Thursday, 30 January 2014

A Copernican Psychoanalytic Reading of "Hamlet"

            In Freud’s article titled A Difficulty in the Path of Psychoanalysis he outlined three blows which he believed to have been inflicted upon human narcissism. The first blow came from Copernicus, and a history of other scientists before him, who suggested that the earth was not at the centre of the universe. This displaced humans’ importance in the cosmos, and thus was termed the “cosmological blow” to human narcissism. The second came from Darwin who showed that humans were not created in the way in which they exist today, but evolved from other creatures. This removed humans from their pedestal over other animals, and thus was termed the “biological blow” to human narcissism. The third, Freud suggested, came from himself when he suggested that “the ego was not master in its own house”. This is the psychological blow to human narcissism. The ego is the part of the mind, in Freudian terms, which oversees what is going on and channels thoughts into either the conscious or unconscious depending on whether they cohere or go against the needs and wishes of the individual. In suggesting that the ego does not hold power in the mind, Freud indicates that the unconscious does. If one then follows a Laplanchian way of thinking the unconscious is an internal other, which does not come from within the individual, but is created through intromission from the adult to the infant in the primal scene. This primal scene is a scene of seduction, usually one in which the mother places her breast into the child’s mouth. She is consciously telling the child by doing this that she wishes to feed him, but unconsciously is sending enigmatic signifiers (enigmatic because neither child nor adult can translate them) which are sexual. This is a Copernican approach to psychoanalysis because it focuses on the importance of the external other in the creation of one’s unconscious, and indicates that the unconscious is not formed internally, but from the outside.
            To examine Hamlet in a Copernican way his relationship with his mother and father must be examined. The primal scene in this play occurs not between an infant and his mother, but between Hamlet and his father when the ghost comes to Hamlet and tells him of his murder. Intromission here happens through Hamlet’s ear. The ghost is consciously telling Hamlet to kill his uncle, but unconsciously sends an enigmatic signifier regarding Hamlet’s mother’s sexuality. Hamlet’s uncle killed the King and as a result gained the Queen’s (Hamlet’s mother’s) sexual desire; if Hamlet kills the King by the same logic he would gain her desire. This message cannot be translated by Hamlet and so is repressed into his unconscious, but it does drive the action of the play. He uses sexual and violent language to talk to his mother in the closet scene which not only suggests that he is considering her in a sexual manner, but also that he is repressing it. Indeed, during this scene, he stabs Polonius; in a Copernican reading this can be interpreted as him not doing it out of his own fear or suspicion, but it is a sexual act in which he is proving himself for his mother as his sword can be understood to be a phallic symbol.

            Moreover, a Copernican reading of Hamlet would also decentre the protagonist’s Oedipal desires in driving him to act, but instead focuses on his internal other, the unconscious. Hamlet is said to become insane in the play, but another interpretation of this could be that his ego loses control over his unconscious. His Oedipal complex (in which he loves his mother and feels a paradoxical love and hatred towards his father) is only thinly disguised as his need for some kind of justice for his father’s death. Hamlet delays in killing his uncle not because he does not have the means to, or does not wish to kill him, but because to kill his uncle would be a realization of the repressed wishes of his unconscious, placed there by the other. thus his internal other represses his need for revenge because of this reason, but his conscious self cannot see that and believes that he is delaying the murder for logical reasons.

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