Something Rotten in Denmark: Hamlet's Depressin

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Many psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that had Shakespeare's tragic hero Hamlet lived today he could be diagnosed with a treatable psychological condition, possibly bipolar disorder. Hamlet'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. Hamlet'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 person'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, one's experience and one's future (Orengo et al 24). Bipolar disorder'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 Hamlet's behavior. Anhedonia is an inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable life events ("Anhedonia"). Using the symptoms that characterize depression and bipolar disorder, Hamlet'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 Hamlet's powerful first soliloquy of the play, we are left with a very disturbing thought of Hamlet'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: "Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!" (I.ii.131-132) Hamlet wants to commit suicide but he knows that God's law forbids it. In the next line of that same soliloquy, Hamlet goes on to say, "How weary,...
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