Oakes, Elizabeth. “Polonius, the Man Behind the Arras: A Jungian Study.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 103-16.


This reading of Hamlet argues that Polonius represents the archetypal figures of “wise old man, fool and scapegoat” and that his “truncated sacrifice, the climax of the action, contrasts with the transcendent one of Hamlet, the climax of the symbolic level” (103). Through Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s various references to and descriptions of Polonius, he is linked with the wise old man figure. But unlike the figure responsible for guiding and instructing the hero, Polonius “inverts the figure” by being overly concerned with his own social/political position (105). Aside from linguistic allusions, the lethal closet scene confirms Polonius’ status as scapegoat. Polonius is mistaken for the King, suggesting the role of the fool. While Polonius “incorporates the fathers in the play into one figure whom Hamlet can confront,” the Prince similarly plays the roles of fool and scapegoat (107): His adoption of an antic disposition “with a conscious purpose” suggests the first, and his sacrifice in the final scene exemplifies the latter (108). But the deaths of the two scapegoats differ: “Through symbols connected with the mother archetype, Hamlet’s sacrifice is, both individually and in its effect on the community, consummate, while Polonius’ is void” (108). For example, Hamlet’s rebirth occurs at sea, water being a symbolic element of the mother archetype (110), but Polonius does not have such an experience. Also, Hamlet’s return to Denmark marks a shift in his priorities, from “the personal to the communal” (111)—something Polonius never achieves. In death, Hamlet “moves beyond the communal to the spiritual,” existing “as a realized ideal” in Horatio’s’ narration, while the dead Polonius is only noted for “the details concerning his corpse” (111-12). Perhaps Shakespeare’s true source is not an Ur-Hamlet but “the archetypes that in this play vibrate beneath the surface” (112).

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Porterfield, Sally F. "Oh Dad, Poor Dad: The Universal Disappointment of Imperfect Parents in Hamlet." Jung's Advice to the Players: A Jungian Reading of Shakespeare's Problem Plays. Drama and Theatre Studies 57. Westport: Greenwood P, 1994. 72-98.


This essay presents a Jungian reading of Hamlet's "universal experience of parental discovery" (74). The death of the "good father" and the remarriage that transforms the "good mother" into a sexual being force "the ideal, archetypal parents of imagination to die a violent death" (75). Hamlet copes with the psychological upheaval by regressing "to an earlier stage of his development": he becomes the "trickster" (75). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern represent "another manifestation of the trickster" (76); hence, the pair must die to mark Hamlet's "integration of the trickster figure" (77) and his ability to leave childhood behind (94). The Gravediggers also appear as the trickster figure to show that "he is not within Hamlet" and that "he has been integrated" (94). In this scene, Laertes functions as the "shadow" and Ophelia as the "rejected anima"; Hamlet "becomes one with both" when he leaps into the grave (94). Horatio is the "self" for Hamlet, "the ideal man he would become" (88), and Fortinbras offers another form of the "self," "the man of action" (97); "these two symbols of the self" merge in the final scene (96-97). But Hamlet's progression towards integration proves difficult, alternating between depression and mania. Only the presence of art (symbolized by the players) causes Hamlet to be "taken out of himself by interest in the world around him," demonstrating his "dependence upon art as salvation" (86). Hamlet's use of The Mousetrap drama suggests a hope "not simply to kill but to redeem" Claudius and "to rediscover the goodness he seeks so desperately in those around him" (87). Ultimately, Hamlet cannot avoid violence, "but he gives us courage, generation after generation, to attempt the ideal while existing with the sometimes nearly unbearable realities that life imposes" (97).

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