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Krims, M.B. (1997). Hamlet's frailty. Free Associations, 7(2):232-246.

(1997). Free Associations, 7(2):232-246

Hamlet's frailty

Marvin B. Krims

The Purpose of This article is to extend traditional psychoanalytic understanding of Hamlet's oedipal complex to his desire for his father and rivalry with his mother.1 Consideration of this less well explored side of his oedipal feelings might deepen our understanding of his personality and key scenes in the play.

We first meet Hamlet in mourning for his father, who died unexpectedly two months before the play begins. His mother, perhaps feeling guilty about her remarriage only one month after her husband died, asks why Hamlet seems unhappy. He replies:

‘Seems’ madam? Nay, it is. I know not ‘seems’.

'Tis not alone my inky coat, good mother,

Nor customary suits of solemn black,

Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,

No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,

Nor the dejected havior of the visage,

Together with all the forms, moods, shapes of grief,

That denote me truly. These indeed ‘seem’,

For they are actions a man might play;

But I have that within which passes show,

These but the trappings and the suits of woe.


He is appropriately sad, suffering the pain so characteristic of bereavement. Later he tells us of other feelings characteristic of the mourning process: he idealizes his father and extols his virtues as king and husband, ‘So excellent a king, that was to this/ Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother/ That he might not beteem the winds of heaven/ visit her face too roughly’ (1.2.143-6).

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