Thesis StatementMost of our actions are governed by non-consciousparts of the brain, giving logical reasoning a very limited and ineffectiveauthority over how we decide and what we do. The sub-conscious, or theunconscious always has a stronger control over the self, and trying to resistits authority would only lead to frustration and disillusionment. InShakespeare’s iconic character Hamlet, this dilemma between the reasoning of theconscious and the overriding intuitive powers of the unconscious can beobserved.
Hamlet tries to make sense of every step he takes, and this only makeshim less decisive and brings him unhappiness. His inquisitive nature keeps himfrom seeing things as they are, and the more he inquires into his situation,the more frustrated he gets. Research QuestionsWhy does Hamlet struggle so much in making decisionsand taking steps? What keeps him from acting out his revenge? How does Hamlet’sunconscious affect his decision-making? Main Objective The aim of this paperis to analyse the conflict between the unconscious and the conscious inHamlet’s character through his self-examination, and how this conflict affectshis decision-making process by using cognitive literary theory.
IntroductionHumans are all governed by their emotions, intuitionsand instincts. No matter how much an individual tries to take control ofhim/herself through the use of logical reasoning, he/she cannot do it becauseit is against the very nature of being a human. Sub-conscious or non-conscious,always governs the conscious, and the individual just tries to understand what he/shedoes. Since unconscious has an immense part in the construction of the self,trying to suppress its authority would only bring frustration and incapacitationfor the individual. A perfect example for this kind of a dilemma can be seen inHamlet’s character. Hamlet’s inability to take action stems from his failure tolet his unconscious take charge of his life. As a result, the more he stutters,the more disillusioned and frustrated he gets.The Freudian or “psychoanalytic” acceptation of“unconscious” gives it the authority to govern everything that an individualdoes with requests and urges, and it displays itself through “[s]lips of thetongue, jokes, intrusive thoughts, fleeting memories”.
(Vermeule 468) InFreud’s terminology, “the unconscious” constantly speaks to the individual andmakes up stories (467-468). If it is not fulfilled, “[t]he unconscious arrivesover and over again with its demands”, and as a result, it has an undeniable powerdriving the individual’s life. (468) Nevertheless, it is perceived by “theconscious” in one way or another. However, according to the most recent studiesin “experimental psychology”, “the unconscious” is much bigger than anybodyever thought of it before because it also involves “internal qualities of mindthat affect conscious thought and behaviour, without being consciousthemselves.
” (quoted in Vermeule 469) The unconscious comprises all the “brainactivity” perceived by all the “senses”, and out of the data collected this wayonly a scant and insignificant part is actually reachable by the “cognitiveconscious” part of the brain (468): Our sensesdeliver around eleven million pieces of information to our brains every wakingmoment—of which our eyes deliver ten million. Of those eleven million pieces ofinformation, we are aware of roughly forty. Exponentially more neural signalsare processed from our peripheral nervous system than ever reach the thresholdof conscious awareness. The degree and number of cognitive process that runoutside our conscious awareness are beyond what anybody can imagine, even theresearchers who work on it all the time.
We literally know not what we do.(Vermeule 468-69)Consequently, “[m]ost mental processes go on outsideof conscious awareness” because “[t]he inward eye cannot see them.” (469) Whatwe think that we know is just a very tiny portion of what we really know, andthere is absolutely no chance for us to consciously know what we actually know.So, how do we make sense of the world around us with the little informationthat we have? The conscious creates fables with that little information and webelieve that the fictional world those fables have produced is “reality” (467).So we create our own “reality” by building it up as a “cause and effect”system. (469) According to Hume, “our reason gives us an account of why we actas we do, but the story it tells us is usually just that—a story” (quoted inVermeule 470).
And through that “story”, we see the world around us and believethat it is real.It can be said that an individual’s capability inmaking deductions mostly rests on his/her unconscious. Since the unconsciousprovides the individual with intuitions, feelings and impressions for guidance,s(he) has to count on them in taking any step. And conceivably, as a result,denying them their authority would lead to confusion and dissatisfaction. Hamlettries to ignore the clues he gathered through his senses and tries to legitimisewhat he does or what he would do through using logical deductions by analysing hisevery potential movement. According to Neema Parvini, Hamlet is a character who resists human nature, hisown nature, because he consistently tries to avoid relying on intuition bypre-meditating and reasoning through all of his decisions.
He plans most of hisactions; he calculates risks and weighs up benefits against costs. He does whateverhe can to be driven by his intellect rather than by his emotions. But ofcourse, this endeavour fails utterly. (52) Hamlet tries to understand everything through “logicalreasoning” without giving his “intuitions” any chance to operate and refuses totake his emotions into consideration (53). For example, when he first meets hisdead father’s ghost he is assured of the treachery of his uncle, Claudius, andhe promises his father’s ghost to avenge his death: “And thy commandment allalone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain, / Unmixed with basermatter. Yes, by heaven!” (Shakespeare 1.5.101-104).
And he even inscribes: “So,uncle, there you are. Now to my word: / It is ‘Adieu, adieu, remember me.’ / Ihave sworn ’t.” (1.
5.110-12) He becomes so resolute in his revenge plans thathe acts out to be a lunatic, and by escaping from other people’s company hesays: “[…] Man delights / not me – nor woman neither, […]. (2.2.303-04) However,he still cannot put his plans into practice, because he is still interrogatingthe matter in his head. Hamlet always scrutinises his thoughts, tests everyidea and looks for proof for every assertion.
In order to see if Claudiusreally killed his father, he arranges a troupe of actors to stage a play aboutthe slaying of a “king” and he wants to inspect his uncle’s behaviours whilewatching the play. After interviewing the actors who will take part in theperformance and noticing their intensity of fervour, he detests his owninability to take action for his duty to his father: “[…] What would he do, / Hadhe the motive and the cue for passion / That I have? He would drown the stagewith tears” (2.2.543-45). He assesses every bit of information before making ajudgment, which gives away to passivity in him: “That I, the son of a dearfather murdered, / Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, / Must like awhore unpack my heart with words” (2.
2.569-71). He knows that he needs toprepare himself to actually do something, and he knows that it is the cause forhis inertia: Like John-a-dreams, unpregnantof my cause, And can say nothing – no, not for a king,Upon whose property and most dear lifeA damned defeat was made. Am I a coward? (2.2.552-55)Although, through his intuitions and emotions, he is aware that he mustavenge his father, he still needs proof to be sure.
His consciousness does notlet him follow his unconscious (or sub-conscious) take charge, so he looks formore a concrete evidence: […] I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks, I’ll tent him to the quick. If he but blench, I know my course […] (2.2.581-85)