English / Something Rotten In Denmark: Hamlet'S Depressin
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Autor: anton 31 May 2011
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Many psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that had Shakespeareâ€™s tragic hero Hamlet lived today he could be diagnosed with a treatable psychological condition, possibly bipolar disorder. Hamletâ€™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. Hamletâ€™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 personâ€™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, oneâ€™s experience and oneâ€™s future (Orengo et al 24). Bipolar disorderâ€™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 Hamletâ€™s behavior. Anhedonia is an inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable life events (â€œAnhedoniaâ€). Using the symptoms that characterize depression and bipolar disorder, Hamletâ€™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 Hamletâ€™s powerful first soliloquy of the play, we are left with a very disturbing thought of Hamletâ€™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: â€œOr that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon â€˜gainst self-slaughter!â€ (I.ii.131-132) Hamlet wants to commit suicide but he knows that Godâ€™s law forbids it. In the next line of that same soliloquy, Hamlet goes on to say, â€œHow weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world!â€ (I.ii.133-134) He then goes on to say that the world is an â€œunweeded garden That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely.â€ (I.ii.135-137) Hamlet is fed up with the world and sees it as nothing but an â€˜unweeded garden,â€™ 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 â€œbrave oâ€™erhanging firmamentâ€ and as a majestically roof â€œfretted with golden fireâ€ as just a â€œfoul and pestilent congregation of vapors.â€ 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 â€œquintessence of dust,â€ 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 â€œTo be, or not to beâ€ soliloquy that has been studied for centuries and was called in 2002 by Dr. Elio Frattaroli as â€œShakespeareâ€™s most famous description of depressionâ€ 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 ghostâ€™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 peopleâ€™s mind from this soliloquy is Hamletâ€™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 says â€œFor in that sleep of death what dreams may come.â€ He dreads something after death and compares it to an undiscovered land where no explorer comes back to tell what is there. Hamlet then comes back from the depths of his depression and suicidal thoughts to say that conscience (which made him dread the undiscovered country of death) makes cowards of everyone and causes everyone to take their mind off of what they have to do (III.i.56-87). Numerous occasions in the play exist of moments when Hamlet expresses intense guilt at his failure and delay to act. Hamlet says, â€œDo you not come your tardy son to chide?â€ when he is visited by his fatherâ€™s ghost in Gertrudeâ€™s room in the scene where Hamlet mistakenly murders Polonius (III.i.107). Hamletâ€™s soliloquy in Act III, Scene II is one of the best examples of the intense self-loathing he feels when he attacks himself by saying, â€œO what a rogue and peasant slave am I!â€ (II.ii.564) These many points in the play are symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. Hamlet experienced many events able to produce a psychological condition like his fatherâ€™s sudden death, his motherâ€™s speedy marriage to his uncle and his intense disappointment in his lack of revenge. Hamlet is not just a tragic hero stricken with Elizabethan-type melancholy. He has been transformed, and the transformation is even seen by Claudius, Ophelia and Gertrude. Hamlet diagnoses himself when he says that he is thinking too specifically on the outcome of his revenge in Act IV, Scene IV (IV.iv.41). Hamletâ€™s constant indecision and obsessional features are both symptoms of depression, and his obsessive reflections and thoughts in his many soliloquies are caused by his depression. Many psychologists suggest that obsessional patients can make reasoned decisions but lack the conviction to perform their conclusions, and this is precisely Hamletâ€™s case (Shaw and Pickering 92).
There is no doubt that the dysfunctional family in the Danish court contributed much to Hamletâ€™s depression. In terms of family history, it is very probable that Gertrude succumbed to Claudius because of her weakness and depression after her husbandâ€™s untimely death. Also, in the month before Hamlet finally avenged his fatherâ€™s death, his father had been murdered, his dead fatherâ€™s ghost accused his uncle of the heinous crime and his mother married his uncle, the alleged perpetrator. These events alone would put almost anyone in a vulnerable state which in an already high stress environment could make anyone susceptible to depression or even bipolar disorder. Stressful events and disturbed, stressed relationships can trigger episodes of mania and depression and once a person has suffered from depression and bipolar disorder it becomes extremely hard to get over it. In the past decade, several studies have reported that patients released from psychiatric care are more than likely going to experience depression again if they encounter an excessive amount of daily stress. Living in a hostile family environment ranks high among such episodes of stress and a major setback such as the death of a loved one can push back recovery to over a year. Living in the type of environment that Hamlet was living in and Hamletâ€™s personality complexes (his obsessional and indecisive features) meant that he had a very high chance of developing a psychological condition like depression and bipolar disorder (Bower 232). This high risk of developing a condition like depression and his actions in the play show that if Hamlet had lived today he could have been diagnosed with a treatable psychological condition, more than likely bipolar disorder.
Anyone who has read the play must agree that if Hamlet had not delayed his revenge there would be no play. Many explanations for Hamletâ€™s delay have been offered and none is more convincing than if Hamlet was suffering from an acute depressive illness with obsessional features like bipolar disorder which could also possibly explain his seeing of the ghost during stressful points in the play like when he murders Polonius in Gertrudeâ€™s room. Hamlet was unable to make a firm effort to act on his suspicions and the ghostâ€™s wishes because as many psychologists suggest, many obsessional patients have the ability to make a decision but lack the conviction to follow through with it. Looking at the play as a time line, in the third scene the ghost of King Hamlet tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius and that Hamlet needs to avenge his death and finally in the last seen of the play Hamlet takes action and actually takes his revenge. What passes between these two points are five acts and almost four hours worth of performed action on the screen or stage. Hamletâ€™s delay causes seven unnecessary deaths. Those listed among the unnecessary dead include Hamlet himself, Hamletâ€™s mother Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's lover Ophelia, Opheliaâ€™s father Polonius, Opheliaâ€™s brother Laertes, and his friends at the beginning of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It is very reasonable to assume that Shakespeare would deem a delay of action as dramatically necessary and that he would need to make a reason for it. The most widely accepted reason (although no single reason is universally accepted) is that Hamlet was indecisive due to having bipolar disorder with an emphasis on depression. A tragic hero to fit the model would also need a character defect that would cause him to bring ruin to himself and others. Hamletâ€™s chief character defect is his indecisiveness which was caused by bipolar disorder. Shakespeare would have considered the character flaw as Hamletâ€™s melancholy although as shown by the symptoms of Hamlet throughout the play, his ruin wasnâ€™t due to a character flaw. His ruin and the delay of revenge came from an illness: bipolar disorder. The play is most accurately seen as a look at the life of a brilliant young man placed under severe stress with a very acute depressive illness like bipolar disorder (Shaw and Pickering 92).
The actions of Hamlet throughout the play leave much to the imagination and much to be discussed and argued among literary scholars. Because he is merely a fictional character and Shakespeare left the world no solid clue as to the actual reason behind Hamletâ€™s actions, we are left to scholarly debate to decide whether Hamlet did have depression and bipolar disorder and whether or not it actually contributed to his delay of revenge. The interpretation of Hamlet having bipolar disorder and depression does not take away from the intense power of the poetry or other insights in the play. â€œA mark of its greatness is that successive generations have new insights into it and draw new inspiration from itâ€ (Shaw and Pickering 92).
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