Did Hamlet sleep with his mother?

Hamlet does not sleep with his mother in the play. However, some scholars and performers do interpret the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude as having incestuous undertones.

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There is no real evidence in the text to indicate that Hamlet has ever slept with his mother, Queen Gertrude. Despite this, many literary scholars and critics have suggested that Hamlet and Gertrude's relationship has an incestuous element to it. This interpretation is largely inspired by Sigmund Freud's infamous concept, the Oedipus complex. Briefly put, the Oedipus complex refers to a stage of psychosexual development in which young boys are attracted to their mother and jealous of their father.

To support this interpretation, scholars typically point to Hamlet's rage over his mother's remarriage and his preoccupation with the sexual aspects of Gertrude and Claudius's relationship—both of which may be a symptom of Hamlet's unconscious jealousy. Gertrude and Hamlet's conversation in act 3, scene 4, is perhaps the most interesting to examine in this regard. During this heated exchange, Hamlet verbally abuses Gertrude in graphic and sexual terms, attacking her for hurrying “with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” and making reference to her "enseamed bed."

It is important to note that Hamlet's accusation of incest refers not to himself but to Claudius, who was Old King Hamlet's brother and therefore Gertrude's brother-in-law. Interestingly, though some speculate that Hamlet's outburst in act 3 is evidence of his own unconscious desire for his mother, one of Hamlet's chief complaints about Gertrude and Claudius's marriage is that he believes it is a form of incest.

Portrayals of act 3, scene 4 scene can vary dramatically. Some productions lean into the Freudian interpretation, even going so far as to stage this scene in a bedroom, while other productions frame this interaction as an emotionally intense confrontation that is completely devoid of sexual overtones. So, while we can definitively say that Hamlet and his mother do not sleep together in the play, larger questions about the nature of their relationship are ultimately left up to interpretation.

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