Hamlet’s Depression (a complete guide)

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In this guide, we will discuss Hamlet’s depression, the signs, and symptoms that can be seen throughout the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. 

In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Hamlet’s father, who is the King of Denmark, is killed and is succeeded by his brother Claudius, who has married the old king’s wife, Gertrude. His father’s ghost informs Hamlet that Claudius is the one who murdered him and made Hamlet promise to avenge his father’s death. The play shows the process through which Hamlet handles the conflict in his head between his need to take quick and violent action against his uncle and his uncertainty about what is the right thing to do is. 

The play further shows the internal struggle of Hamlet on his journey to get revenge for his father. He sees it as infidelity on his mother’s part to marry her brother-in-law causing Hamlet to feel disturbed and angered by it. He even takes it on Ophelia, a woman whom he loved, which leads to her death. Throughout the play, numerous characters die including Gertrude, Ophelia’s father, and brother. But Hamlet is successful in killing his uncle moments before he himself dies, contemplating the existence of life in his final thoughts. 

Hamlet’s Depression

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Throughout the play, some instances can be seen that show different signs and symptoms that Hamlet might have been depressed. Though during the Shakespeare era the term depression wasn’t used, the term used was melancholy. 

We can see from various instances in the play, especially from Hamlet’s monologues where he shares his inside feelings, thoughts, and emotions, that he did feel depressed. 

When it comes to reasons for Hamlet’s depression, the main reasons were the sudden death of Hamlet’s father and the remarriage of his mother Gertrude to his villainous and murdering uncle Claudius. 

Here are the following Hamlet’s depression signs and symptoms that are seen in the play: 

  • Prolonged feelings of sadness
  • Constant lowering of mood
  • Indecisiveness and constant state of confusion
  • The predominance of negative beliefs and pessimism
  • Loss of capacity for enjoyment and interests
  • Loss of sleep
  • Suicidal ideation and thoughts 
  • Ideas of guilt or worthlessness present 

Prolonged feelings of sadness

Hamlet throughout the play can be seen having feelings of sadness after getting to know about his father’s death. Hamlet’s depression is clearly seen in the lines from the play,

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable 

Seem to me all the uses of this world! (I.ii.133–4)

Hamlet describes himself to be sad and unable to find anything that could bring him happiness in the world. He finds everything stale and weary because of his depression. The death of his father really made a huge impact on his mental health. He is left feeling empty and numb. 

Constant lowering of mood

Hamlet’s depression throughout the play can be seen quite evidently. He is seen to have a constantly low mood and can be seen saying so himself. His lines,

But I have that within which passes show, 

These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (I.ii.85–6)

It can be seen that Hamlet is not in a happy cheerful mood and that he feels trapped inside. He is unable to be happy and remove his dark thoughts from his mind.

Indecisiveness and constant state of confusion

Hamlet’s self-diagnosis is that he is “thinking too precisely on th’event”(IV.iv.41) and that “the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”.(III.i.84–5)

After his experience with the ghost of his father, the Prince swears to take revenge on Claudius, but his resolution is already broken within two scenes. In the hope that it will validate his doubts and drive him to action, he resolves to try to put blame on Claudius through the play within the play. During The Mousetrap, Claudius reveals his hand; and in Act Three, Scene Three, Hamlet is given the chance to kill Claudius and end the chaos within himself. He discusses with himself whether he should kill Claudius as he prays; and he defeats the opportunity by his hesitancy, walking away to let the King live another day, a decision that eventually costs most of the characters their lives.

The predominance of negative beliefs and pessimism

Hamlet is seen to have negative beliefs, seen when he calls Denmark a prison. (II.ii.243) He feels trapped there and holds a negative bleak vision of the future for himself. He can be seen being filled with thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness. He does not know what the future holds for him but is certain that it is nothing positive. He fears his surroundings though he is right about his uncle attempting to kill him. But his thoughts about his mother betraying him and his father are also there. 

Loss of capacity for enjoyment and interests

The failure to experience satisfaction from things once loved is one of the most common signs of depression in teenagers (Hamlet is only supposed to be 16). Hamlet cries out to God in his opening monologue for “[h]ow weary, stale, flate, and unprofitable/Seem to him the uses of this world” (I.ii.133-134). Later, as he talks to his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet reaffirms this feeling of inside death, saying, “I have of late–but wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory” (II.ii.287-290).

Loss of sleep

Hamlet in the play alludes to sleep disturbance “were it not that I have bad dreams”.(II.ii.255) Another common symptom seen in patients with depression. Individuals experience a loss of sleep and if they do fall asleep it is disturbed, making them wake up tired and unrestful. Individuals who have depression have reported having bad dreams too, like Hamlet comments as their fears and anxiety is manifested in forms of dreams. He is unable to get a proper night’s sleep which makes him more irritated and angry at his situation and is seen being taken out on himself and others around him. 

Suicidal ideation and thoughts 

Because of Hamlet’s depression he cries out his desire for death during his first soliloquy in Act One Scene Two, hoping that his “too solid flesh would melt,/Thaw, and resolve into a dew” (I.ii.129-130). He doesn’t just expect to die; he fantasizes in a horrible way about it. It is a natural healthy thing to do to think about death; obsessing about it and thinking up dreadful ways to die is a red flag that something is wrong. His motives become even clearer as he notes outright that he intends to kill himself, complaining that the Everlasting had… fixed/His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (I.ii.131-132), meaning that the only thing preventing Hamlet from killing himself on the spot is the celestial rule against it.

As the play progresses, as seen by his famous “To be, or not to be” monologue, his suicidal thoughts grow stronger.

Ideas of guilt or worthlessness present 

“Do you not come your tardy son to chide?” (III.iv.106–9) 

“How all occasions do inform against me …”IV.iv.32) 

 “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” (II.ii.545–583)

All these lines given above talk about how Hamlet is tormented in his mind about thoughts of guilt and worthlessness. He compares himself to a slave rather than call himself the prince that he is. There is depletion of his own status in his mind showing that he now considers himself to be as worthless as a peasant slave. Someone who has no importance and is a mere individual. He is unable to see himself as a prince and takes pride in who he is. 

You can read Hamlet online

In this guide, we discussed Hamlet’s depression, the signs, and symptoms that can be seen throughout the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. 

FAQs: Hamlet’s Depression

Is Hamlet suffering from depression?

Yes, Hamlet is suffering from depression as it can be interpreted from the play. The interpretation of the play Hamlet leads the viewers to believe that he was suffering from acute depression as seen by his obsessional features. HE is unable to make a firm resolution to act. Though at the time of Shakespeare the concept of depression was not there, instead it was called melancholy. 

What mental illness does Hamlet have?

Hamlet’s madness and want for revenge but unable to act on it can be seen stemming out from a mental illness, most probably depression. Hamlet in the play himself admits to being suffering from melancholy. The death of his father is a triggering moment for him causing a decline in his preexisting condition. Throughout the play, Hamlet’s pessimistic and negative thoughts can be seen.

What makes Hamlet sad or depressed?

Hamlet after his father’s death becomes extremely sad, despite the efforts of his uncle King Claudius and his mother Gertrude to cheer him up there is no improvement in his mood. Hamlet in the play talks about his feelings of sadness and depression, particularly because his mother married his uncle. 

What are the two main reasons why Hamlet is depressed?

There were not two but three things in the play that caused Hamlet to be depressed. But the two main reasons why Hamlet is depressed are the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother to his uncle. The third one being Ophelia. Hamlet is seen contemplating death and becomes ready to even die at the end of the play. When his father dies Hamlet seems lost and depressed and it is common to feel like this after the loss of a loved one. 

Is Hamlet sad or suicidal?

It is not the sadness of Hamlet that is concerning in the play, which can be seen throughout the play. It is the fact that everyone is unnerved by his grief. Shakespeare has very well captured the way people react to sadness as if it is something completely bizarre, even when the reason for it is right in front of them. 

Why does Hamlet want to kill himself?

The famous dialogues that Hamlet says in the play, “To be or not to be?” is where he is asking himself if it is better to be alive and go through life’s sufferings and pain. Or to die by killing oneself and ending all the suffering for once and for all. Events like his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage to his uncle do cause Hamlet to contemplate and see if he wants to kill himself. 

References

https://mh.bmj.com/content/medhum/28/2/92.full.pdf

https://shakespeare.yoexpert.com/the-plays/do-you-think-hamlet-was-clinically-depressed-or-was-he-just-faking-it-49818.html

http://medhum.med.nyu.edu/view/1159

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