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Hamlet, Oedipus Complex, cinema


I have often questioned why Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play more than 400 years old, remains tied to a century-old Freudian concept. Since Freud’s Oedipus Complex has been disproven, what purpose does it still serve and why are directors still intrigued by this interpretation of Hamlet? In 1949, Dr. Ernest Jones published his book, Hamlet and Oedipus (1949),1 but at the time he was also collaborating with Laurence Olivier to create the first movie adaptation of Hamlet to embrace the Oedipus Complex. I believe that because of Jones and Olivier Shakespeare’s Hamlet will always be connected to psychoanalysis. While the Oedipus Complex may not be mentioned often by modern Shakespearean scholars, we still see it heavily influencing cinema, even 21st-century productions of Hamlet. New generations of audiences are still introduced to psychoanalysis by actors and directors, who bring Hamlet to life. I argue that cinematic interpretations of Hamlet reflect the changing psychological views of their day and continue to influence the audience’s knowledge of—and attitude toward—the field of psychoanalysis by exploring the psyche of Hamlet. This paper will offer a sampling of psychoanalysis in cinema and how it has changed over time by examining three movie productions: Laurence Olivier’s 1948 Hamlet, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 Hamlet, and Robert Icke’s 2018 Hamlet.