Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Shakespeare, Hamlet, Death, Philosophy, Family, Psychology, Depression, World

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/11/07

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Two contrasting views emerge in discussion about the character of Hamlet in Shakespeare’s tragic play about a young son who seeks out to avenge his father’s most foul and unnatural murder. The first view is that Hamlet is just a deep thinker and concerned about the nature of humanity and the fate stemming from his impending mortality. The entire play is a dance to death. But what is the takeaway? To answer this question, some critics have tried to paint the story of the play as an illustration of mental illness. The second view is that Hamlet is clinically depressed and acting out a series of behavior stemming from his ill mental condition. Another view, sometimes posited, is that Hamlet is not crazy at all and is manipulating the politics of the court for his gain. In this paper, it will be shown that Hamlet takes on more of the first view, and the play is an exercise in existential philosophy more than a depiction of mental disorder. Hamlet may be faking it, but he is also coming into his own deeper awareness of how time is out of joint.
It is not to argue that Hamlet does not skirt issues of madness. But madness is used to describe a deeper philosophical point: the shortness of life, and the realization that everyone dies alone. In a way, to even begin to think about mortality, to ponder death, is for some, to be considered depressed. Maybe those who are depressed are in fact deep thinkers. But the difference between the depressed and the philosophical is that the depressed take in their frustrations inwardly while those who are thinking existentially try to use a thought process to make sense of the world. It is not so much that Hamlet is “Emo” but rather he is more like the philosophers in the twentieth century who tried to explain that God is dead and patriarchy is falling apart. The truth of the play is that the social order itself is mad. In the play, Shakespeare has us ponder what it means to think about philosophical questions and he actually writes that "To define true madness, what is't but to be nothing else but mad?" (2.2.100).. Madness in the way it is orchestrated throughout the play is planned — in the way that Hamlet comes to understand deeper truths: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't." (2.2.223).
Even without taking the extreme view that Hamlet takes, at the center of the play is a simple philosophical question. What is reality? At the heart of Hamlet’s problem is the question of reality. From an existential point of view there is no higher order that makes the world make sense. When the play talks about something rotten in the state of Denmark, it is not only making a political point, it is also making an existential point. Even with the protection of the monarchy, the reign of Fortinbras is aimed to take over Elsinore and the world that Hamlet knows will become undone. Nothing in this play is what it seems to be. If one is a realist, then they probably cannot fully appreciate Shakespeare’s play. Hamlet makes this point to his mother Gertrude when he ironically says "Seems," madam? Nay, it is; I know not "seems" (1.2.77). What is the crux of the matter is that words are half-truths, and deception rules the roost. It is important to note that Hamlet arrives at the castle on break from his university studies: but upon revelation that his father was murdered what happens is that the social order that Hamlet had come to understood had come undone. All he can hear are "A rhapsody of words" (3.4.57). Shakespeare pushes this point words, the stuff of language, can also come undone when he writes in multiple succession: "Words, words, words" (2.2.210).
The play is filled with philosophical ways of thinking that speak more of a person who is engaged with deeper issues than someone who is mentally disturbed. In an interesting sideline to the play, it is in fact the character of Polonius, who is not a major character who actually carries the best philosophical lines, as when he advises his son Laertes, "By indirections find directions out" (2.1.73). This line of advice could equally be laid to Hamlet, who in fact seems to take this kind of wisdom to heart. The significance of the line is actually the opposite of mental illness. One popular definition of mental illness is trying to achieve different results by doing the same thing over and over again. We are all slightly mentally ill when we lose our keys and even though we know we checked our pockets twice, we check them again just to make sure. Hamlet is not trying to repeat himself, nor is he wrapped up in his own cyclic obsessions. When Ophelia kills herself, it could be argued that she is the victim of a greater sickness that is not directly related to Hamlet. Ophelia drowns herself in the river as a symbolism of how the society she lives in has rejected her. Hamlet chooses to accept this rejection differently.
It is not so much that Hamlet is depressed, but the real questions that matter have come to his mind in light of the knowledge that his Uncle Claudius killed his father and has taken Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, as his wife. The disruption of the familial order of things unsettles Hamlet so when he utters those famous words in his soliloquy: “To be or not to be — that is the question.” (3.1.64) it is not so much that he is contemplating suicide, which of course is an obvious reading of these lines, but that he is questioning a metaphysical truth. It is as if he is asking why is there anything at all. The point is existential. Hamlet is wondering why he even exists. What is the point of existence itself? It is not a question that comes out of mental health disturbances, but rather the basic question of why there is something at all and not nothing.
This is why in the play there are references to the dream state of reality: "A dream itself is but a shadow." (2.2.279). And this is also why, when Hamlet discovers that his tutor, Yorick, who taught him as a child is dead. The world is in a state of becoming and nothing stays the same forever. The “fellow of infinite jest” is now dead in the grave (5.1.191). Those who are our teachers and mentors pass away and those who are our fathers come back to haunt us in their death. Of course, the point here is show that even though Hamlet tells his best friend Horation that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (1.5.187-188) what he is saying in this passage is that the stuff reading of books in the library, the kind of education Hamlet would have received in the university, teaches a perennial philosophy of an ordered universe where heaven and earth are bound together in a cosmic dance. The discovery of Hamlet is that nothing is ordered. This is what is meant by the line in Act I that “time is out of joint: O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!" (1.5.210).
In conclusion, it is safe to say that Hamlet deals with some major life issues in Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Prince of Denmark. The death of his father makes him question the nature of truth and the structure of reality. What many fail to mention is that Hamlet takes these tough circumstances as a call to action. What may seem like utter madness is Hamlet pulling himself up by his bootstraps. In the face of questioning existence and that of humanity, in general, makes Hamlet a true philosopher and not a mental health patient. It is not so much that Hamlet is driven to death at the end of the play because of a death drive that aims to destroy him, but the tragic deaths at the end of the play are meant to be symbolic of our mortality and the call to think deeper, beyond superficialities and “words words words”.

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WePapers. (2020, November, 07) Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/
"Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample." WePapers, 07 Nov. 2020, https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/. Accessed 27 October 2021.
WePapers. 2020. Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample., viewed October 27 2021, <https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/>
WePapers. Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample. [Internet]. November 2020. [Accessed October 27, 2021]. Available from: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/
"Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample." WePapers, Nov 07, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/
WePapers. 2020. "Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample." Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. Retrieved October 27, 2021. (https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/).
"Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample," Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com, 07-Nov-2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/. [Accessed: 27-Oct-2021].
Free Hamlet And The Question Of Depression: Is It Existential Philosophy Or Mental Disorder? Literature Review Sample. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-hamlet-and-the-question-of-depression-is-it-existential-philosophy-or-mental-disorder-literature-review-sample/. Published Nov 07, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2021.
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