Essay, Research Paper: Hamlet And Melancholy

Shakespeare: Hamlet

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In the play Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, Hamlet is greatly affected
in his thoughts and his actions by his ever changing state of melancholy.
Melancholia is a medical term categorized by extreme depression, apathy, and
withdrawal. Hamlet gives in to this illness and throughout the play he shows
several characteristics of it. Hamlet being so self-centered steers him away
from performing the vigorous duties he has been chosen to do by the ghost of his
father and also himself. Hamlet develops a wariness of family and companions
that keeps him from incriminating himself and destroying his plans for revenge.
In the end, it is Hamlet’s perseverance and determination that keeps him
focused on his plan and gives him a relentlessness with which he pursues his
goal. The conduct of Hamlet causes him to become the exact definition of
melancholy, as defined by the medical field over the years. The time in which
Shakespeare lived and wrote this play was a time where the medical profession
was just beginning. The people depended on ancient theories and practices that
are no longer used in the medical field today. It was believed that black bile
was a fluid found in the body. Any person with an excess amount of blood or
fluids was believed to be in the state of melancholy. Hamlet was viewed as being
composed of too much black bile which placed him as melancholic. Skepticism, a
stubborn outlook and attitude about life, self absorption, and excessive gloomy
response to recent events are all symptoms of melancholy. All of these symptoms
apply to Hamlet during the course of the play. It is the fulfillment of these
symptoms that proves Hamlet is in fact melancholic. Hamlet’s constant thoughts
and feelings about himself come from his state of melancholy. His continuos
introspection as to how he is thinking, behaving, and feeling at any given time
keep him from acting swiftly on the commands given to him by the ghost of his
father. During all this time Hamlet still shows occasional signs of intelligence
as he should. Hamlet is after all, an educated man. He refuses to perform his
given duty without first questioning each area of the task at hand. He ponders
the consequences of the task then he questions his very own position on the
issue. Because of this, his “thinking too precisely on th’ event” (IV, iv,
41) has taken so long that he misses the opportunity to complete his
responsibility. Hamlet is led to even more contemplation before he is able to
move on to the secondary plan of action resulting from the failure of the first.
You can see that Hamlet is able to recognize his pattern of behavior when he
says, “I do not know why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do:’ sith I
have cause and will and strength and means to do ‘t” (IV, iv, 43-6). By
seeing the source of his inability to act, Hamlet is now capable of correcting
it. Now Hamlet gives in to his passions rather than debating them, which in turn
brings more positive actions than lengthy excuses for his failure to act.
Hamlet’s melancholy is also displayed by his overwhelming emotion for any mood
he is currently in. Biggest of all is the death of his father, after which he
sinks into a great depression that traps his mind and spirit for the rest of the
play. It is more complicated than a simple state of mourning. Hamlet has become
obsessive about preserving the memory and integrity of the former king. Hamlet
is the last person in the kingdom to continue mourning for his father, and shows
his sadness by dressing only in “nighted color” (I, ii, 68). While his
mother sees his choice of clothing as showing his complete emotion, Hamlet tells
her that it “does not denote me truly” (I, ii, 83). His real emotions are
much stronger than the simple decision of what to wear. The players come to put
on a play and Hamlet focuses all of his time and energy on the performance. He
wants to achieve his goal of catching “the conscience of the king” (II, ii,
548). Hamlet has once again forgotten everything he was concerned with and is
now only interested in one small part of his life. Hamlet’s behavior shows
that he is wrapped up in the mood or feeling he is currently in, whether it be
depressed or happiness. Hamlet’s suspicion’s for the motives of the actions
of those around him are due to his melancholic nature. He does not like to be
taken advantage of and he would like for everyone to be honest with him as he
is, with them. Hamlet’s friends have been sent for by the king and queen to
find the reason behind his current state of mind. When Hamlet says, “Were you
not sent for? Is it tour own inclining? Is it free visitation? Come, come, deal
justly with me,” (II,ii, 256-8) he is demanding an answer from his friends as
to their unexplained arrival. From the time the ghost originally speaks to
Hamlet to the final act of the play, Hamlet is a man obsessed with a sense of
obligation. Nothing can side track him from what he knows he must do to avenge
his father. Hamlet, the protagonist in the play, suffers from melancholia, to
which most of his actions can be credited to. Hamlet’s constant challenging of
himself and his actions makes him unable to act on his desires consistently
during the play. Hamlet then becomes deeply absorbed in different emotions and
moods that are currently affecting him, such as the rage of his father’s death
followed by the happy occasion of the players’ visit to the castle. Hamlet
will not permit his plans to be changed or delayed, except by himself, in order
to remain in control of his own fate. As you can see, each of his decisions and
actions was determined and, partially, predicted by his melancholic nature.
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