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Contemporary Critical Theory Rising Up from the Tragedy: Freud's Oedipus Complex

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A Theory Rising Up from the Tragedy: Freud’s Oedipus complex

  • “Long, long ago; her thought was of that child
  • By him begot, the son by whom the sire
  • Was murdered and the mother left to breed
  • With her own seed, a monstrous progeny.
  • Then she bewailed the marriage bed whereon
  • Poor wretch, she had conceived a double brood,
  • Husband by husband, children by her child.”


One of the best-known examples of Greek tragedies, Oedipus the King, the king of Thebes is composed by Sophocles who is considered as one of the three classic tragedy playwrights. His famed work Oedipus the King makes an incredible effect in which is known as the golden age. Since from the principal contemporaries of Sophocles to other important writers and thinkers, he encourages to some remarkable hypotheses. The narrative of Oedipus is the best known about all the Greek legends, however, it doesn’t have just a permanent status in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus—yet on account of Sigmund Freud, the name Oedipus also produces a different way related to the psychological theory. ‘Freud reads Oedipus: the Oedipus complex draws its specificity from the Sophocles tragedy, rather than just from the ostensible semantic content of the Oedipus legend.’ The hypothesis of Oedipus which is stated by Sigmund Freud is one of these hypotheses, yet before clarifying the main subject of this article, I will examine the premise source of the article.

The plot of Oedipus the King is based on the myth about Oedipus. Laius, the ruler of Thebes, learns from an oracle that he will be executed by his own child. Because of this, he puts in an order for his child to be taken to the mountain Kithairon so that the animals can eat him. The shepherd feels frustrated about him and offers him to another shepherd. From that point forward, another shepherd gives the child to lord Polybus. Oedipus grows up and hears that he was adopted yet his folks deny it and he goes to want Oracle from Delphi. The prophet answers him by giving him foresight and says you will kill your dad and get your mother pregnant. Upon this, Oedipus concludes that he can’t return home. In this time, a plague breaks out among the general population of Thebes as the Sphinx. The Sphinx asks a riddle, and on the off chance that you can’t answer it, it’s anything but a decent circumstance. Along these lines, to support his kin, King Laius chooses to go to the Oracle at Delphi to look for an answer. After, Oedipus and his real father encounter with one another in the street. The two men have the option to continue through the way but the King strikes Oedipus first and they break into a battle. At that point, Oedipus executes the ruler. Oedipus lands in Thebes and experiences the Sphinx he knows the proper response of the riddle and the general population of Thebes meets him by making him their ruler. In different words, Oedipus weds Queen Jocasta, his real mother. The two have four babies and live cheerfully ever after. But after, he understands the terrifying truth about himself and his identity.

Of the children, inmates of his home,

He shall be proved the brother and the sire,

of her who bare him son and husband both,

Co-partner, and assassin of his sire.

Against this background, the central question that motivates this paper is the notable theory of Oedipus which is termed by Sigmund Freud who is considered one of the greatest physicians and psychoanalysts. According to Freud, The Oedipal complex happens throughout the Phallic phase of improvement (ages 3-6) in which the wellspring of libido (life power) is filled in the erogenous zones of the baby’s body. Throughout this stage, kids experience an unconscious emotion of want for their inverse sex parent and desire and jealousy toward their equivalent sex parent. Also, the child sees his mother as a property in an emotional frame that is improved by him. In other words, in the young man, Oedipus unpredictable or all the more accurately, struggles emerges on the grounds that the kid creates unconscious sexual (pleasurable) wants for his mom. Likewise, as regards to the symptoms of this complex, Freud asserts that there are different practices that children take part in that are really a consequence of this complex. Some social appearances of the complex may include a kid communicating possessiveness towards his mom and say to his dad not to hug or kiss his mother. In the light of this information, Freud takes the idea which accidentally caused a sexual complexity between Oedipus and his mother and it is theorized psychoanalytically within the tragedy of the king Oedipus. The case history of ‘Little Hans’ (1909b) outlined and balanced Freud’s negotiation of the ‘sexual hypotheses of kids. ‘In a brief, Freud used the term to refer to a stage in the development of young boys. He assumed that in early development, around the age of five, young children wish to have their entire mother’s love. Thus, jealousy causes them to resent and even unconsciously wish the death of their father. The term Oedipus complex was indeed named after the name of a Greek mythical figure.’ Jaundice and jealousy is felt for the dad, the object of the mother’s friendship and consideration. These affections for the mother and contention towards the dad lead to dreams of disposing of his dad and having his spot with the mother. The antagonistic emotions towards the dad lead to castration nervousness, a silly dread that the dad will castrate (take away his penis) him as a torment. ‘A submissive, “castrated” attitude toward the father is an element in the oedipal conflict; but so is that direct, preoedipal father identification which, according to Freud, helps to prepare the oedipal constellation and is reinforced and modified in the direction of submission by the castration threat.’[footnoteRef:5] As it were, the kid wishes to have his mom and changes his dad, who the kid sees as an opponent for the mother’s affections. Be that as it may, this circumstance directs a dread of castration as well as to adapt to this nervousness, the child identifies to his dad. This implies that the child disguises the frames of mind, qualities, and worth that his dad holds but after dad turns into a good example as opposed to an opponent. After, young men obtain their superego and the male sex job. The kid substitutes his longing for his mom with the desire for other ladies. ‘Freud thought that a little boy is »condemned« to follow his drives and wishes, the same way as Sophocles’ Oedipus is condemned to do. In his opinion, this is the reason why he became involved in a strong emotional drama, which is resolved due to castration anxiety. The boy believes that his father, a strong rival, is the one who will castrate him unless he abandons his oedipal wishes. He finds a solution in the process of identification with his father, constitution of the Superego structure, and transferring his sexual strivings from his mother to other female figures.’

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With respect to the above, this theory is supported by a remarkable example of a work in which written as one of the top literary cases in the Renaissance period, it is named Hamlet and its author is Shakespeare who is considered one of the great writers in terms of the period. Shakespeare demonstrates the same psychological features or the same pattern of behaviors in his famous play as Sigmund Freud demonstrated in his theory at a much later time. If the theory is looked at in terms of the Oedipal complex, in other mean relationships between Hamlet and his mother, can be analyzed with this Freudian idea. As having mentioned above Freud explain that ‘The child takes both of its parents, and more particularly one of them, as the object of its erotic wishes.’[footnoteRef:7] Because of making a desire in the child’s mind, the child sees as an enemy or rivalry with the parent of the same sex. With this in mind, Hamlet reveals up a big hostility for his uncle Claudius who married his mother upon the death of his real father. Because Hamlet finds the mother’s affair for his uncle very disgusting and he tries to cope with this situation through their marriages or relationships. He thinks that dominantly he has a kind of incestuous feelings towards his mother, Gertrude. Because he does not do anything or any actions, any searching related to the death of his father until he met the ghosts, and as opposed to that he is more engaged the marriage of his mother than the death. The light of this information, Hamlet unconsciously believes that dad is dead and all rivalry about his death is gone and so the father’s position among them shifts and ruins. There is no more adverse condition between them. It fits in with the Oedipal complex in which Hamlet’s desire meant a sexual object for his mother. ‘Freud’s most famous statement about Hamlet, indeed, his most famous contribution to Shakespeare scholarship generally, was to point out Hamlet’s Oedipus complex. Conversely, Hamlet seems almost to have helped Freud Formulate the conception of the Oedipus complex. In the very letter (dated 15 October 1897) in which Freud first said, ‘ I have found a love of the mother and jealousy of the father in my own case, too, and now believe it to be a general phenomenon of early childhood,’ he immediately went on so to apply the concept to Oedipus Rex and Hamlet.’ Also in addition to this, in act one scene two, Hamlet is reflected as an angry, hateful, and jealous man who is full of sexual feelings towards his mother and shows the oedipal complex attitudes in the relationship with the mother and he makes very much sexually sarcastic behaviors. He especially is obsessed with his mother’s sexual life with his uncle through their marriages.

‘Married with my uncle,

My father’s brother, but no more like my father

Then I to Hercules: within a month:

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears

Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,

She married. O, most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!’

Finally, this article aims to explain the complex of Oedipus which is to be known as the most important Freudian theory, based on the Greek tragedy of Sophocles. This tragedy shows us the king of Oedipus marries with his mother accidentally and he has children from his mother. Upon this, play, the famous physician Sigmund Freud take the idea and make a theory. This complex asserts that there is a sexual relationship or lust that arises from the child to his mother in the child’s range of the Phallic period. According to this development in sense of the baby, a rivalry towards the figure of the father reveals up unconsciously and the child’s actions for his father are shaped with reference to the sexual idea but the internal desire belongs to the child is refused by his mother due to the absence of hoped-for satisfaction. With respect to the ignoring, the child eventually gives up his desire and he chooses another role model for doing this, by obtaining his own superego and male sex part. As a result of this progress, the complex of Oedipus is collapsed and it is completed in terms of the child. On the other, in the final part of the article, as regards to the subject, a great example, Hamlet which is written by the best-known writer Shakespeare in the Renaissance period is presented in a brief way, without looking at the comprehensive of the play. According to the play, the Freudian hypothesis has been tried to be explained based on information provided by the play. Especially, Hamlet’s jealous behavior and attitude to his mother and instead of the death of his father, his focusing on the marriage of his mother are demonstrated and set up a connection as a good example of Freudian theory.

Works Cited

  1. Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” Ancient Wisdom for Modern Minds, books/Oedipus-the-king/11/.
  2. Chase, Cynthia. “Oedipal Textuality: Reading Freud’s Reading of Oedipus.” Diacritics, vol. 9, no. 1, 1979, pp. 54–68. JSTOR,
  3. Digital Library-Sophocles-Oedipus the King by Sophocles,
  4. Ahmed, Sofe “Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory Oedipus Complex: a Critical Study with Reference to D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ Essay, Internal Journal of English and literature Vol. 3(3), pp. 60-70, March 2012.
  5. W., Hans. “The Waning of the Oedipus Complex.” CORE, American Psychiatric Press, 9(4): 239–249, Fall 2000 Inc,
  6. S. Borove~ki-Jakovljev. ‘’Oedipus complex in Contemporary Psychoanalysis.’’ Coll. Antropol. 29 (1): 351–360, 2005.
  7. “Classics in the History of Psychology.” Classics in the History of Psychology — Freud (1910) Lecture 4, 181-218,
  8. Holland, Norman N. “Freud on Shakespeare.” PMLA, vol. 75, no. 3, 1960, pp. 163–173. JSTOR,
  9. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, XML version by Jon Bosak, 1996-1999, pp. 15.

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Contemporary Critical Theory Rising Up from the Tragedy: Freud’s Oedipus Complex. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
“Contemporary Critical Theory Rising Up from the Tragedy: Freud’s Oedipus Complex.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Contemporary Critical Theory Rising Up from the Tragedy: Freud’s Oedipus Complex. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Contemporary Critical Theory Rising Up from the Tragedy: Freud’s Oedipus Complex [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from:
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