Hamlet’s depression

34-hamletDepression: a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and sense of well-being(….)They may lose interest in activities that once were pleasurable (…..) and may contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains, or digestive problems may also be present.Depressed mood is not always a psychiatric disorder. It may also be a normal reaction to certain life events, (…). Well, according to this definition, we wouldn’t be too far from the truth, if we diagnosed that Hamlet suffered from depressive mood as “normal reaction to” precise” life events“: his father’s death, first of all; his mother Gertrude‘s “over hasty marriage” with his uncle Claudius – freshly crowned king of Denmark -, a man he despises even before knowing that he is the villanous murderer of his father; a country that seems to have too soon lost the memory of his father, to celebrate and feast the coronation and the wedding on the new king. Hamlet feels like a stranger in that merry atmosphere and stubbornly wears the clothes of woe . He has become apathetic and seems unable to react.

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Claudius is a man of action. He had set his goal and done whatever necessary to reach it, without caring much about ethics. He is actually the most proficient disciple of Machiavelli, as he has successfully put into practice his well-known motto : “the end justifies the means.The crown, his sister-in-law, power, he has obtained everything he wanted and would fully enjoy his life, but for that strange nephew, whose public exhibition of grief annoys him. He is like a cloud in a summer day. The villanous Claudius cannot believe that the loss of a father may be the cause of such a sudden alteration in temper, and instinctively doesn’t trust Hamlet. He needs to know more about the cause of that affliction. At first he tries to sympathize with him, evoking the laws of nature ( even if he is well aware that he had given nature a little help), and reminds him that the death of a father is a natural event. Then he thinks that maybe that grief is due to Hamlet’s expectation to be king after his father, hence he assures him that he will be the next in the line of succession to the throne, but Hamlet keeps on showing his indifference and passivity. Eventually, in the vain attempt to provoke any reaction, Claudius derides him, calling his grief “unmanly“, unworthy of a prince. Hamlet is not virile enough to be the king of Denmark.The gap between the two is clearly ethical rather than generational.

Olivier-Hamlet-006When his father’s ghost reveals him the circumstances of his death, Hamlet is forced to awake from his state of torpor and take action against his uncle: “if thouhast nature in thee, bear it not“, warns the ghost (even Hamlet’s father seems to doubt upon his son’s constancy). It is an admonition that it cannot be ignored for sure, in fact Hamlet at first seems to be willing to revenge himself soon, but after a while his rage and resoluteness fade away, giving way to a sense of impotence : “Oh cursed spite! That I was ever born to set  it right“, he laments. Once the adrenaline is off, he realises that he just can’t do it.
Therefore even if the bloody details about his father’s murder should have brought Hamlet to a  prompt reaction, he takes time. He wants evidence. He spends the whole act II plotting against Claudius, pretending to have become insane at first and then organizing his Mousetrap : the public representation of the murder of his father. However, we understand that whatever he is doing, he is not psychologically ready and seems relapse into his initial state of inactivity. Whoever suffers of depression knows well, that the effort that even trivial actions require, is perceived so ponderous to have the impression of being overwhelmed by its burden, so every intent is crystallized by the paralysis of the will. Hamlet ‘s state of mind is fragile. Living for him is like being hurt by  “slings” and “arrows” and in this condition he perceives his revengeful undertaking as a “sea of troubles” . For a while he prefers to take into consideration another solution to put an end to his sufferance, another kind of action, towards himself this time: suicide; but the fear of death holds him back,  “thus conscience does make cowards of us all” he ponders, it’s conscience that makes “enterprises of great pitch and moment (…..) lose the name of action“.

act3scene3-hamletOnce again it’s conscience that prevents Hamlet from killing Claudius, who, after having seen on stage the representation of his treacherous deed, his uncle reaches the chapel in shock to pray. Killing the king while he is purging his soul( even if he is not, but he doesn’t know), would mean to send him straight to heaven, while his father is doomed to “fast(s) in fire“. It’s not the right moment and delays again. So, when soon after he meets his mother, he gives vent to all the frustration he has stored so far and mistreats her, till the ghost appears again, but this time only Hamlet can see him, as if it were a hallucination produced by his rage and guilt for his inadequacy. So we may say that Hamlet truly never acts except when he realizes that he had been entrapped by Claudius in the deadly duel with Laertes. More than a revenge tragedy, Hamlet is the tragedy of the impossibility of revenge.

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50 thoughts on “Hamlet’s depression

  1. I just finished Quiet Chaos which you recommended to me ……what an amazing book. Funny, sad, shocking, thought provoking……..I loved it and will be thinking about it for some time to come. Thank you 🙂

  2. An interesting analysis. Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play. I did my BA Honours thesis on it, arguing that it is not an artistic failure, as T S Eliot said. For me, the greatness of the play is in the passion and the poetry. Yes, the interplay of characters and their motivation is a fascinating strand of the narrative, but it is only one strand. I do agree that the tragedy is in part about the impossibility of revenge. In whole, I think it is about the destruction of youth, of love, of hope, of belief, of relationships, by the interplay of lust and power with love and loyalty. Even that sounds reductive. It’s such a complex play. I meant to write a blog about Hamlet to celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, which was on Wednesday the 23rd April. You’ve reminded me to do it.

  3. You said the gap between the two is more ethical than generational, ethical meaning personality wise. You do have a strong personality going against a coward(Hamlet). I didn´t even remember reading Hamlet, and it must have been the first book of Shakespeare I read in the U.S way back then. It was fun revisiting it through as always a well analysed text. Thank´s Mrs.Tink. Was actually missing reading one of your Literature texts and making me scratch my head and really pay attention as to what I´m reading.

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  5. Hamlet is a play about life and death and about man’s ambiguous relation to them both. It is also about melancholy and doubt. It is through Hamlet’s struggle to act, and to act wisely,that the concept of “man’s complex nature” is illustrated. The shock Hamlet receives on the death of his father, and on the remarriage of his mother, causes anxious questions about the peace of the soul. Hamlet deals with the crisis of the human conscience,but also with loss of faith in the effectiveness of man’s action. Hamlet paves the way to a theatre of the mind embodied by Hamlet’s being prisoner of his existential doubts. In Hamlet, Shakespeare largely followed the conventions and at the same time analysed them. The play shows much psychological penetration through the reflections of the hero and through his relationship with the outside world. Maybe Shakespeare , merely simulating the grand themes of a classical tragedy(vengeance,madness,the struggle for power), wanted to shake the established certainties and chose, in the end, to present the only themes which for him had any fundamental importance:doubt and uncertainty.
    Bye bye prof,
    Screpanti 3 A

  6. Hamlet is the best Shakespearean tragedy for me. It is complete (It is about revenge,love,psychology) and it is also beautiful and interesting. For me Hamlet is a great character because he is a thinker and an intelligent person, even if he isn’t very corageous. I hope that we’ll study intensely this tragedy this month. Bye teacher.

  7. Hamlet is a very interesting tragedy. One of the things that I think is very interesting is the reaction that Hamlet has when the ghost of his father tells him who is the person that had killed him. His first reaction is to revenge his father killing Claudius, but it’s his conscience that prevents Hamlet from killing his uncle. So he decides to find another solution, but he can’t, so he starts to pretend to be insane and slowly becoming more and more depressed. He says that he is in a sea of troubles and that living for him is like to be hit by slings and arrows, he literrally can’t bear the burden of knowledge of the events but he’s not be able to react. I think that if he realized that he is not able to react or to find a solution to this he should tell someone what he knows, so he could be helped, otherwise it’s clear that it will not end well.

  8. Hamlet in my opinion is one of the best tragedies of Shakespeare because it is about topics which are interesting only in the sixteenth century but also nowadays; I really like Hamlet because he is not so perfect like useal heroes and reflects on life and death.
    Bye prof.

  9. I really enjoyed this tragedy as I can recognize myself in Hamlet’s behavior, except for the depression obviously; as I’m really not that courageous I would not have even thought about revenging my father’s death without the help of someone. I, as he indeed did, probably would have chosen the right moment to let the villain understand that I knew everything and that he would not get away that easily. Some people may think that because he didn’t revenge his father immediately he’s not a brave or strong hero and even because he thought about suicide, but I conversely think that Hamlet is (kinda) brave just for those concrete thoughts about death, he for sure had to deal with depression and when you are in that conditions everything looks like an “emergency exit” from delirium you’re living in, but that is also a really strong and extreme gesture which not everyone will be able to commit (for example me).
    In the end Hamlet’s character is very deep and complex and I enjoyed the way Shakespeare gave depth to him.
    Bye bye teacher
    Giulia 😉

    • Hamlet can be considered one of the most famous tragedy of Shakespeare, popularity due to the beautiful soliloquy of the main character: here Hamlet appears different from the traditional hero, brave and passionate. At the beginning of the tragedy he wants to avenge his father’s death, but by the end the situation changes. In fact he becomes unsure of himself, he has many doubts, he lives an interior conflict who leads him to hesitate on important occasions. Hamlet reflects before acting and his rationality stops him. In fact at the end of soliloquy he says : “thus conscience does make cowards of us all” and “enterprises of great pitch and moment lose the name of action”.For the first time in a tragedy we have a hero who embodies every man’s conscience with all human doubts. For this reason this character can be considered very modern.
      Giulia C. III A

  10. Hi!
    As my mates said Hamlet is a complex character, but if we had been in his shoess, how would have been? I think not so different! Your uncle is a despicable person that marries your mother, kills your father and is unkind with you and becomes king in your place… what else?
    Claudius is a fantastic VILLAIN, as his name said, he is a bad man, vile.
    I think that Shakespeare was very good at explaining us the character’s feelings that are still alive today and that will remain for ever .
    Bye! 😀 Elisa V.

  11. Hamlet is a great Shakespearean tragedy,because he reflects on what to do,also in that very difficult situation.There is only one thing that I don’t like too much of him: I think that he should have been more corageous,in particular with his uncle.Whatever,it is a very interesting plot.

  12. Hamlet in my opinion is one of the best tragedies of Shakespeare. It is a tragedy that speaks of love, vengeance and psychology,despite Hamlet is not a brave person , he is a great thinker. Had I been in his place, once discovered the murderer of my father, I would have immediately revenged myself.
    bye prof

  13. Of course this tragedy is one of the best, both for the story and for the very complex characters and also seems like all my classmates really enjoyed this story…. true or not this is not my kind of story and probably i would rather watch bears fights :D.
    See you tuesday.

  14. I like “Hamlet” because of his psychological reactions to the death of his father. In this case the protagonist learns from a ghost the truth about his father’s death. In my opinion Hamlet should have been immediately avenged his father, but he didn’t have the courage to kill him using the excuse that if he killed the uncle while he was praying he would go to heaven.
    Shakespeare is very good to analyze the psychological reactions of the characters and their reasoning before acting.
    Vittorio P. 3A

  15. In my opinion Hamlet is a tragedy of a peculiar kind because the protagonist is an hero despite his depression . It shows that to be a hero you don’t need to be strong and powerful but intelligent and long-suffering.

  16. I think Hamlet has an interesting personality and very modern indeed. He doesn’t react immediately but thinks about the consequences and he looks for evidence because he wants to be certain to make the right decisions and have no regrets. However Hamlet in my opinion worries too much and he is obsessed in making the right decisions, this leads him to be depressed and nearly his death. This goes to show that sometimes we need to react with instinct.

  17. I think that Hamlet is on the most important interesting of Shakespeare’s characters, without considering Romeo. He is very clever and sensible because when the ghost says that he is his father and that Claudius is his murderer, he doesn’t react with the violence as it many would have done.
    In my opinion Hamlet’s tragedy is the most important of Shakespeare’s works because he puts together many elements like love, violence, vengeance ….

  18. Hi Teacher,
    I think that Hamlet is the most complex works of Shakespeare taking into consideration that he put many different element in only one works. The character is very modern compared to the characters of the time because he is very clever and his first reaction is not the violence.
    Bye!

  19. In my opinion Hamlet is the best shakespearian tragedy. He embodies all the human insecurities, fears and feelings. His inability to react and to revenge his father represents the weakness of every man. His inner drama and his frailty is so current that I can’t believe it has been written in 16th century. For this reason Hamlet is considered to be the first modern tragic hero.
    Bye prof.

  20. Differently from what the majority of the posts say, I think that Hamlet was not a weak man, but strong. His father dead, his mother married with his uncle, he suffered alone, he was alone and in any case he found the strenght to defy his uncle. Hamlet was great.

  21. Hi teacher,
    I think Hamet is the best Shakesperean tragedy. It is an ambigous play for the complicated plot but it is also interesting because Hamlet wants to revenge his father and kill his uncle Claudius, For me Hamlet is smart and intelligent.
    Gabriele 3A

  22. I think that among all the works of Shakespeare Hamlet is the best play. In this play there are some beautiful characters as the antagonist that is Claudius.Claudius is my preferred character: even if amleto is correct and reasonable, I prefer claudio because it is more instinctive. In fact without him there would not be any history

  23. Hi Stephani
    I forgot you are an English teacher! Did you see my two blogs about Hamlet a while ago? I cant remember – the bards sixth age has its drawbacks!

    • No, I haven’t, but I’ll go and check them. I’ ve just visited “coursera” ( I guess you understood, I had never heard about), so interesting. What a fantastic opportunity!!!

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