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Silverberg, W.V. (1949). Hamlet: By William Shakespeare. With a Psychoanalytical Study by Ernest Jones, M.D. London: Vision Press, Ltd., 1947. Distributed by Funk & Wagnalls, New York. 180 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 18:85-87.
(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:85-87
Hamlet: By William Shakespeare. With a Psychoanalytical Study by Ernest Jones, M.D. London: Vision Press, Ltd., 1947. Distributed by Funk & Wagnalls, New York. 180 pp.
Review by: William V. Silverberg
This volume contains a text of Hamlet introduced by a republication of Jones's study of the play (The Problem of Hamlet and the Oedipus-Complex), originally published in 1910 in the American Journal of Psychology, and since then reprinted in various forms, both in English and in German.
As Jones states, the study is based upon Freud's interpretation of the play, set forth in a long footnote in the Traumdeutung. Freud's main thesis dealt with the problem that had proved utterly baffling to earlier students of the Bard, the problem of Hamlet's hesitancy and vacillation in consummating the act of vengeance for the murder of his father. The solution presented by Freud was that Hamlet's will to act is paralyzed by reason of conflict over his repressed Oedipus complex. Claudius, in killing Hamlet's father and marrying the Queen, created in Hamlet an intense return of the repressed: Claudius did what the infant Hamlet desired, and as an adult, still unconsciously desired to do; thus Hamlet was identified with Claudius who, no more and no less than Hamlet, deserved death. Shakespeare, then, depicted a neuroticconflict which Freud had detected repeatedly in the neurotic conflicts and dreams of his patients. It is infinitely more openly represented in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. A minor hypothesis of Freud was that in writing the play, Shakespeare had been unconsciously motivated by reactivation of the Oedipus, following the death of his own father. This is based upon the supposition that the play was written in 1601, the year of John Shakespeare's death.
Jones's study is in the main a brilliant and highly readable documentation of these ideas, supported by an extraordinarily lucid account of the concepts basic to them. It is a classic in the application of psychoanalysis to the study of literature. Indeed, certain additional insights, original with Jones, are presented. These serve to deepen the conviction of Freud's interpretation of the drama.
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