Expression of Jungian Archetypes in Shakespeare's Hamlet Term Paper

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Expression of Jungian Archetypes in Shakespeare's Hamlet

The Tragedy Hamlet" as a study of positive Jungian integration of archetypes into a complete self

It has become a cliche that William Shakespeare is a timeless playwright. His stories are still read and performed today. But why is this the case, given that his plotlines are often quite simple, and authored by others, long before Shakespeare put pen to paper (such as "Romeo and Juliet" and "Julius Caesar"). His plays themselves have become so familiar there is no longer any suspense as to whether Claudius 'really' killed Old Hamlet. The reason for Shakespeare's durability is his complex, yet seemingly universally identifiable characters. The pioneer of psychoanalysis and the theorist of the collective unconsciousness Carl Jung might observe that Shakespeare's characters are not simply complex and psychologically multifaceted; they are also timeless archetypes.

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Archetypes are: "essentially quasi-autonomous functions which give rise to specific motifs, as common in all mythology as in any individual's life. They are often discussed in terms of personifications which appear in dreams, but they can also be seen in themes of stories, mythological or lived. They are very potent as patterns of action" (Pettifor 1995). They are general, universal 'stereotypes' that reflect all of human consciousness and experience, like craving a nurturing mother, hating parts of the self in the form of the shadow, or seeking out one's male or female counterpart in the form of an anima or animus.

Term Paper on Expression of Jungian Archetypes in Shakespeare's Hamlet Assignment

One of the most striking features of Shakespeare's use of archetypical characters in "Hamlet" is its absence of positive, mothering images. Hamlet begins the play mourning Gertrude's failure as a mother almost as much as he delights in excoriating Claudius' evil in marrying her. "Frailty, thy name is woman! -- /a little month, or ere those shoes were old/With which she follow'd my poor father's body, / Like Niobe, all tears: -- why she, even she -- /O, God! A beast, that wants discourse of reason,/Would have mourn'd longer -- married with my uncle,/My father's brother, but no more like my father

Than I to Hercules" (I.2). According to Jung, the "mother archetype is our built-in ability to recognize a certain relationship, that of 'mothering.' Jung says that this is rather abstract, and we are likely to project the archetype out into the world and onto a particular person, usually our own mothers," but also others, like lovers and wives (Boeree 1997). Hamlet desires an ideal mother to nurture him and to validate his moral ideal of himself, a moral ideal of a happy family that pays homage to the dead king. This desire for an 'ideal' woman will also be turned against Ophelia, when he vents his anger at women in general against this specific character. "Frailty, thy name is woman! -- "(I.2). "Go thy ways to a nunnery' (III.1).

Hamlet also seems to wish to have a desexualized mother, who does not desire, or at least only desires his father -- an idealized, dead father, that is, as we never see Hamlet and his mother and father together as a living family unit. At the beginning of the play Gertrude's expressed desire for another man, in the form of Claudius, that Hamlet sees as anathema to his own moral beliefs and interests, conflicts with the ideal of motherhood as a state of a purity and complete focus and nurturing on the child. Interestingly, in the scene after the play-within-a-play, in Gertrude's closet, Hamlet is less determined to convince Gertrude in an articulate fashion of Claudius' guilt than he is to enjoin her to be chaste. "go not to mine uncle's bed; / Assume a virtue, if you have it not.../...Refrain to-night, / and that shall lend a kind of easiness/to the next abstinence: the next more easy" (III.4).

The archetype of the mother is of a purely moral being, who only gives, never takes. It is an archetype embraced by fathers, sons, and husbands. Even Hamlets father's ghost likewise mourns that his former queen has "fallen off" into the arms of another man whom the old king deems poorer than himself and his abilities (I.5). She is said "to decline / Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor/to those of mine! / but virtue, as it never will be moved, / Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven' (I.5). Although Jung believed that both men and women sought a sense of 'complete' selfhood, a fulfillment of the quest for completeness and purpose, in the text of the play, the female's corresponding need for such fulfillment is not acknowledged by the male culture of the court of Denmark.

Gertrude's failure to nurture both her son, and also to a lesser degree, her former husband, and to nurture her own interests is read as a failure of her ability to mother. An ideal mother must choose between self and object of nurturance, and always abstain from fulfilling the desire of the self. The only 'ideal mother' is that of the player queen: "A second time I kill my husband dead, / When second husband kisses me in bed" (III.2). Thus as a play, "Hamlet" is curiously absent of 'real' mothering figures at all. The Polonius family triad not only lacks a mother, it lacks even a reference to a motherly figure that has died. There is no nurturance or guidance of the feminine principle, and the family is lead by the "tedious old fool" Polonius rather than a fully realized fatherly or motherly archetype (II.2).

A consummate politician, rather than show love, Polonius can only instruct his son Laertes how to dissemble in front of others in a Machiavellian fashion: "to thine own self be true" (I.3). Polonius the dissembler, a kind of perversion of the character of the wise man cannot provide either fatherly or feminine, tender guidance to Ophelia. Polonius fears she will be taken advantage of so he merely enjoins her to withdraw from contact with prince Hamlet.

The frail Ophelia is of course especially vulnerable to manipulation by others and to madness, in the form of both the king and her father, and later to her own torment that the man who wooed her killed her father. Laertes, a result of a lack of nurturance or guidance by a true, wise old man, is also quite vulnerable to being morally stained and shaped by others, as is evidenced in his willingness to construct the plot with the pointed sword, later in the play. Bad or absent mothers, bad or absent fathers and wise men populate the kingdom of Denmark, whether the deaths of the good versions of these archetypes are a result of death or emotional withdrawal. The consequences of this are demonstrated by the continuing frustration and failure of Hamlet and the other young people of the play to achieve fully-fledged identities until the end, and even then, only upon the brink of death. Ophelia speaks wisdom in madness and commits suicide; Hamlet and Laertes forgive one another and die.

In particular, Laertes forms a kind of shadow for Hamlet. However, the play begins with an even more powerful example of one of Hamlet's shadows, namely in the form of Fortinbras, whose father was offended and, as a result takes to arms rather than slips into mourning and reflection. "young Fortinbras, / ...hath not fail'd to pester us with message, / Importing the surrender of those lands/Lost by his father" says Claudius at the beginning of the play (I.2). Fortinbras later draws Hamlet's criticism for fighting for a plot of land that no one would farm, let along fight and die for, but Hamlet also admires Fortinbras to some degree, longing for equal assurance and ferocity in his own actions. "Rightly to be great/Is not to stir without great argument, / but greatly to find quarrel in a straw/When honour's at the stake" (IV.4). But Hamlet is careful to point out with is ever-present reason that he has more reason to seek revenge than Fortinbras.

Yet Hamlet's later confrontation with Laertes reinforces the idea in Hamlet's mind that his hands are no cleaner than Claudius' hands, by the end of the play. Hamlet has killed another man's father: "That to Laertes I forgot myself; / for, by the image of my cause, I see/the portraiture of his" (V.2). When Laertes clasps Ophelia's corpse in the graveyard, Hamlet is at first angry at his corresponding revenge figure, and he angrily boasts without justification that he loved Ophelia, and no brother could love her as much: forty thousand brothers/Could not, with all their quantity of love,/Make up my sum" (V.1) but his later admission to Horatio indicates that Hamlet finally understands with a more mature sense of selfhood that his cause and Laertes' cause are same -- and both causes against parricides are tainted with a vengeful young man's murderous intentions, in Hamlet's case, to Claudius, and to Laertes, to Hamlet.

According to classical Freudian theory, from which Jungian theory springs, it is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Expression of Jungian Archetypes in Shakespeare's Hamlet.  (2008, April 12).  Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

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