Manic Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet


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Manic Hamlet

 

            Manic: affected by violent madness . When one is affected by mania it becomes the dictator of his or her actions .  This holds true in William Shakespeare's Hamlet . In the play, Hamlet is depressed to the point of mania. His entire existence is engulfed in his melancholia.  Hamlet's words, thoughts, interactions and most tangibly his actions make his heavy-heartedness an undeniable reality. The degree of Hamlet 's depression is set by his ennui and his melancholy itself is revealed through his tenacity. Throughout the play Hamlet's actions are plagued by his overbearing depression. This depression in combination with Hamlet's mania is what makes his a bipolar disorder sufferer.

            Psychologically, mania is described as a mood disorder characterized by euphoric states ,extreme physical activity ,excessive talkativeness, distractedness, and sometimes grandiosity. During manic periods a person becomes "high" extremely active , excessively talkative, and easily distracted. During these periods the affected person's self esteem is also often greatly inflated. These people often become aggressive and hostile to others as their self confidence becomes more and more inflated and exaggerated.  In extreme cases (like Hamlet's) the manic person may become consistently wild or violent until he or she reaches the point of exhaustion. Manic depressives often function on little or no sleep during their episodes.

    At the opening of the play Hamlet is portrayed as a stable individual . He expresses disappointment in his mother for her seeming disregard for his father's death. His feelings are justified and his actions are rational at this point, he describes himself as being genuine. As this scene progresses it is revealed that Hamlet views himself as being weak: "My father's brother, but no more like my father/ than I to Hercules" (1.2.153) The doubts that Hamlet has concerning his heroism become particularly evident in his actions as the story progresses. These doubts are a major hindrance to his thoughts of revenge.

            Hamlet wishes to avenge the murder of his father and rectify this great injustice. The conflict between his desire to seek revenge and his own thoughts of incompetence is the cause of his initial unrest. "Haste me to know't , that I , with wings as swift / As meditation or thoughts of love , / may sweep to my revenge (1.5.29-31).  Here Hamlet pleads to the Ghost of King Hamlet to reveal the name of his murderer.

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This request is emotional and impulsive at this point.  Hamlet does not realize exactly what this revenge may entail. This revenge seems simple to Hamlet only because he doesn't know who the killer is yet, his connection to the killer will be a great convolution to the situation. Toward the end of act one King Hamlet's ghost tells Hamlet who his murderer is. This news is the catalyst that embarks Hamlet upon his depression." The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, / The ever I was born to set it right !"(1.5.188-189).  These two lines particularly solidify Hamlet's dilemma. Here he knows what the task is actually calling him to do - kill his uncle.

            The second act includes two soliloquies; it is in these that the depth of Hamlet's depression  is revealed .The soliloquy opens with a reference to disease and decay : "Oh that this sullied flesh would melt / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew," (1.2.129-130) Here Hamlet is speaking of his own flesh and makes his first reference to suicide. He expresses great dissatisfaction with  the state of the world. "How weary, stale,  flat and unprofitable / Seem to me all uses of the world !" (1.2.133-134). These feelings of uselessness and depression are greatly due to his disapproval of and disgust with his mother's recent action.                 

            Since Hamlet displays many manic depressive characteristics, the play seems to be made up of hills and valleys.  Oscar James Campbell describes Hamlet as a series of meditative pauses followed by bursts of action – this is consistent with manic depressive behavior.  Hamlet's depressed phase is marked by brooding inaction and his manic phase is characterized by abrupt lunges toward action. During the entire play, Hamlet is in a state of paralyzing perplexity; from scene to scene he contemplates deeply over which course of action he should adopt.

            Hamlet is overwhelmed, he makes this abundantly clear in act two:" O God , I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space if it were not that I have bad dreams." (2.ii.254-256) Here Hamlet expresses a desire to crawl away and hide - he wants to escape this chaos that has become his life.  When it seems that stress begins to overtake him, Hamlet begins to lash out at the other characters. Sometimes Hamlet throws his tantrums in the solitude of a room and at other times he lashes out at people directly. One instance of this is occurred when Hamlet is being spied on by Claudius and Polonius while speaking to his love, Ophelia. In his great unrest Hamlet mocks Ophelia's sexual discretions by exclaiming "Get thee to a nunnery!" (3.iii.121) In Elizabethan times a nunnery was a whorehouse. In this scene Hamlet treats Ophelia very aggressively here he slams her around.  Also during the same dialogue Hamlet expresses his lack of feeling for Ophelia.  Hamlet says that he does not now and never has loved Ophelia. This is a major component in refuting the argument that his instability is due to love sickness over Ophelia .In the later part of the play when Hamlet is not manic he expresses a mammoth deal of love for Ophelia . It is only during periods of serenity that Hamlet's true feelings are revealed. His manic episodes serve to balance out his usual inactivity and apathy.  Hamlet never seemed to express much feeling to Ophelia and when he finally did say something he insults her and showers her with the rage he feels toward the state of his world. The actions that Hamlet performs mirror the patterns of a manic depressive.         

            Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder in which both mania and depression are present. In bipolar disorder periods of mania and depression alternate (each lasting between a few days and a few months), sometimes with normal mood interventions. (Gershon, 1990) Hamlet expresses these characteristics exactly . From day to day Hamlet goes from seemingly rational or "normal" to irrational, tenacious and impulsive. His patterns of action clearly prove that he is a bipolar disease sufferer.


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