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Essay: Exploring William Shakespeare’s Message on Insanity & Mourning in “Hamlet”

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  • Published: 23 March 2023*
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  • Words: 1,357 (approx)
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  • Tags: Hamlet essays

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Acknowledging one’s pain during mourning in the passing of someone who has an impact in one’s life is acceptable, however it no longer is acceptable when mourning brings out different levels of insanity in an individual. Hamlet from one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays is an example of a character who uses his father’s death to exhibit his erratic behavior. In Shakespeare’s play, the Tragedy of Hamlet, the author sends the message that mourning is the uniting factor that helps to bring out the different levels of insanity embedded in the minds of all his characters. The play addresses mourning through the character of Hamlet and his suicidal depression, re- morse of his late father’s passing, and his dysfunctional family members.

First, depression can cause a persons perspective to change. Since this solilo- quy takes place at the beginning of the play, it is very important in introducing and developing his character. It is here that Hamlet first reveals the true extent of his sorrows. In a fog of depression, he contemplates suicide, wishing that it was not considered a sin to do so, “Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d; his canon ‘gainst self slaughter” (I.ii.131-132). Hamlet feels that there is no goodness for him in life anymore. He compares himself and his life to a garden full of weeds “Fie on’t, ah, fie, ’tis an unweeded garded; that grows to seed. Things rand and gross in nature…” (I.ii.135-137).

His depression is linked to the death of his father and could also be linked to Gertrude and King Claudius’s marriage.

Second, grieving can be a lengthy process depending on the person. Grief is a topic seen even this early in the play. It is possible that Queen Gertrude may have used King Claudius to fill the void of her late husband. Hamlet has also been grieving much longer than most over the death of his father, and he seems to be the only one who has not yet moved on. Gertrude got over King Hamlet within two months while Hamlet believes this was unacceptable. Hamlet could have been more sensitive in trying to understand his mothers feelings because she could be grieving in a different way. His father’s death has left Hamlet introspective and inquisitive. He contemplates the purpose of life, deciding that it is pointless. His devastation is only heightened by his mother’s hasty marriage to Claudius. He grows angry at Claudius for betraying and disrespecting his brother in such a way. In this soliloquy, he starts off by saying he wishes his “sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” (I.ii.129-130) and he is upset that God has made a law against suicide. Ever since King Hamlet has passed Hamlet finds no purpose to life anymore. Hamlet is upset that his father has been dead for barely two months and it seems like people have already forgotten about him, even though he thinks his father was far superior to King Claudius.

Third, families are what form a child’s behavior into their future. Hamlet felt lost hope with life, love, and women at a young age. His thinking was that he has nothing to look forward to in life anymore. Hamlet starts to show his anger towards his mother Gertrude because even though she loved King Hamlet she remarried months after his death. Hamlet refers to his mother very harshly saying even an animal would have mourned their mate longer than she had. The anger continues to build because she even remarried into an incestuous marriage, which was extremely frowned upon in Elizabethan times.

Additionally, this is when Hamlet starts to criticise all women be- cause of the actions of his mother. Hamlet frustration rises because he knows he cannot show his emotions out loud and he has to keep them bottled up. The soliloquy ends with Hamlet talking about his mother’s incestuous actions mentioning how no good can come from all of this. Hamlet’s famous line, “Frailty, thy name is woman” (I.ii.146) shows that Gertrude’s insensitive and unfaithful actions have com- pletely shattered his opinion of women, which negatively influences his relationship with Ophelia later in the play.

In conclusion, Hamlet’s mourning was formed by his lack of understanding of the grieving process, a profound sense of betrayal from his closest family, and a spiraling depression that drove him to question the value of life itself. His father’s death became a catalyst for the exploration of existential themes and the manifestation of his mental anguish. Hamlet’s mode of mourning, characterised by a deep introspection and a pervasive disillusionment, ultimately reveals the complexity of human emotions in the face of loss. It underscores the idea that mourning is not only a process of remembering and lamenting the dead but also a profound journey into the psyche, which can unearth deeply rooted issues of identity, purpose, and the understanding of life and death.

The tragedy of Hamlet thus serves as a poignant reminder of the ways in which grief can deeply affect one’s mental health and perspective on life. It highlights the necessity for empathy, understanding, and patience in the healing process. Mourning is not merely a phase to be rushed or disregarded; it is an emotional state that demands acknowledgment and support. Ultimately, Shakespeare invites us to reflect on our own experiences of loss and the coping mechanisms we employ, encouraging a broader discourse on the nature of grief, sanity, and the human condition. In doing so, he asserts that while mourning can sometimes lead us to the brink of despair, it can also offer a path towards healing and a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the human heart.

Tutor’s comments:

I would like to begin by commending you on your articulate engagement with the text and your clear enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s work. However, there are several areas where you could refine your analysis and argumentation to enhance the overall effectiveness and scholarly rigour of your essay.

1. Argument Structure: Your thesis is a promising premise that seeks to unravel the complex interplay between mourning and insanity in “Hamlet.” However, it could be further sharpened to encapsulate more explicitly how Shakespeare conveys his message regarding these themes. Are there contrasting views within the text that you could explore to deepen your analysis?

2. Textual Evidence: You’ve included some pertinent quotations which serve to anchor your arguments in the text. Nonetheless, there’s a substantial opportunity to delve deeper into the text to unearth more nuanced examples or less overt instances of mourning and insanity. This could enrich your argument by demonstrating a comprehensive engagement with the play. Additionally, ensure that all quotations are meticulously cited with act, scene, and line numbers following the conventions of academic writing.

3. Critical Engagement: Your essay would benefit greatly from engaging with existing scholarly discourse on “Hamlet.” What have other academics and critics said about these themes, and how does your interpretation align with or diverge from theirs? Incorporating critical perspectives could lend greater authority to your arguments and provide a broader context for your observations.

4. Analysis of Language and Form: There’s room to explore more deeply how Shakespeare’s use of language — including imagery, metaphor, and rhetorical devices — and dramatic techniques contribute to the portrayal of insanity and mourning. How do these elements interplay to enhance the thematic concerns of the play?

5. Contextual Understanding: While you touch on the Elizabethan context, particularly in relation to attitudes towards mourning and insanity, a more detailed exploration of the historical and cultural context could offer further insights. How did contemporary beliefs about madness and grief influence Shakespeare’s portrayal of these themes, and what might his audience have perceived?

6. Conclusion: Your conclusion succinctly recapitulates the main points but could be expanded to consider the implications of Shakespeare’s message on mourning and insanity for contemporary readers or audiences. What lessons or insights might we draw from “Hamlet” that are relevant to our understanding of grief and mental health today?

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