The psychoanalytical criticism of Hamlet is dominated largely by discussion of Hamlet's apparent oedipal issues, namely his focus on his mother's sexuality and his murderous intentions toward the father-figure in his life, his stepfather (and uncle) Claudius. In fact, Philip Edwards (1985) notes that the psychoanalytical criticism of Hamlet was sparked by a single footnote regarding Hamlet's Oedipus complex in Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). Freud notes that "Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father's place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized." In addition to Hamlet's oedipal anxiety, his delay in obtaining revenge as commanded by the ghost is also a source of psychoanalytical study.
C. L. Barber and Richard P. Wheeler (1986) introduce their analysis of Hamlet by reviewing Freud's views on individual and social development. The critics assert that the psychological framework of Hamlet is informed by Hamlet's efforts to "cope with the desecration of his heritage." While they argue that Hamlet's problems cannot be simply reduced to the Oedipus complex, Barber and Wheeler state that an understanding of Hamlet "must be consistent with the presence of that complex, for the Freudian explanation clearly works." Emphasizing Hamlet's guilt, which is focused on his father, not his mother, the critics argue that this guilt refers to Hamlet's wish to kill his father, which he cannot do since Hamlet's father is already dead. The wish, Barber and Wheeler explain, is diverted from Hamlet's father to his uncle. Taking another approach to Hamlet's oedipal issues, Janet Adelman (1992) centers on the role of the mother. Adelman illustrates that in earlier Shakespearean plays, such as Henry IV, the son must choose between two fathers and shapes his own identity in relationship to his image of his father. With the appearance of a mother/wife—Gertrude, in Hamlet—the father takes on a sexual role; this disables the son's relationship with his father and creates in the son a sexualized image of his mother. In Hamlet, Adelman points out, Gertrude's sexuality "is literally the sign of her betrayal and of her husband's death." H. R. Coursen (1982) identifies a number of problems related to the Freudian analysis of Hamlet, including, among others, the tendency of Freudians to focus on Hamlet's inner conflicts, while ignoring the external issues with which Hamlet is faced. After surveying several Freudian analyses of Hamlet, Coursen suggests that a Jungian approach may help clarify some of the problems with Freudian analyses: "the oedipal problem may itself be symptomatic of a deeper disturbance within Hamlet's psyche, that is, his inability to contact his 'feminine soul' or anima." Coursen defines the anima as the energy of the male's recognition and integration into consciousness of "his androgynous nature" and goes on to demonstrate a link between introverted thinking (such as the kind that occupies Hamlet), the fear of women, and the Oedipus complex. While Coursen accepts the Oedipus complex as symptomatic of Hamlet's larger psychological problems, Arthur Kirsch (1981) dismisses the notion that Hamlet is motivated by unconscious psychological fantasies or disturbances. Kirsch argues that "the source of Hamlet's so-called oedipal anxiety is real and present, it is not an archaic and repressed fantasy." Rejecting the idea that Hamlet's thoughts and actions are psychological responses to repressed fantasies, Kirsch argues that they are legitimate reactions to external events, specifically Hamlet's mother's incestuous marriage within a month to his father's brother and murderer. Additionally, Kirsch maintains that "such oedipal echoes" are an inextricable part of Hamlet's grief, and that Hamlet is forced to deal with them while still mourning the death of his father. After reviewing Freud's distinction between grief/mourning and depression/melancholia and noting that Freud fails to incorporate the emotions of anger and protest (against mortality) in his discussion of grief, Kirsch traces Hamlet's personal journey through his grieving process. Kirsch concludes that Hamlet's preoccupation with delay, with the relationship between thought and action, demonstrates that no action "can be commensurate with grief, not even the killing of a guilty king. . . ." Where Kirsch comments on the relationship between Hamlet's grief and the delay of Hamlet's revenge, Joanna Montgomery Byles (1994) focuses on the psychological origins of revenge in Hamlet. Byles discusses the concept of the Freudian superego "as heir to the Oedipus complex, the internalization of parental values and the source of punitive, approving and idealizing attitudes towards the self." In Hamlet, Byles argues, revenge is presented as "an inward tragic event" motivated by the aggression of Hamlet's superego and externalized and emphasized by destructive family relationships. Byles concludes that the delay Hamlet experiences stems from the conflict between his ego and his superego, and by the end of the play, the self-destructive superego wins, and Hamlet dies.