Inaction Through Illness (Hamlet by William Shakespeare Book Review)

Inaction Through Illness (Hamlet by William Shakespeare Book Review)
📌Category: Books, Literature, Plays
📌Words: 876
📌Pages: 4
📌Published: 13 March 2021

Throughout the totality of Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, the reader is shown the adverse effects of grief on different characters. One of the characters most deeply impacted by grief, is the namesake, Hamlet himself. After Hamlet’s father is murdered we see him sink into madness; as if he were, “a man in the grip of insanity.” Although Hamlet's actions are more or less his feigned madness, as the play proceeds, the genuinity of his insanity becomes clear. The exploitations of Hamlet in his so-called “madness” indicate an undisclosed mental illness that led to his continual inaction, erratic moods, inconsistent impulsivity, and his incessant confusion.  

Due to Hamlet's forlorn circumstances, his unusual behaviors were passed off as “madness”. The most likely diagnosis based on Hamlet’s portrayed behaviors and internal monologue is bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes periods of severe changes in mood, activity levels, energy, and ability to carry out everyday tasks. One of the fundamental causes of this is stress, and acknowledging the fact that Hamlet just lost his father, and he is witnessing his mother making the adulterous decision to marry his uncle, he is under a great deal of stress. 

An individual who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may have episodes of mania or depression. Throughout the play Hamlet switches back and forth between these two disorders. There are a variety of distinct signs that might possibly indicate that someone is in a depressive episode including: sadness, hopelessness, guilt, irritability, anxiety, emptiness, a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, trouble concentrating and making decisions, and suicidal thoughts. In Act 1, Hamlet is lamenting over his father’s death and additionally is expressing his anger over Gertrude’s decision to marry King Claudius. Claudius addresses Hamlet's emotions when he asks “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” (Act 1, scene 2, line 66). We can see an even more personal glimpse into Hamlet’s sorrow in his first soliloquy. “O God, God, How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seems to me all the uses of this world” (Act 1, Scene 2, lines 132-134). Within these couple lines Hamlet shows sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness, all indications of depression. 

After his father’s death Hamlet’s actions could be seen as nothing more than sadness and grief, but we see that Hamlet has descended fully into a depressive episode in his To be or not to be soliloquy. “To be or not to be: that is the question” (Act 3, Scene 1, line 56). Hamlet is still immobilized by the grief he feels over his father’s death and his anger over mother marrying Claudius, and is internally disputing about whether it would be better for him to die or to live. He is prevented from committing suicide because he does not know what will happen after death, and moreover because dying could be worse than living. One other substantial factor that points to Hamlet being in a depressive episode, is his indecisiveness or inaction. The inaction that Hamlet exhibits is in the form of him not taking revenge on Claudius, as well as the constant questioning over the value of his own life. “Now might I do it pat, now ‘a is a-praying. And now I'll do’t. And so’a goes to heaven, And so am I revenged” (Act 3, Scene 3, lines 73-75). Here is a crucial scene demonstrating the indecisiveness of Hamlet. Hamlet has the perfect opportunity to kill King Claudius, neverless, he hesitates and resolves to wait as he believes Claudius is praying and will go to Heaven. 

The other piece of bipolar disorder is mania. Mania is a mental illness with symptoms that may include: great excitement or euphoria, delusions, disorientation or disjointed thinking, poor decision making, extreme impulsiveness, and over activity. Hamlet initially exhibits symptoms of mania when he laid eyes on his father’s ghost for the first time. “Haste me to know ’t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.” (Act 1, scene 5, lines 29-31). After he sees his father’s ghost he immediately is engulfed in the idea of revenge. His planning is rushed and he expresses an extreme sense of importance in his task. This shows great excitement, extreme impulsiveness, and over activity in Hamlet, all signs of mania. Hamlet carries out an act of extreme impulsiveness when he kills Polonius. “How now? A rat? Dead for a ducat, dead! [Thrusts his rapier through the arras and] kills Polonius.” (Act 3, Scene 4, lines 24-25). Here Hamlet makes the rash decision to kill the person standing behind the tapestry without any second thoughts. He means to kill Claudius, but because of his mania he is unable to have or show sound judgement, and rather he kills Polonius. As well as this, Hamlet presents signs of disorientation or disjointed thinking in the course of the play. “For look you how cheerfully my mother looks, and my father died within’s two hours'' (Act 3, scene 2, lines 129- 131). In reality it has been two months from the time of his father’s death. 

Being a tragedy, the characters within Hamlet experience a multitude of deaths. Through these deaths the characters are faced with the detrimental effects of grief, principally the main character, Hamlet. In the wake of his father’s murder, and his mothers prompt marriage to his uncle, Hamlet develops a “madness”. In actuality, his madness can be seen as him struggling with bipolar disorder, a condition that causes periods of severe changes in mood, activity levels, energy, and ability to carry out everyday tasks. Hamlet’s ailment led to his continual inaction, erratic moods, inconsistent impulsivity, and his incessant confusion.

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