Investigating Depression in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Hamlet is depressed from the exposition of the play. Why? It is a month after his father’s death. Why can't he just continue on with his life? Hamlet’s overwhelming depression first manifests itself after the visit from his father as a ghost. His father warns him of the deceptive and wretched qualities of his uncle Claudius. Hamlet suffers a great deal of sadness, feeling helpless in his father's request to exact revenge against Claudius and becoming distrusting of the incestuous nature of his mother. Hamlet, however rational, normal, and capable he may have been before the play begins, is unable to think rationally, instead over-analyzing every detail. This meticulous analysis cripples him, rendering him unable to make any sort of rational decision. This inability to make decisions is rooted in the intense internal struggle Hamlet must overcome: he cannot imagine himself killing someone and he cannot imagine himself not avenging his father’s murder. This duality of conscience causes Hamlet to spiral into depression and he must examine the depths of his soul before he makes a decision. To make a decision Hamlet must answer the quintessential Hamlet-ian question, “To be or not to be?” (Shakespeare 3.1.56). Hamlet is depressed and unable to act until he has an epiphany in Act V, wherein he must just “Let be”.

Hamlet is petrified into inaction by the quickness of events that transpires at the beginning of the play. His uncle Claudius has killed his father, and his mother in less than a month has married the same man who committed this heinous murder thus beginning an incestuous relationship. Hamlet addressed his discord with this speed and nature of this relationship, “A little more than kin, and less than kind”...

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... mourning of his father), an encounter with a ghost who claims to be his father and asks him to exact revenge on his own uncle, and an innate sense of overly analytical and indecisive qualities which likely stem from the upbringing of the character in his youth. These perils which plague the character, along with the long drawn-out soliloquies the character delivers, all create for a character which is by definition, depressed.

Works Cited

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Carroll, Joseph. "Intentional Meaning In Hamlet: An Evolutionary Perspective." Style 44.1/2 (2010): 230-260. Literary Reference Center. Web. 20 May 2014.

“Shakespeare Resource Center.” Shakespeare Resource Center. Web. 18 May 2014

Shakespeare, William, and Harold Jenkins. Hamlet. London: Methuen, 1982. Print.
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