Representation of Mental Illness in Hamlet by Shakespeare Essay

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Critics trashed Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet, due in part to the acting of Ethan Hawke, which many reviewers viewed as too weak for the role (). However, these reviewers fail to recognize that “[Hamlet’s] nature changes from scene to scene” (Crosman 148), and therefore requires development as the storyline progresses. Similarly, Ophelia’s character experiences rather drastic changes following the death of her father. But, as Hawke received criticism for his descent into madness, Stiles’ Ophelia received praise. This essay will examine the representation of mental illness in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Michael Almereyda’s 2000-film adaptation of the play, in order to justify the acting of Ethan Hawke as Hamlet.
Many representations of madness and melancholy during Shakespeare’s time drew inspiration from institutions like Bedlam Hospital, which housed the mentally ill (Cross 19). During this time, madness fascinated many in England, and as a result, became a Bedlam became a cultural happening as public spectators viewed patients as part of a “human zoo”. Throughout Shakespeare’s time and into the late 1700s, large numbers of visitors would pay entry fees in order to view the inmates.
The inmates also entered the public eye through the writings of authors like Shakespeare. These writings often boosted the public’s intrigue with madness through the additions of stereotypes that depicted the mental distress of others. In his essay, Simon Cross provides the example of Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear. In the play, Edgar disguises himself and “picks up all of the characteristics” of a madman by faking physical ailments and babbling incessantly. Through the additions of these attributes to the characters of many works, by authors like Shake...

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...akespeare Bulletin 23.4 (2005): 19-32. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.
Lidz, Theodore. Hamlet’s Enemy: Madness and Myth in Hamlet. New York: Basic Books Inc., 1975. Print.
Mitchell, Elvis. “A Simpler Melancholy.” Rev. of Hamlet, dir. Michael Almereyda. The New York Times 20 May 2000. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.
Sen, Taraknath. “Hamlet’s Treatment of Ophelia in the Nunnery Scene” The Modern Language Review 35.2 (1940): 145-152. JSTOR. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet.Publication City: Publisher, Year of publication. Print.
Simon, John. “A Will But No Way.” Rev. of Hamlet, dir. Michael Almereyda. National Review 19 June 2000: 59-60. Military & Government Collection. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.
Walley, Harold. “Shakespeare’s Conception of Hamlet.” PMLA 48.3 (1933): 777-789. JSTOR Arts & Sciences III. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

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