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Oremland, J.D. (1983). Death and Transformation in Hamlet. Psychoanal. Inq., 3(3):485-512.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 3(3):485-512

Death and Transformation in Hamlet

Jerome D. Oremland, M.D.

Goethe's (1785) study of Hamlet rekindled enormous interest in both the German translation and the English version of the play. His romantic interpretation set off among the intellectuals of German-speaking Europe what by the mid-nineteenth century amounted to a “Hamletmania.” Even though it is not surprising that Freud, as part of that intelligensia, would be fired by Goethe's study of the “action laid upon a soul unfit,” the play does appear with unusual conspicuousness early in Freud's writings (Freud, 1897-1902, 1900). It became Freud's fate to begin the elucidation of the deeper meanings in “the action” and why for every man it is “unfit.”

In Chapter V of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) Freud rather casually mentions that Hamlet was written shortly after the death of Shakespeare's father and the death of Shakespeare's son, Hamnet. In effect, Shakespeare suffered a double loss, the father (the past) and the son (the future). Freud clearly implies that the creation of Hamlet was part of Shakespeare's response to these

Dr. Oremland is Chief of Psychiatry, San Francisco Children's Hospital and Adult Medical Center; Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Vice-chairman Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco; and Faculty Member of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute.

The author is heavily indebted to Mrs.

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