Literary Criticism

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What is psychoanalytic criticism?

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There are many different ways to approach analyzing a work of literature. Conventionally, we look at plot, theme, character, setting, and tone. Other forms of criticism focus on reading through a biographical lens or on social forces impacting a text. However, starting in the twentieth century, critics began to do psychoanalytic readings of texts.

In this method, which began by applying Freudian theory to literary texts, literary critics examined the unconscious motivations driving characters in literature. One of the most famous examples of this is the psychoanalysis of Hamlet to show that Claudius enacted Hamlet's Oedipal impulses. Claudius fulfilled Hamlet's repressed, unconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. Hamlet, according to this theory, hates and wants to destroy Claudius because he is unconsciously envious that Claudius did what Hamlet wanted to do. In this reading, the ghost is secondary: Hamlet is simply trapped between desire and guilt.

In the late...

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