Depression and Melancholia Expressed by Hamlet Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


The state of Hamlet’s melancholy, or the nature of depression, was simply observed or recognized by Elizabethan viewers than by contemporary viewers. Additionally, the critic claims that as Hamlet is expressively unsteady, he is not mad and critics continue to say that hamlet is a play that produces high logical energy. However, probably more significantly reveals an experience of deep pain and distress for the protagonist.

As expressed by Hamlet, this paper discusses that Shakespeare makes sense of the depression/melancholia through presenting Hamlet’s particular signs that act as a demonstration of depression/melancholia. The paper will not attempt and sketch the way the signs or symptoms of depression/melancholia play a part in the way Shakespeare’s period or culture concerning depression/melancholia, but in its place portrays the way particular outlooks concerning depression/melancholia of Klein and Freud provide logic, or significance to Hamlets depression/melancholia.

The paper will also portray that various parts of characterization of Freud regarding subject topic provide logic to Hamlet’s depression/melancholia, as provided by Shakespeare. However, in other instances, the Klein’s signs of depression/melancholia provide dissimilar significance or sense, for example pinning and reparation and will be portrayed that Klein draws the signs that Feud does not outlines. Through the combination of both characterization of Klein and Freud, an effective knowledge of the way Shakespeare creates sense of depression/melancholia of Hamlet can be demonstrated.

Additionally, the discussion portrays that depression/melancholia, according to Klein and Freud, is brought about by his loss of an item, which is his father. Shakespeare also points out that this loss may have brought about Hamlet’s depression/melancholia and both Klein and Freud pointed out that self-deprecation are considered a sign of depression/melancholia (Radden, 2009, p. 153). Self-deprecation is applied by Shakespeare to make sense to Hamlet’s depression/melancholia, and idealization and sorrow are approaches that Shakespeare likewise makes sense to Hamlet’s depression/melancholia.

Confusions of Definitions and Symptoms

The greatest area where most studies focus on the way Shakespeare makes sense to Hamlet’s depression/melancholia is to what extent Shakespeare is supporting, or opposing, English renaissance notions concerning the association between melancholy and witchcraft, and the notions of Italians concerning melancholy and genius.

Most people are surprised by the way viewers of Shakespeare considered what brought about the depression or melancholy in the novel and groundbreaking approaches that were at variance with his viewers’ thoughts, or if he was only strengthening his viewers’ already defined thoughts. If Shakespeare was initiating radical and new ideas concerning what brought about Hamlet’s melancholy, then there was probability that the audience did not understand this and possessed a fully dissimilar knowledge to what Shakespeare and probably other people understood it. However, it has to be pointed out that in the time of Shakespeare, there was misunderstanding concerning only what made up melancholia.

In ‘the Anatomy of Melancholy,’ the classic 1632 work of the period, Burton criticizes about the misunderstanding and inconsistency about the subject matter and he went ahead to provide the meaning of melancholy as “a kind of dotage without a fear, having for his ordinary companions, fear, and sadness, without any apparent occasion” (Burton, 1932). However, in ‘Mourning and melancholy,’ the Freud’s nineteenth classic, Freud, similarly, identifies the misunderstanding of meaning and symptoms of melancholy when he declares:

“Melancholia, whose definition fluctuates even in descriptive psychiatry, takes on various clinical forms the grouping together of which into a single unity does not seem to be established with certainty, and some of these forms suggest somatic rather than psychogenic affections” (Freud, 1991, p. 251).

However, Freud draws the signs of melancholy when he states in his script:

“The distinguishing mental features of melancholia are a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of ability to love, inhibition of all activity, and lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a level that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-reviling and culminates in delusional expectations of punishment” (Freud, 1991, p. 251).

In contrast in our modern periods, the American Psychiatric Associations Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases provides a dissimilar group of signs for melancholy or depression after they noted in their descriptions and definitions.

“… that, for a clinical diagnosis of depression to be made, five or more of the following symptoms must be present over at least a two-week period: depressed mood most of the day; diminished interest or pleasure; significant gain or loss of weight; inability to sleep or sleeping too much; reduced control over bodily movements; fatigue; feeling of worthlessness or guilt; inability to think or concentrate; thoughts of death or suicide” (Burton, 1932).

The outcome of all these differences in the definitions and symptoms of depression/melancholia results in the condition that Solomon expresses as, “what we call illness is also really quite arbitrary; in the case of depression, it is also in perpetual flux.” With all these historical impressions relative to the inconsistency in what makes up melancholia or depression, it is essential to have the same opinion based on a framework to examine the way Shakespeare makes sense of the Hamlet’s melancholia or depression. The Frameworks, which will be used in this paper, are those provided by Klein and Freud (Freud, 1991, p. 252).

It is essential to identify that both Klein and Freud provided a symptomology of melancholia and depression, along with a metapsychology to describe the signs of loss of an item (his father) given by Freud or ideal brought about in the individual recognizing with the lost item and going back to the previous level of growth where the individual connected himself with self-deprecations, and Batman and Holmes pointed out that Freud stated that:

“In ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ … that loss was a central precipitant and precursor (vulnerability factor) in depression. The triggering current loss reawakens earlier childhood losses – either actual or symbolic – and through ‘identification with the lost object’ the suffer attacks himself with reproaches that rightly belong to the loved one who has let him down” (Batman and Holmes, 1999, p. 238).

In the same context, Klein, as well, observed depression as resulting from loss of an item and likewise, an individual going back to a previous level; where an individual takes himself responsible for the loss of the object. Over again, Batman and Holmes noted for loss of the object provided by Klein:

“Is compensated by the establishment of an internal world into which the lost external object is ‘reinstated … in depression he is thrown back to the earlier failure to integrate good and bad into whole objects in the inner world. The depressive believes himself Omni potently to be responsible for loss, due to his inherent destructiveness, which has not been integrated with loving feelings,” according to (Batman and Holmes, 1999).

Sceptic and Excessive mourning

Hamlet’s melancholy is also shown by his overpowering and all-embracing emotion for very mood that is relating to him. The main thing is the death of his father, which he sticks into a profound depression that captures his spirit and mind for the most parts of the play. He is not just in a condition of mourning, but he has also grown to be obsessive concerning keeping the memory and honesty of the precious king. Hamlet became the last individual in the kingdom to go on to mourn his father, and showed his grief through wearing only “nighted colour” (Shakespeare Act I, ii, 68).

He is passing a message to everybody that he will not discard the death, probably relative to the disorder established by the state of Denmark in its start. After his mother noticed the colour, and the way he was dressing, Hamlet told her that it does not actually symbolize him. He stated that the black dressing he was putting on was the extent of sadness he had and his actual moods run much higher than can be demonstrated by the insignificant decision of the clothes to put on. Hamlet is incapable of living a lengthy and productive life, similar opportunity that was taken away from his father.

Scepticism of hamlet is considered to originate from his melancholy. Hamlet’s distrust as to the intentions of the actions of people near him is generated from his melancholic state. Normally, Hamlet does not agree to be used and would want people to be honest and truthful since he was also honest to the people around him and he dislikes people who give wrong information. Hamlet’s melancholic scepticism is a priceless support to him because, had he informed Guildenstern and Rosencrantz concerning his ‘insanity,’ his cause could have been identified and obstructed by his guardians (Klein, 1998).

Hamlet’s suspicion also becomes apparent after he doubts the cause and origin of the ghost of his father. In the third soliloquy of Hamlet, he informs his instinct, “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil: and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy – as he is very potent with such spirits – abuses me to damn me” (II, ii, 603-8). Hamlet would prefer to trust the ghost, but he is conscious since the evil thing might be attempting to persuade him into murdering Claudius.

He is unwilling to perform the bidding of the ghost if he will go to hell for the monstrous action he is being requested to execute, by assassinating the king, hamlet would undergo similar outcome just like Claudius that of endless pain in hell and be refused heaven by his evil actions he is asked to commit. Hamlet clearly understands that he is in a delicate condition of mind that the Devil can misuse to take his spirit to be tortured in Hell. If not he may look for a way to identify the true source of the ghost of his father. The insight that hamlet possesses a careful sight for the truth more than the people who lack melancholic, according to Freud, tallies with his persistent search of justice and honesty around him.

Causes of Melancholy

Hamlet declares that he undergoes melancholy and however, in Hamlet, Shakespeare sheds some distrusts about what really bring about Hamlet’s melancholy. In some parts of the play, the king considers Hamlet’s melancholy appears because of more than the passing away of his father, and the Queen considers that passing away of his Hamlet’s father brings about Hamlet’s melancholy and harried marriage he made. Here, the King considering that melancholy of Hamlet is because of anything farther than passing away of his father causes the misunderstanding of the actions that bring about melancholy of his time.

Burton points out some likely causes for melancholy, which included leisure, education, anger, jealousy, terrors, diet, and so forth. The Queen pointing out that what brings about the melancholy is his father’s loss, she goes well with the modern ideas. According to Shakespeare, in providing the passing away of his father as a reason to appearance of melancholy, he makes sense to hamlet’s melancholy that may be familiarized by the current historical time. Evidently, Freud points that loss of ability to love and self-consciousness about every activity is considered symptoms of melancholy. It is according to these two signs that Shakespeare makes some difficulties for a Freudian consideration of melancholy since characterization of Shakespeare concerning Hamlet’s melancholy cannot be created sense of it by the description provided by Freud (Tung, 2011, p. 131).

Unclearness exists in Hamlet, and Ophelia points out that Hamlet “hath, my lord, of late made many tender of his affection to me” (Hamlet Act 1 sc11). There is evidence that affection of the tender where created after or prior to the passing away of Hamlet’s father since his father’s death occurred just two months prior to the performance of the play. In addition, Hamlet in his actual insanity declares to Ophelia that “I did love you once” (Hamlet Act 111 sc 1), but states that his affection for Ophelia was what bought about the fight with Laertes.

It is slightly unlikely that Hamlet has not met with Ophelia for around two months and this was supported by Laertes when he states to Ophelia that Hamlet loves him that time. Likewise, Hamlet says, after Laertes portrays his affection for Ophelia, Laertes “did put me into a towering passion” (Hamlet Act V sc 11) and Hamlet declares that he has an affection with Ophelia and this opposes the Freud’s argument that a melancholic will not have an affection or love then, although Hamlet declares, “have of late …. Lost all his mirth … and the earth a sterile promontory” (Hamlet Act 11 sc 11).

The above statement opposes Hamlet’s affection and obsession for Ophelia and Hamlet, likewise, provides opposing drives after he declares his sexual demands for Ophelia just to continue to portray his hatred for sexual desires. This ambivalence might be because of his actual or fained insanity, as insanity can be caused by melancholy. Therefore, according to the characterization of Shakespeare of hamlet’s melancholy, provides minor sense for modern viewers who grew up on Freudian psychoanalysis (Lee, 2004, p. 62).

Shakespeare makes sense to the current or modern viewers through his characterizations of some of the hamlet’s undertakings, such as hurting depression, termination of the external world, lessening of the self-interest emotional expressions of quilt and self-reviling. Throughout the Hamlet Act1 Sc 11, Hamlet is depressed has been moaning and cannot express the degrees of his sorrow and he is forced into hopeless.

He also dismally weeps “I have of late … lost all my mirth … appeareth nothing to me, but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours …” (Hamlet Act 111 Sc 1). Hamlet wanted to die and we can get this after he says “… that this to sullied flesh would melt” and asserts passing away “… a consummation devoutly to be wished” (Hamlet Act 111 Sc 1). Self-criticisms provided by Hamlet are observed after expressing grief that he is a “rouge and peasant slave … dull and muddy-mettled rascal” (Hamlet Act 11 Sc 22).

Classic Freudian Symptoms of Melancholy

Here, Shakespeare makes sense to Hamlet’s melancholy that might be realized by modern or current viewers. According to Klein’s description of the symptoms of melancholy and depression, the Shakespeare’s characterization appears to provide minimal assistance to some of the symptoms provided by Klein. Klein asserts that melancholy or depression is categorized by weeping, fault, reparation, pinning, perhaps delusional thoughts, idolization, rejection, and all-powerfulness.

From the above discussion, we can note that Hamlet actually weep and evident sorrow for his father, but he does not appear lengthy to recover him. Therefore, just various features of Klein’s pinning are complied with, in situation of Hamlet. However, Hamlet idealizes his dad as evident in Hamlet Act 1 Sc 11, where hamlet says “… my noble father person” and he states, in Hamlet Act 11 Sc 11, “so excellent king …” Hamlet’s blame is evidently observed and is too much after saying “Hum have I heard that guilty creatures …” Here, this guilt or fault of Hamlet made him do reparation and creates sense of his support or demand to revenge the killing of his father.

According to Freud, one reason provided for the delay for the revenge by hamlet was the psychoanalytical reason (Welsh, 2001, p. 52). In line with this assumption, Hamlet is considered unable to act against Claudius due to a suppressed Oedipus complex, he holds back his acts since he has an unconscious need to substitute his father and lie with his mother. Nevertheless, a well-built debate may be provided to oppose the above suggestion since the Shakespeare’s motive on this section would have been completely lost or missed on the Elizabethan viewers. They definitely did not have the support of assumption of Freud to depend on, and would have needed Shakespeare to create this cause for the delay to be more explainable than he did. The point that Shakespeare did not act that way or do so strengthens the argument opposing this suggestion.

Klein asserts that an individual blaming himself after losing an object because of his negative needs that directs a person to attempt and ease the guilt sensed by this destructiveness through doing reparation to work against the guilt. Here, the revenge intended by Hamlet can be made sense by idea of reparation of Klein. Here, Shakespeare may be observed as making sense to Hamlet’s melancholy to a current or modern viewer and currently, a hamlet’s controversial symptoms are his insanity. Regardless of whether this insanity is fained, a Klein’s description of depression may make sense to this insanity (Smith, 2011, p. 5).

In Hamlet Act 11 Sc 11, Polonius points out that Hamlet is insane after he states “into the madness wherein now he raves.” This insanity may be given an explanation for it by Klein’s description of depression “the ego is dogged by constant anxiety of the total loss of good internal situations, it is impoverished and weakened, its relation to reality may be tenuous and there is a perpetual dread of and sometimes an actual threat of regression into psychosis” (Freud, 1991, p. 256).

Freud asserts that the nature of depression, or the state of melancholy, was simply observed by Elizabethan viewers than contemporary viewers. Additionally, the critic contends that as Hamlet is in fact emotionally unsteady, he is not mad. Shakespeare presented the unpredictability that is seen in the prince’s character through changing the atmosphere of the entire formation of the play from the instance of meditative pauses to break up of the action. Since Hamlet is normally in the middle of these surges and pauses, his character or personality expresses a manic-depressive feature. Basically, his depressed stage is shown through threatening action, where his manic stage contains sudden attacks or lunges toward action.

Freud contends that hamlet is above a creature or individual of psychotic impulse and Shakespeare showed empathy for him through “enabling his melancholy to express itself in some of the most profound philosophical lyrics ever written in the English” (Freud, 1991, p. 256). Due to his emotional condition, according to Freud, hamlet seems to stand for Elizabethan stock character that is often called ‘malcontent.’

A malcontent can be described as a character whose outlook of life is very negative that he represents or contains nothing, but dislike for the humankind and world. In Act V, Hamlet attains his greatest mark of excitement after passing through his hysterical contend with Laertes in the sword fight, and this feeling allows him to assume revenge in the last catastrophe because of the death of his father. Therefore, Freud continues to state that hamlet’s revenge “ironically appears, not as an act of solemn retribution, but as an uncalculated result of the frantic brandishing of a murderous sword” (Freud, 1991, p. 256).


Therefore, we can end by stating that Shakespeare creates sense of melancholy and depression of Hamlet through the Hamlet’s symptoms that agree to Klein’s and Freud’s description of melancholy. We encountered that self-deprecations from Hamlet agree to the description of Freud and misunderstanding existed when describing the passion, affection, or love for Ophelia since this does not seem right in a description of Freud where it provides that love is not achievable for a melancholic.

The depression and sorrow that is encountered in Hamlet seem right in a description of melancholy provided by Klein and Freud and the guilt, potential insanity, and revenge from Hamlet agree with explanation of Hamlet about reparation and weakening into potential psychosis if incorporation is not attained.

Therefore, it was apparent the way Shakespeare made sense of Hamlet’s melancholy using the ideas of Klein of potential delusional thoughts, idealization, refusal, omnipotence, reparation, blame, sorrow, and pinning, and if these Hamlet’s melancholy characterization might have created some sense for his audience is a debatable issue. What is obvious though is that Hamlet’s symptoms of melancholy could make sense to modern or current viewers described in Klein’s and Freud’s psychoanalysis.

List of References

Batman, A & Holmes, J 1999, Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Brunner Routledge, New York.

Burton, R 1932, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Hen. Crips & Lodo Lloyd, London.

Radden, J 2009, Moody Minds Distempered: Essays on Melancholy and Depression, Oxford University Press, New York.

Freud, S 1991, Mourning and Melancholia, in On Metapsychology, Penguin Books, London.

Klein, M 1998, Mourning and it Relation to Manic-Depressive State, Vintage, Bolton.

Lee, M 2004, Shakespearean criticism, Gale Research Co, Taiwan.

Shakespeare, W 1806, Hamlet. John Cawthorn, London.

Smith, K 2011, Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving, ABC-CLIO, Carlifornia.

Tung, A 2011, The Visionary Shakespeare, Spring, Taiwan.

Welsh, A 2001, Hamlet in His Modern Guises, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

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