Depiction Of Madness In Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Ophelia’s Schizophrenia

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

In William Shakespeare’s play the tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark written around the 1600’s, the character Ophelia is shown to clearly be diagnosed with the mental illness “Schizophrenia” as she shows a cluster of its symptoms.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness disorder where people will interpret reality abnormally, causing them to hallucinate, be delusional, and have unclear thinking which can be disabling. Its symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and speech, motor behavior, reduced ability to function, suicidal thoughts and behavior, disturbances of emotions, and etc. The mental illness is genetically diagnosed, and can be treated by primary health-care, access to essential drugs prohibited for schizophrenia, supported housing and employment, psychological training, etc.

Ophelia is a character in Hamlet who is shown to be diagnosed with the mental illness “Schizophrenia”. Her diagnosis within the first acts of the play is weak, however, her mental illness reaches its peak in act 4, as a cluster of schizophrenia’s symptoms are shown. She is grieving from her father’s death making her more ill and confused, for Ophelia “sings” her father’s death and her grief to him to Queen Gertrude, singing: “He is head and gone, lady, He is head and gone; at his head a grass-green turf, at his heels a stone.” Ophelia’s symptoms keep worsening that she does not even make sense with her words, let alone not even speak them but rather sing them. This is a symptom rather shown in Mayo Clinic’s informative article titled “Schizophrenia” issued in 2018, where a symptom of schizophrenia was disorganized thinking and speech, where the person will put together meaningless words that cannot be understood which clearly what Ophelia is does.

Secondly, Ophelia sings her emotions and madness away, giving away “rosemary for remembrance”, which symbolize fidelity and remembrance, possibly to regain Hamlet’s love or trying to show her brother Laertes what is going on. “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts”, which possibly could be for Hamlet since pansies symbolize love and admiration for another person. Ophelia’s mixed emotions are a symptom included in the informative article issued by World Health Organization titled “Schizophrenia” issued in 2018 which states: “Disturbances of emotions: marked apathy or disconnect between reported emotion”, as Ophelia evidently shows since Ophelia is torn from the love she has for her brother Laertes and her epic love Hamlet.

Thirdly, Ophelia sings her confused thoughts and giving away real or imaginary flowers, from a tree. “Your sister’s drowned, Laertes”, says the Queen to Laertes. Ophelia’s symptoms worsen so much that she just gave up, as the Queen describes her “clothes spread wide, and mermaid-like while they bore her up, which time she chanted snatches of old lauds”, and “as one incapable of her own distress or like a creature native and endued”. Two symptoms of schizophrenia are showing, the first one having “confused and disordered thinking”, which is a symptom of the mental illness. And the second symptom is the effect of the confused thinking which is Ophelia having “suicidal thoughts and behavior”, coming for the fact that Ophelia is able to swim back to life, however, decides not to as it was a matter of time before her clothes got soaked up heavy with the water pulling her out of her song “to muddy death”.

Overall, in William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark written around the 1600’s and the informative articles, both convey that people in relationships are more likely to be affected by schizophrenia, as they have a 2-3 more tendency to die faster, which Ophelia aches from as she dies in Act 4, since she “drowned”. Ophelia could have found a way to swim upwards and live her life, but she does not bother to try, or she could have found a way to talk to someone other than Hamlet about her emotions and thoughts in order to stop them from binding and collapsing her.


  1. Nordqvist, Christian. “Types of Schizophrenia: What Are They and Are They Still Used?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 24 Apr. 2017,
  2. Parekh, Ranna. “What Is Schizophrenia?” What Is Schizophrenia?, July 2017,
  3. “Schizophrenia.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Apr. 2018,
  4. “Schizophrenia.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 9 Apr. 2018,
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