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.