Part I: The King Misbehaves
Part 2: Hamlet and Oedipus
Shakespeare's characterization of the legendary Danish prince Hamlet is sometimes compared with Sophocles' characterization of the son of King Laius, Oedipus, because both men love their mothers. Sigmund Freud writes:
In Oedipus Rex the basic wish-phantasy of the child is brought to light and realized as it is in dreams; in Hamlet it remains repressed, and we learn of its existence - as we discover the relevant facts in a neurosis - only through the inhibitory effects which proceed from it.
Freud: Interpretation of Dreams
This parallel between Hamlet and Oedipus is a bit too subtle to stand on its own because Hamlet's love isn't acted upon, but the two men still bear comparison. Both men are trying to avenge their fathers' murders and at the end of Shakespeare's play Hamlet just as at the end of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos (Oedipus Rex), the life of the protagonist has been irrevocably destroyed.
Prince Fortinbras: Take up the bodies: such a sight as this Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss. Go, bid the soldiers shoot.
[A dead march. Exeunt, bearing off the dead bodies; after which a peal of ordnance is shot off]
Act V Scene ii Hamlet
In Hamlet, it's Fortinbras and in Oedipus Tyrannus, it's Jocasta's brother, Creon, who comes in to clean up the mess. Oedipus renounces his claim to the throne (which he won by marrying Jocasta), transferring its power to Creon whose responsibility it becomes to punish the person responsible for angering the gods into sending the Theban pestilence. The source of the pollution is, of course, Oedipus.
Although Oedipus has given up the throne, he has difficulty accepting the consequences. He tries to persuade Creon to punish him the way he thinks he deserves, but Creon won't do as Oedipus asks. He doesn't send the self-mutilated man into exile. Instead, Creon leads the blind, humiliated Oedipus inside the house. Unlike his brother-in-law/nephew, Creon doesn't try to defy the fates; he says Oedipus must ask the gods for what he wants:
Oedipus: Send me from the land an exile.
Creon: Ask this of the gods, not me.
Oedipus: But I am the gods' abhorrence.
Creon: Then they soon will grant thy plea.
Oedipus: Lead me hence, then, I am willing.
Creon: Come, but let thy children go.
Oedipus: Rob me not of these my children!
Creon: Crave not mastery in all, For the mastery that raised thee was thy bane and wrought thy fall.
Even after all this, Oedipus doesn't learn his lesson -- that he can't be in control. Even after he has renounced the throne, he continues to try to exert control over Creon and his daughters' destiny; first, by asking Creon to adopt the daughters so they'll have a legitimate and normal genealogy, and then (in contradiction to what he has already asked), by asking that his children not be taken from him. Oedipus, a man smart enough to know the answer to the riddle of the sphinx, is tragically incapable of learning from his mistakes.
|More of This Feature|
|• Part I: The King Misbehaves
|• Oedipus Resources
• Read Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles
• Seneca's Oedipus Rex, translated by Michael Rutenberg
|Elsewhere on the Web|
|• Freud: Interpretation of Dreams