How can Shakespeare's Hamlet be analyzed using Feminist and Psychoanalytic literary theories?

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Renowned Shakespearean critic Harold Bloom credits Hamlet with being "Freud's mentor." For, like Hamlet, Freud contends that people are "lived by drives we cannot command." These looming drives are evinced in an analysis of Hamlet according to Feminist and Psychoanalytic literary theory.

  • Feminist Theory

--Inequality of the sexes: In the early part of the play, Hamlet reviles his mother, and blames her for having married her brother-in-law, accusing her of an incestuous relationship (1.2.161-162), as well as villainy (1.5.108). But, he mentions little about Claudius at this point.

--Oppression by patriarchy: Hamlet berates his mother for having a sexual appetite that kept her from reason as she married his uncle, accusing her as a woman of being "frail" (1.2.150).

--Patriarchal ideology: Laertes warns his sister to protect her virginity (her "chaste treasure"), but his warnings are more concerned with whom Ophelia can attract as a husband (1.3.27-39) since marrying a virgin ensures that a man's heirs will be legitimate. Ophelia illuminates the double standard of her brother as she points to his having been promiscuous himself ("puff'd and reckless libertine").

In an example of patriarchal power, Polonius exploits his daughter Ophelia by having her talk to Hamlet and report everything that he says to her. Later, Ophelia feels so dominated by her father, whom she must obey as an unmarried woman, and abused by the behavior and insults of Hamlet, who perceives her as a symbol of feminine corruption, that she commits suicide.

Certainly, gender issues play a large role in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

  • Psychoanalytic theory

--Attachment: This term applies to the emotional attachment of child and caregiver, so the turbulent and questionable relationship of Hamlet with his mother comes into play, along with his devotion to his father.

After he talks with the ghost of his father, Hamlet is incensed, vowing to avenge his death. Then, when he returns to the castle and ponders the swift marriage of his mother, Hamlet again is enraged because he feels that his mother has corrupted her role by marrying her brother-in-law.

--Transference: This term applies to "the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person's childhood."

Certainly, much has been made of the odd relationships of Hamlet to both his mother and Ophelia. For, Hamlet is accused of an Oedipal relationship with Gertrude. At any rate, he does ask his mother in Act III not to sleep with Claudius, and he tells her in Act III, Scene 4 that he will ask for her blessing when she repents.

--Proximity Maintenance: This term pertains to an individual's desire to be physically close to the caregiver. In Act III Hamlet says that if his mother will refrain from having a relationship with Claudius, he will visit her and become closer to her.

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