s struggle with recognition of Hamlet’s sincere grief and anger following his father’s untimely death. A taste of the conflict is expressed in the dialogue between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude. Here Hamlet forcefully declares his pain and adds a discerning remark that defines seems as “actions that a man might play.” (I.2 ln 84) By acknowledging Hamlet’s comprehension of the separation between appearances and truth, Shakespeare gives the audience a reasonable belief in Hamlet’s eventual success despite the obstacles he creates for himself.

Developing a convincing scheme by which to determine the goodness of the ghost and to achieve revenge is Hamlet’s first action. Hamlet asks his friend Horatio to refrain from commenting on any strange behavior he may exhibit in the future. (I.5 ln 170-179) Later in the play, Hamlet alludes to his actual sanity when conversing with his school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” (II.2 ln 377-378) After adequately concealing his intentions, Hamlet begins to doubt his own character. He compares himself to an actor who…

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…struggle for revenge. Nevertheless, the central driving force of the play remains Hamlet’s mind. The new king, Fortinbras, assures the audience that Hamlet “was likely, had he been put on, to have proved most royal.” (V.2 ln 391-392)

Works Cited and Consulted:

Heilman, Robert B. “The Role We Give Shakespeare.” Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.

Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Mack, Maynard. “The World of Hamlet.” Yale Review. vol. 41 (1952) p. 502-23. Rpt. in Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995.

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