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William Shakespeare’s "Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark". A Para-Psychological Reading

Essay 2014 6 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literatur, Werke



The present paper endeavours to give an in depth para-psychological reading of William Shakespeare’s classic play ‘ Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark ’. Two distinguished terminologies, “interoception” and “exteroception” are introduced and taken into consideration, while examining the central character, Prince Hamlet. Previous theories and critical observations are also analysed for a proper assessment of the play. Besides, it is also shown how a careful para-psychological reading can provide an antidote to all previous critical excesses. Critics have often looked upon the play as a potential “Pandora’s box of troubles” interpreting it in a distinctive variety of spectrums. However, the following research shall show how the play is Shakespeare’s systematic study and a tribute to the superior intellect of man.

Key Words: para-psychological, Hamlet, interoception , exteroception, antidote, excesses, Pandora, spectrums, systematic, intellect.


“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a God!…” (Act 2, Scene 2)

‘Hamlet’ has always retained the centrestage for its tendency to arouse and stimulate ripe conjectures, hypothesis and theories, with none of them, however, consistently supporting the concatenation between “interoception” and “exteroception”. To proceed further in the analysis of this tragedy, one has first to be familiar with the two above mentioned psychological terminologies. Interoception is the sensitivity to a condition originating inside the body, whereas exteroception is the sensitivity to a condition originating outside the body. Only a harmonization between these two cohesive faculties is responsible for the sustainable equilibrium of any rational human being.

Many scholars and critics over the years have interpreted Hamlet in their own distinctive ways, sometimes overreaching their critical faculties and blurring all distinctions. It is to this amusing phenomenon that I wish to concentrate my attention. Scrutinizing all previous theories, their drawbacks and inconsistencies, I shall lay to the fore the reason behind this failure, and lastly, the necessity and importance of “interoception” and “exteroception” and their relevance with Hamlet, the tragic character.


To begin with, Dr. Sigmund Freud, the Father of Modern Psychology, once interpreted Shakespeare’s ‘ Hamlet ’ as a case of “Oedipus Complex”. He fairly struck upon this phrase owing to the classified deductions made by him of his favourite play, ‘Oedipus Rex’ by Sophocles. In this play, the hero Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. His analysis of Hamlet was further taken up to another level by his follower, Ernest Jones, who characteristically claimed that Hamlet’s was a case of suppressed or repressed sexual desire and therefore, a resultant sraggling of action. According to Jones, Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark had a sexual desire towards his mother, manifest from his childhood. That he secretly desired for his mother and looked up to his father as a potential rival or an unwanted obstacle to that arrangement. That is why, he kept on whiling away his resolution to kill his uncle, for his uncle had commendably done what he (Hamlet) had wanted to do himself for the love of Gertrude. It is only at last, when Gertrude is accidentally killed that Hamlet kills his uncle Claudius fair and square, i.e. when the object of desire is taken away from him (Hamlet). To apply this theory progressively into the play ‘Hamlet’ would be too hasty and downright an assessment. It downplays and sidelines many angles and dimensions, which need to be countered for analysing a sophisticated play like Hamlet. It positively rules out deeper emotional and psychological possibilities required for approaching a complex character like Hamlet and focuses mainly on physical exigencies and a kind of devious manipulation that is quite unbecoming of a noble hero. One needs to keep in mind that Shakespeare or his age was not at all familiar with such phenomenal terms such as “Oedipus” or “Electra Complex”. As a matter of fact, psychology itself was an unborn subject that did not make its appearance until about the 20th century with the emergence of Sigmund Freud and his Psychoanalysis. During Shakespeare’s age, people were generally superstitious and God-fearing and constantly remained in awe of the divine and demonic spheres. That Shakespeare was aware of any such condition is highly hypothetical. Endicott rightly points out that the possibility of such a conclusion is very dim at the very outset and therefore, challengeable.

Moving on to T.S. Eliot and his critical observation in “Hamlet And His Problems” (See Eliot, 1921), one comes to realize that Eliot emphasizes primarily on the form and structure of the play, dismissing the content or any outward possibilities. Eliot contends that a lot of critical attention has been paid to the character of the play rather than the structure. He characteristically asserts that the play fails to conform to the standard conception of a Shakespearean tragedy, owing to its dilly-dallying of purpose. He also forcefully remarks that the play lacks “Objective Correlative”, that which is imperative to all his tragic masterpieces, i.e., external conditions successfully facilitating and conjoining with the intended dominant emotion that is aroused. Thus, according to Eliot, the play is a deviance from accepted and established rules verging on obscurity and therefore, not a great but a successfully amusing piece of art, which he called “the Mona Lisa of literature”. One needs to remember that Eliot and Richards were founders of the school ‘New Criticism’, championed later by John Crowe Ransom and others, which primarily advocated the incorporation of form while assessing a literary work and rigorously stuck to the text, analysing it word by word, phrase by phrase. Therefore, one may argue that by emphasizing on only the form, Eliot completely dismisses the content, which is of equal importance and holds myriad possibilities. Then again, his assertion that even a hasty revision would have noticed such inconsistencies may be countered by the fact that Shakespeare was infamous for breaking dramatic conventions purely in the interest of art and probably chose to overlook them as what he saw best (See Philip Burton), thus leaving room for contemplation and not narrowing it down to a mere calculation and summarization. Altogether, Eliot’s view is half-baked and therefore, faulty.

Understanding the German poet Goethe’s theory of ‘ Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark ’ in his ‘Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship’ (See Goethe, 1995), one comes to the conclusion that Goethe analysed the character primarily on sentimental grounds and not practical. While focussing on his “pure, noble and moral” aspects, he renders him (Hamlet) incapable of courageous actions befitting a hero, and reduces him to a saintly person immaculate of sins, which is again a flawed vision. Goethe affirms that it is like a lot of burden or pressure imposed upon a soft person that which he cannot bear nor dispose, almost like the insertion of a fledgling tree inside a flower pot, which unable to bear the pressure ultimately expands and breaks the mould, spreading its roots far and wide. While focussing on his romantic side replete with virtuosity and his imminent weakness, Goethe overlooks the prosaic side that is rife with diabolical deftness and dexterity. One may conclude therefore that Goethe’s theory is fractured and unreliable.



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Ranchi University
william shakespeare’s hamlet prince denmark para-psychological reading



Titel: William Shakespeare’s "Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark". A Para-Psychological Reading