The Guiltiness of Hamlet’s Mother Gertrude: Depression is what Leads to his Death

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Depression is a mental illness that causes the person to feel sad and uninterested in any daily activities. Some of its common symptoms are Extreme sadness, Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, loneliness, doubt, and thoughts of death and suicide along with attempts.Throughout one of Shakespeare’s famous plays Hamlet, the audience comes to the conclusion that Hamlet has lost his sanity. Insanity is one thing that Hamlet has dealt with, but that is only towards the end. In the beginning all that Hamlet has dealt with was depression, not insanity but Depression. Depression for sure is known as the silent killer. Depressed over his father’s death, Hamlet seems to just want some peaceful time to mourn, but his mother and uncle actions prevent him from doing so, which causes his depression to become worse. Hamlet’s depression becomes worse and those around him including himself contribute for it to become more severe leading to his own death.

Hamlet is already overwhelmed by the pressure of seeing his mother marrying his uncle (father’s brother), and in addition to that his father’s ghost appears and demands that Hamlet should avenge his murder. These are all contributing factors to his depression, and that’s only in the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, so you can only imagine how bad it gets for him in the end.Hamlet’s psychological state can be seen through his reaction and how he expresses his opinion over his mother’s attitude. Hamlet begins to look at Gertrude, his mother, in eyes of shame and betrayal. He perceives his mother’s marriage to his uncle, claudius, as an act of incest and a terrible betrayal as it fills him with complete doubt. (Decarlo 2). As Hamlet continues to explain his view on his mother’s behavior, we can clearly see that he is so overwhelmed due to how it goes against his morals and philosophy to the point that it pains him mentally.

Hamlet at this point isn’t mentally stable so this whole situation does effect him on a psychological level. It is only logical to say that he must feel terribly betrayed as well as completely worthless. So here is where Hamlet shows one the first symptoms of Depression, the feeling of worthlessness.Because not only did he not protect his position as king, but for not being able to protect his parents love, and his mother’s loyalty to his father. Hamlet is greatly ashamed of his mother’s actions and accuses her and his uncle of committing a crime of insest. The fact that his mother decided to move on a month after his father’s death is very shocking to him which adds on to his depression over the tragedy.

As King Claudius, and Gertrude wonder why Hamlet is making a big deal and acting dramatic over his father’s death when in their opinion it is something that is common and happens to everyone. Hamlet responds saying,

“ “Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “Seems,”/ ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,/ Nor customary suits of solemn black,/ Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,/ No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,/ Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,/ Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,/ That can denote me truly. These indeed “seem,”/ For they are actions that a man can play./ But I have that within passeth show,/ these but the trappings and the suits of woe.” (Shakespeare 1.2.76-86).

With this reply Hamlet explains to his mother and uncle that even though he is wearing something common or if he’s acting in a common way every person acts when they lose someone close to them, these things are not even close to describe the real greif inside of him, and that it is only a hint of it. This explains to us that Hamlet is describing an emotional downfall that he himself can see and understand, hence his depression. Since most victims of depression don’t expect those around them to understand how they feel, this is a strong sign that Hamlet’s true mental downfall is depression.Through this we can see that his grief had worsen as his mother and uncle have proved him right by questioning his over dramatic actions without understanding the situation from his point of view. With this we see a second sign of depression, loneliness or the feeling of one being isolated. It’s because his family doesn’t understand he feels alone, it’s because he’s the only one mourning and the only one that can’t seem to move on he feels very isolated from the people that surround him on a daily basis.

Throughout the whole play Hamlet suffers from a severe internal conflict. He holds in a powerful feeling of guilt, which the third sign of depression that he shows.He can’t understand how he should avenge his father with no evidence or how to deal with his own mother. He feels guilty for having a hard time fulfilling his father’s request. His feelings are scattered and he has no clue how to cope with them, which is probably why it took him till the end of the play to finally complete his mission, even though he’s lost so much in the process. As many researches show that Shakespeare originally want for Hamlet to be a character that does actually suffer from severe depression, which can evidently be seen through Hamlet’s guilt along with all of his scattered emotions, causing him to develop a habit of obsessing over what he thinks he must do, but can’t due to his continuous struggle with dealing with heavy responsibility.

Even though at the time this play was released Hamlet’s condition was only looked at as a case of melancholy as well as a mere character defect, for the fact that the concept of depression did not exist. Nonetheless, all the evidence found do prove that he is in fact a victim of depression.(Shaw 1). Shaw strongly states that Shakespeare has created a character that would severely suffer from depression. Even though such illnesses in the past were only characterized as a character defect, if your were to closely analyze Hamlet’s actions, you will see that he shows almost all indications for depression. This shows us that Hamlet is a victim of depression and how Shaw stated, his depression is the reason he keeps delaying his revenge despite his constant feeling of guilt and the feeling that avenging his father is fully his responsibility. Not only did that severely drop his mental health but it lead to his irrational actions that lead to many innocent deaths as well as his own.

Some common symptoms of depression are sadness, and anger. These are symptoms that Hamlet clearly shows in the fifth scene of the first act. After the ghost of king hamlet explains to his son Prince Hamlet how he died due to murder and that the murderer is his own brother, King Claudius, Hamlet is shocked and all he starts to think about is to punish all those who wronged his father, even his mother.

“O all you host of heaven! O earth! What els?/ And shall I couple hell? Oh, fie! Hold, hold, my heart,/ And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,/ But bear me stiffly up, Remember thee!/ Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat/ In this distracted globe. Remember thee!/ Yea, from the table of my memory/ I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,/ All saws of books, all formal, all pressures past/ That youth and observation copied there,/ And thy commandment all alone shall live/ Within the book and volume of my brain,/ Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by heaven!/ O most pernicious woman!/ O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!/ My tables-Meet it is I set it down/ That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain./ At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark./ So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word.”(Shakespeare 1.5.92-110).

Hamlet strongly expresses the feelings of sadness and anger through his reaction to his father’s words. He shows sympathy towards his father’s ghost and anger towards the actions of his uncle and mother. Hamlet shows anger towards the end of his statement not only for her actions but because the ghost of his father asked him not to harm her and leave her to god and her own guilt (1.5.85-88). Though not being able to punish his mother, he is still furious towards his uncle and vows to show no mercy if what the ghost is saying is true. For someone who deals with depression anger can be easily turned into sadness. The overwhelming feeling of anger and struggling with executing his plan, does really wearout Hamlet on an excessive level. His scattered feelings just continue to build up and overlap with each act as he continues to realize his overwhelming responsibilities for the tasks that he just can’t seem to complete causing his anger to grow which leads to the increase of his sadness. All this does to him in the end is that it severely drops his mental health giving him much more conflicted thoughts to deal with.

One of the strongest symptoms of Depression that is actually why this illness goes by the name “the silent killer” is the contemplation of suicide. Hamlet does reach a breaking point where his feelings of guilt, anger, doubt, and worthlessness clash all together and he begins to think if it is better for him to just give on life. He states this thought with his famous soliloquy in act 3,

“ To be, or not to be: that is the question–/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;/No more; and by a sleep to say we end/The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;/To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause: there’s the respect/That makes calamity of so long life;/For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,/The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,/The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,/The insolence of office and the spurns/That patient merit of the unworthy takes,/When he himself might his quietus make/With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,/To grunt and sweat under a weary life,/But that the dread of something after death,/The undiscover’d country from whose bourn/No traveller returns, puzzles the will/And makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of?/Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;/And thus the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,/And enterprises of great pith and moment/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action.” (Shakespeare 3.1.58-88)

With this Hamlet asks himself if he should just die so he could forget all of his struggles. Hamlet is at point where he despises himself for not taking action and avenging his own father. To him this is a responsibility that he took upon himself yet he can’t find himself to do anything about it . He is furious with himself and thinks of himself as a coward and an unworthy son. So to him sleeping became dying. He thinks he should just die and end it all since to him it became identical to sleeping.This important piece of Hamlet’s thoughts contributes as solid evidence to his depression. Hamlet reaching a point where he begins to contemplate suicide is a breaking point commonly found in cases where the person is a victim of severe depression. He is completely worn out and overwhelmed with what he must do and with himself for being so hesitant or s he put it himself a “coward”.

Figuring out a certain psychological illness in a fictional character is very difficult because most of the time you have to rely on analyzing this characters behavior and play close attention to the tone they use. Many people would just assume that Hamlet has really gone insane only for the sole reason because he says he will start to act crazy and his actions began to look realistic at the end of the play. Let’s say it’s true maybe Hamlet’s act did become a reality and he did go mad, but what contributed to it? What exactly caused hamlet to fall victim for his own act and seriously lose his mind? Hamlet can’t just go mad just because he said he’ll act that way. It’s only logical and common sense for the situation to be contemplated in this perspective. Decarlo also agrees with this as he states that he agrees with Eliot prediction for that something else other than insanity lead to Hamlet’s conflicted thoughts. (Decarlo 2).

That is indeed true. It’s absolutely not logical in any sense that Hamlet acted the way he did just because he was insane from the start of the play when he only started to show signs of madness in acts 4 and 5. So that means that there was another factor that was strongly present in the beginning of the play that was a strong contributor to Hamlet’s insanity towards the end. Depression was a struggle for Hamlet from the beginning, if it was not before his father’s death then it would be after his death. We can say that Hamlet did lose his sanity by the end of the play’ nonetheless he didn’t in the beginning which proves that he only suffered from depression which could be a strong contributor that lead to his madness and eventually his death.

In conclusion, in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the protagonist Hamlet was accused of losing his sanity and that is the factor that lead to his death. Though that could be true it is not logical to say that his madness started from the beginning of the play when it makes more sense for one to ask what did Hamlet exactly deal with internally that lead him to losing his own sanity. Since insanity is an internal conflict itself. So to put it in simpler words Depression is what lead to Hamlet’s death not insanity.

Depression is a mental illness where an individual would experience signs of Extreme sadness, Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, loneliness, doubt, and thoughts of death and suicide along with attempts. Hamlet expressed those symptoms throughout the whole play very vividly. Whether it was the way he reacted over his mother’s actions in marrying his uncle, feeling isolated for no one understood how he felt after his father’s death, his anger over his family and over himself being hesitant in taking action to avenge his father’s death, and finally when he actually began to contemplate suicide. So depression is the exact contributing factor that lead to Hamlet’s death not madness.

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The Guiltiness Of Hamlet's Mother Gertrude: Depression Is What Leads To His Death. (2022, Jun 23). Retrieved from