Having sexual thoughts about ones mother is the ultimate taboo. An Oedipus complex, as this is called, is the most widely known theories of the most controversial figure in psychology: Sigmund Freud. He also has many other theories on human psychology such as the penis envy, phallic character, and castration anxiety. These psychological motives are apparent in many forms of literature, but especially in Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Oedipus from Sophocles’s Oedipus the King.
The most obvious Freudian disorder in both of these characters is the Oedipus complex. Freud described this complex as being the unconscious desire of a boy to posses the mother and to eliminate the father. The need to eliminate his father stems from the feeling of competition between child and father over the mother. Freud actually named the complex after Oedipus because he lives out the fantasy of the Oedipus complex.
In both of these characters a strong trace of Oedipus complex is apparent. In Oedipus it is very obvious. He actually does kill his father and goes on to marry his mother. While Oedipus could not have known when he killed King Laius that he was his father, the fact that he went on to marry a Queen of a dead King after killing a lavish traveler is suspect, especially after receiving the prophecy that he would marry his mother after killing his father. This correlation could not have gone unnoticed by him. As Freud would say he repressed this knowledge and lived in a state of denial. This state of denial is why he stayed with Jocasta: his want to have sex with his mother outweighed his want to be pure. This is a classic case of an Oedipus complex, and is why Oedipus complex is named after Oedipus.
In comparison, Hamlet is a little different. His Oedipus complex is between him, his mother and King Claudius, not his real father. Being the introvert that he is, at the beginning of the play Hamlet has never acted on his feeling towards his mother. As time goes on, he begins to plot against King Claudius. The reason he gives is to avenge his father’s death, but a Freudian view is much different. Because he has the Oedipus complex, he is actually trying to kill King Claudius in order to win his mother back. This is very obvious in Act 3 Scene 4, where Hamlet speaks to his mother about ending her relationship with King Claudius. The mood in this scene, while not written directly into the play, is very sexual. The fact that it is in her bedroom, combined with the touching that goes on between the two is what gives it the sexual aura.
Another Freudian disorder that both Oedipus and Hamlet share is castration anxiety. Castration anxiety is the feeling of a young boy that his father will cut off his penis to defend his wife from his son. In a more liberal sense, it means that the son is afraid that retribution will come for the love of his mother. In Hamlet, this is very apparent. King Claudius is a direct threat to not only Hamlet’s manhood but also his life. In Hamlet’s mental quest to liberate his mother, his is also robbing Claudius of his new wife. The reason it takes Hamlet so long to react against Claudius is his castration anxiety. He is afraid that Claudius will hurt him, and thusly does not act.
Oedipus is much different. Since his father is dead he really doesn’t have to fear any one single man harming his manhood. Instead, he is afraid of retribution from the public at large if they find out what he has done. Once again this happens more at the subconscious level then the conscious level, but since that is what Freud is all about it works out well. Oedipus’s fear of being “castrated” or other wised harmed by the public at large if they found out he was married to his mother is another reason that he represses the knowledge of exactly what he has done. The fact that he represses the knowledge is shown, again, through the fact that he does not tell people of the prophecy he received from Delphi. It is reasonable to assume that he would have at least told Jocasta about such a momentous event in his life. But it is his subconscious knowledge of his sin that keeps the prophecy locked up, and thusly keeping him from being “castrated” by the public.
The final Freudian complex both Hamlet and Oedipus suffer from is that of having a phallic character. A phallic character is that of having the traits of being reckless, resolute, self-assured, and narcissistic. Hamlet’s phallic character grows during the length of the play, while Oedipus’s phallic character is prominent in the being, but fades over the course of the play. For Hamlet at the onset of the play he is a very limp character. He never acts on his feelings and does not want to take any risks, such as killing Claudius while he prays. As the play progresses, his character begins to grow and expand. His phallic character is apparent at the end of the play, when he sentences himself to almost certain death in the duel with Laertes. He is very reckless and resolute in this decision, along with a little narcissistic. In this decision his character is shown to have come full circle.
Oedipus is much the opposite. In the beginning of the play, and even before the play starts, he is a very phallic character. This is shown when he runs away from home on nothing more then a prophecy, when he kills his father, and when he takes on the Sphinx that is defending Thebes. Oedipus’s phallic character is also present when he first encounters the old prophet, and deals with his rather bluntly. But as the play wares on, his character begins to shrink. As more and more evidence is presented towards what he has done, he begins to loose his resolve and recklessness. By then end, when everyone knows what he has done, he is a broken man. He even shows that his phallic character has been lost by cutting out his eyes.
In conclusion, both Hamlet and Oedipus are both alike and different in Freudian terms. They both show signs of the same disorders, but the details of their disorders are radically different. It is not a coincidence that they both show signs of the same Freudian disorders. Shakespeare and Sophocles used them intentionally to enhance the characters. Without these Freudian disorders, along with other outlandish traits, Oedipus and Hamlet would be normal, well adjusted people. And who really wants to go to the theater to see that?