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Something Rotten In Denmark: Hamlet's Depressin

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Autor:   •  May 31, 2011  •  2,450 Words (10 Pages)  •  655 Views

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Many psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that had Shakespeare's tragic hero Hamlet lived today he could be diagnosed with a treatable psychological condition, possibly bipolar disorder. Hamlet's depression can be attributed to many environmental and physiological conditions including his family history, the state of the court at the time that the play covers and his very personality. His depression is a very crucial element in the play in that it causes him to delay his revenge on Claudius which causes many unnecessary deaths and adds to the tragedy that befalls Hamlet. Hamlet's condition and actions in the play read like a symptom list for what in modern times is considered depression and in particular bipolar disorder.

In the time of William Shakespeare, there was no perception of acute depressive illness. However, in that time melancholy was very well known. Melancholy would have been included in Hamlet because it would have been seen as a character defect and in a tragedy the hero brings himself and others to ruin because of a character defect (Shaw and Pickering 92). Today, melancholy is actually seen as a symptom of depression. Depressive illness is typically characterized by low mood, anhedonia, negative beliefs and reduced energy (Shaw and Pickering 92). Depression is a key symptom of bipolar disorder which is a well-defined psychiatric illness found in adults and children that is very prevalent today. Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense mood swings where a person can cycle from intense euphoria to deadening depression and every phase in between. This transition can be a very abrupt one between high and low moods that can occur over the course of days or even over the course of a few hours. This disorder is considered today to be the result of abnormal neurological activity in the brain that affects a person's mood, thought patterns and behavior (Hahn 56). Another symptom of bipolar disorder is mania. Many members of the medical community think it is possible that manic episodes in bipolar disorder are used as a kind of psychological defense mechanism against an unrelenting tendency of a person to sink into depression (Bower 232). Bipolar disorder is characteristically defined as causing a person to hallucinate (possibly to the point of seeing ghosts) and act indecisively (Leung). According to behavior theories, depression can result from the negative triad. The negative triad is a group of negative views toward the self, one's experience and one's future (Orengo et al 24). Bipolar disorder's characteristic symptom of depression increasingly appears to be reflected in a variety of social influences. The impact of intimate relationships, stress and the way in which a person thinks contributes dramatically to the course of bipolar disorder. Case reports starting from decades ago have told the tale of how stressful events and relationships sometimes prompt occurrences of mania and depression especially in people who already have a family history of this condition (Bower 232). Anhedonia is another key symptom of depression and is very prevalent in Hamlet's behavior. Anhedonia is an inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable life events ("Anhedonia"). Using the symptoms that characterize depression and bipolar disorder, Hamlet's behavior and descriptions of himself begin to paint a very dark picture of a man very troubled in his life by his current situation and his psychological state.

From Hamlet's powerful first soliloquy of the play, we are left with a very disturbing thought of Hamlet's where he first begins to dwell on thoughts of death and suicide. In Act I, Scene II he says the words that will haunt him throughout the play: "Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!" (I.ii.131-132) Hamlet wants to commit suicide but he knows that God's law forbids it. In the next line of that same soliloquy, Hamlet goes on to say, "How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world!" (I.ii.133-134) He then goes on to say that the world is an "unweeded garden That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely." (I.ii.135-137) Hamlet is fed up with the world and sees it as nothing but an 'unweeded garden,' a world that is entirely tainted from all points. As anhedonia is considered one of the key symptoms of depression and therefore bipolar disorder, it is important to note when Hamlet discusses in great length his anhedonia to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act II, Scene II. Hamlet says that he has lost all his mirth and most importantly that man no longer delights him. He says that losing his mirth has affected his disposition so much that he sees the world as just a barren, desolate piece of land and he sees the stars that most people think of as a "brave o'erhanging firmament" and as a majestically roof "fretted with golden fire" as just a "foul and pestilent congregation of vapors." The situation in the court has caused such a great change in his disposition that Hamlet has lost all ability and desire to see the world as a complex and beautiful place like he used to. Hamlet then speaks of new attitude toward man as brought about by his loss of mirth. In the lines that follow Hamlet speaks of man as being most noble in reason, infinite in abilities, precise and admirable in form and function, in action like an angel and in thought like a god, and finally the beauty of the world and the ruler and ideal of animals. However, he then says that to him man is but a "quintessence of dust," just a concentrated being of dust and nothing more (II.ii.305-320). The reader is left with the overwhelming thought that this has to be the bleakest view of both man and world to be thought. In Act III is the famous "To be, or not to be" soliloquy that has been studied for centuries and was called in 2002 by Dr. Elio Frattaroli as "Shakespeare's most famous description of depression" in his address to the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (qu. in Romano 1). In this soliloquy Hamlet shows a sense of inadequacy when he quickly feels overwhelmed by the ghost's task of revenge after first boasting that his revenge would come quick (Shaw and Pickering 92). However, the idea that is imprinted in most people's mind from this soliloquy is Hamlet's thoughts of suicide. He asks should he go on living or not and whether it is not worth living in his world of anguish and self-loathing. He compares death to sleep to try to convince himself that in death he will find eternal comfort from the troubles in his life. However, having the very analytical mind that Hamlet has, he finds an obstacle in death being eternal sleep and


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