Shakespeare's 'Hamlet': Madness, Depression and Suicidal Tendencies

Categories: Hamlet

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” is what one character asked himself in the tragic play ​Hamlet​, written by William Shakespeare, when thinking of turning over to the afterlife to solve all life's troubles. Scholars have penned numerous Hamlet madness essays, delving into the intricate layers of Shakespeare's exploration of mental turmoil within the play's characters.In ​Hamlet​, William Shakespeare uses Revenge v. Justice to show how Vengeance, Depression, and Suicidal Tendencies reveal that when seeking revenge hesitation can drive one to madness.

Depiction of Hamlet Madness Through Depression and Suicidal Tendencies

Shakespeare uses Hamlets’ trait of depression to show why Hamlet is acting the way he is. “I have late, lost all my mirth…”. In these lines of Act 2 Hamlet is talking to his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, about his recent sadness since his father has died. Hamlet also explains what the world feels like around him. He proceeds to say “why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors”.

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In these lines, Hamlet is describing his feelings of what the world's atmosphere feels like. He compares it to a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. This is how the world feels to him since his father's murder. He told his friends this to explain why his recent behavior towards everyone has been somewhat poor. These depressed thoughts, with his recent interaction with his father's ghost, led Hamlet to fall into a more severe depression over time. This led Hamlet to think more suicidal.

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With Hamlets current depression and mindset William Shakespeare shows how bad it has progressed using suicidal tendencies in Hamlets Act 3 soliloquy. “To be, or not to be, that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings...or to take arms against a sea of troubles And, by opposing end them. To die to sleep-no more”. These lines that Hamlet says are about all of his problems in life. In this scene Hamlet's obsession with death has grown to him contemplating suicide. “- and by a sleep to say we end the heartache…”. He understands that if he committed suicide he could end all his problems, but understands that what comes after may be worse. “To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, theres the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come…”. He explains that he could die, but he does not know what “dreams” will come after he dies. He does not know what the afterlife is like and for all he knows it could be worse than life itself. With Hamlet's uncertainty of what comes after death, he decides not to kill himself. This leaves all his problems in reality to worsen. His hesitation slowly drives him into a pit of madness mixed with vengeance.

Throughout the whole play Hamlet is constantly thinking of how he could avenge his father's death. His depression and insanity has kept him from staying on track of doing that. He does set up a good plan to catch the king’s feelings toward his recent brothers passing. “ a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in ‘r, could you not?”. Are the lines that Hamlet said to a player when asking if he could act some lines that Hamlet wrote inserted in the play “The Murder of Gonzago” which has a similar storyline to Hamlet's life. In Act 3 Hamlet tells Horatio to spy on the king While the play is going on to see what his reaction is to Hamlets scene. The king sees the scene and kicks everyone out to get some light. This is the reaction Hamlet was looking for. Hamlet later catches Claudius Praying.

“Now might i do it, now he is praying, and now I'll do it'. But he does not, “I, his son, do this same villain send to heave.” in these Hamlet realizes that if he killed Claudius while he was praying he would go to heaven. Him not acting shows he doesn't care about Claudius. This just caused Hamlet's problems to worsen as the play goes on. Hamlets constant hesitation has let hamlet to not act. This caused Hamlet's insanity to worsen into absolute madness. Hamlet being on edge led to Hamlet making irrational decisions. With hamlets recent decision making, the king and Laertes have came up with a plan to kill Hamlet making it look like an accident. Hamlet was so loved by everyone Laertes could not just kill Hamlet. So they planned to have a fencing wager and to stab Hamlet with a unbated sword. To cover all ends the sword would have poison on the tip and as well in a drink. They thought this plan was bullet proof. Hamlet was ahead in the wager and while playing the Queen accidentally drinks the poisoned cup. Laertes gets angry and wounds Hamlet while wrestling around they switch swords and Hamlet wounds Laertes. Hamlet then makes the King drink from the poisoned cup. Hamlet then realizes he is dying from the poison as well and finally comes to peace with dying and tells Horatio to live on and tell his story. Hamlet's hesitation throughout the whole play and how his journey for Vengeance led to him going insane. He constantly questioned anything he did, making his depression worsen to having suicidal tendencies.


Shakespeare's masterwork 'Hamlet' is a poignant exploration of the intricate themes of madness, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Through the character of Hamlet, the play delves into the profound psychological struggles that can consume an individual when faced with grief, betrayal, and existential questions. The progression of Hamlet's mental state from feigned madness to genuine turmoil underscores the devastating impact of such emotions on one's psyche.

Work Cited

  • Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. First Folio.
  • Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2003). William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Updated ed.). Chelsea House.
  • Wilson, J. D. (2016). Madness and Mental Illness in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet.' Journal of Literature and Art Studies, 6(3), 139-145.
  • Jones, E. (2010). 'Hamlet' and the Madness of the World. In Shakespeare's Cultured Violence (pp. 187-213). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • The Theme of Madness in 'Hamlet.' (2021). CliffsNotes.
  • Bradley, A. C. (2015). The Madness of Hamlet. In Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on 'Hamlet,' 'Othello,' 'King Lear,' 'Macbeth' (pp. 96-119). Routledge.
  • Levy, E. M. (2013). From Frenzy to Melancholy: The 'Madness' of Hamlet and Ophelia. Philological Quarterly, 92(1), 73-101.
  • Anderson, G. R. (2017). Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and the Exploration of Madness. Presented at the International Conference on Literature and Arts.
  • Foakes, R. A. (Ed.). (2001). Hamlet (3rd ed.). Arden Shakespeare.
Updated: Feb 19, 2024
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Shakespeare's 'Hamlet': Madness, Depression and Suicidal Tendencies. (2024, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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