The Oedipus complex unfolded on October 15, 1897.

It was, within a few days, the first anniversary of his father’s death (Jakob Freud died on October 23, 1896).

Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise. Only one idea of general value has occurred to me. I have found 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, even if it does not always occur so early as in children who have been made hysterics.… If that is the case, the gripping power of Oedipus Rex, in spite of all the rational objections to the inexorable fate that the story presupposes, becomes intelligible, and one can understand why later fate dramas were such failures. Our feelings rise against any arbitrary, individual fate … but the Greek myth seizes on a compulsion which everyone recognizes because he has felt traces of it in himself. Every member of the audience was once a budding Oedipus in phantasy, and this dream-fulfillment played out in reality causes everyone to recoil in horror, with the full measure of repression which separates his infantile from his present state.

The idea has passed through my head that the same thing may lie at the root of Hamlet. I am not thinking of Shakespeare’s conscious intentions, but supposing rather that he was impelled to write it by a real event because his own unconscious understood that of the hero. How can one explain the hysteric Hamlet’s phrase “So conscience doth make cowards of us all,” and his hesitation to avenge his father by killing his uncle, when he himself so casually sends his courtiers to their death and despatches Laertes so quickly? How better than by the torment roused in him by the obscure memory that he himself had meditated the same deed against his father because of passion for his mother—“use every man after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping?” His conscience is his unconscious feeling of guilt.

The Origins of Psycho-Analysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes, 1887-1902, pp. 223-24.


Freud, his three sisters, and mother at his father Jacob's grave, 1897

See also: 

Setting the Record Straight: Freud explains the Oedipus complex


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