Was Prince Hamlet Mentally Ill?

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4th Sep 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Does Prince Hamlet, protagonist of the tragedy of the same name, demonstrate to have some kind of mental illness, most precisely bipolar disorder? Was he faking his madness? During the centuries, since 1601, when the “Bard of Avon” wrote “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”, scholars and professors, and not only them, asked themselves why Hamlet was behaving like this, changing his behaviour from Act to Act, from scene to scene. Before the modern discoveries in psychiatry, he would have been said “to be suffering from intellectual melancholy due to an excess of black bile.[1] Now, not even having read Freud, a person can identify Hamlet as bipolar.

What is bipolarity? Bipolarity is a mental disorder and causes mood swings, severe depression, extreme feelings and confusion.[2] Bipolarity can be a consequence of a traumatic stressing situation, detail that correspond to Hamlet’s story. Before analyzing different cases, the first thing to do should be observing the character: he is a twenty-year-old college student who is not allowed to return to school, the only place where he can truly feel himself; his father was murdered not even one month before his mother remarried with his uncle, his father’s brother; overcome by grief, he shows signs of depression and to make his life worse he is in an on-and-off relationship with this girl, Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, chief counsellor to the king. All these details suggest a positive answer to the proposed question.

Since Gertrude’s marriage, Hamlet is continuously told not to be sad and get over King Hamlet’s death: “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” (Act I, Scene II, 65) and “Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted colour off, …” (Act I, Scene II, 67). His mother is speaking these words, adding also to change his clothes, too dark for days of joy. Hamlet answers (Act I, Scene II, 77-86) telling her that wearing nice clothes is not a stressful worry: he is declaring his depression, and with it the will to commit suicide – “forced breath…” (Act I, Scene II, 79) – and the fact that he has no more control on his dejection. This is one of many times Hamlet thinks of killing himself; after less than fifty verses later, he prays that his flesh would melt into dew and he is angry for the fact that God is contrary to self-slaughter (Act I, Scene II, 129-133). Hamlet is hesitant of putting an end to his life because he fears that in the afterlife he could suffer more. Indecision and doubt are qualities of a bipolar person.

Throughout the play, Hamlet’s mood changes happen within a matter of seconds. One minute he is complaining about his mother’s adulterous behavior, the next he is so happy to see his friend Horatio. His actions are no more clear headed. In Act I, Scene IV, Hamlet follows his presumed father’s ghost, thoughtless movement according to the belief in his time that the apparition of a ghost could have condemned his soul. Horatio is troubled and tries in vain to stop him: Hamlet responds, “Why, what should be the fear?/ I do not set my life at a pin’s fee;…” (Act I, Scene IV, 45-47); he considers his life less worth than a pin. He doesn’t care of the consequences: he shows lack of judgement and excessive self-esteem, all symptoms of a manic depression.

At a one point of the play, in Act III, his bipolarity reaches its climax: if a person has read Hamlet’s letters to Ophelia, he or she understood that he has deep feelings for her – “To the celestial, and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia-/… But never doubt I love.” (Act II, Scene II, 111,114). But after his most famous soliloquy “To be or not to be”, he attacks every certainty she has about him: “Get thee to a nunnery.” tells her Hamlet, “Why, wouldst thou be a breeder of/ sinners?…” (Act III, Scene I, 122-123). He speaks with abnormal and extreme cruelty; his words are vicious and lewd, suggesting that Ophelia is a “whore” (nowadays, people would use the term brothel instead of nunnery). At this time, the skeptics, suggesting the argument that Hamlet’s insanity was fake and everything was a plan to avenge his father, are without evidence: Hamlet’s brutality against the only delicate personality in the Danish court has been useless; his plans did not advance by turning Ophelia into madness.

Hamlet is mad, faking mad and going mad. His madness is devouring his soul: he is depressed, irritable, confused, excessively angry with everyone, but excessively happy for trifles, he has suicidal thoughts and he sets unreachable goals, even though at times he is brilliant. Many people could say that Hamlet is simply mad, but, having documented all this variety of symptoms, in my opinion one can conclude that Hamlet was suffering from a bipolar disorder.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Antonia. “Fall 2015 Shakespeare I: Team 4.” Fall 2015 Shakespeare I Team 4. N.p., 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <https://hawksites.newpaltz.edu/fall2015eng406team4/2015/12/07/evidence-of-hamlets-bipolar-disorder/>.

“Hamlet.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet>.

Labourin, Maddison. “Investing Depression in the Character of Hamlet.” Prezi.com. N.p., 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2017. <https://prezi.com/kmltlekjuqyp/investigating-depression-in-hamlet/>.

Marraccini, Christina. “Hamlet’s Modern Day Diagnosis.” Christina Marraccini, 3 July 2009. Web. 6 Feb. 2017. <https://christinamarraccini.wordpress.com/2010/05/31/hamlets-modern-day-diagnosis/>.

McManamy, John. “Hamlet’s Battles…With Depression and Mania.” Hamlet’s Battles…With Depression and Mania – Mania and Manic Episodes – Bipolar. N.p., 22 Feb. 2007. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <http://www.healthcentral.com/bipolar/c/15/6839/hamlets-mania/>.

“Mental Disorder.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder>.


[1] Christina Marraccini, “Hamlet’s Modern Day Diagnosis” (Christina Marraccini), 3 July 2009

[2] Wikimedia Foundation, “Mental disorder” (Wikipedia)

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