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Hamlet and Anticipation

Hamlet isn't just a play. It has also occupied a relevant place in the world of psychology. It's a story based on the myth of Orestes. Hamlet is the version of this story told by William Shakespeare, who manages to give a particular psychological depth to the character. Depth that expresses the behavioral patterns and organization of a particular psychic world that is recognizable to us in real people, that is, a specific personality structure.

As described in the play, Hamlet was a good prince, scholarly and academically trained. He was cunning, noble, passionate, critical and sarcastic. He was a soldier, skilled in the use of the sword, hope and pride of the kingdom, elegant and well-behaved; but he was suddenly forced to become a tough man in order to avenge his father. Hamlet is, in short, a man that is not only normal, but exemplary. Yet, he is tormented by the particular nature of the mission imposed upon him.

The character can be interpreted or represented in many ways: facing an impossible dilemma and being subjected to the command of the paternal spectrum, fighting against the desires of his mother, or suffering his mortified love by Ophelia. We can see him hesitating between being or not being. Either split between reason and passion, or debating between not wanting to know and knowing too much. In all cases, under all eyes, the character lays out before the viewer or reader, the devastating effects of doubt and indecision.

Throughout the play, Hamlet is unable to explain why he postpones time and time again the action of giving death to his uncle.

Herein lies the ultimate success of the play, not one member of the audience nor any reader will be able to say what the conflict of Hamlet really was. Not even Hamlet himself comes to postulate it. However, every witness is moved. This is because we all, to a greater or lesser extent, can recognize these internal struggles in ourselves. It is easy for us to recognize ourselves. But what do we recognize? We acknowledge doubt. We recognize that process of studying different scenarios and their consequences.

Doubt is nothing but anticipation. And when come to make a decision in which doing the "right" can also be the most devastating thing, this anticipation can become a loop of successive assessments of the possible scenarios. Over and over again.

Hamlet is able to imagine the dire consequences of doing "the right thing." He knows that if he fulfills what his father expects of him, he will possibly lose his mother, destroy the social interaction of the kingdom, and most likely lose Ophelia as well.

And while we can all recognize the mechanism of doubt, we can also empathize with a personality structure where the assessment of future scenarios, the anticipation of potential dangers, and of the possible consequences of one decision or another, is particularly exacerbated. That is the great value of Hamlet.


Freud, S. (1904) Personajes Psicopáticos en el teatro (Manuscrito inédito en alemán, versión inglesa por Henry Alden Bunker, apareció en el Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 11: 459-464, 1942, con el título Psychopathic Characters on the Stage) En Freud Total 2.0, Ediciones Nueva Hélade, enero de 2002.

Kozicki, Enrique (2004) Hamlet, El Padre y La Ley, Editorial Gorla, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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