Hamlet’s Bipolar Disorder

In studying the arc Hamlet’s moods throughout the play I came across an idea that became stuck in my head. Hamlet’s moods cycle through episodes of depression and mania. This cycling is very common with Bipolar Disorder. The show begins with Hamlet in a depressive state with Claudius commenting that “the clouds still hang on” him (1.2.66). When he describes to Gertrude the manner of his mourning he says “But I have that within which passeth show– / These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (1.2.85-86). Hamlet is stating here that he is not simply in mourning, but that his grief is something still deeper, a heavy depression. In Hamlet’s soliloquy at 129 of this same scene, he tells us(the audience) that he is suicidal.

In 1.4 his countenance changes. At the entrance of the Ghost of his father, he bursts into action. Suddenly everything is rushed, there is an extreme sense of importance. He says at 29 “Haste, haste me to know it, that with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love / May sweep to my revenge.” Hamlet finds himself ready to avenge his father’s death, he starts planning rapidly, making sure that the witnesses do not give his cause away. He uses it to trick Polonius, Ophelia, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern into thinking that he has lost his mind. This episode of productivity and sense of importance lasts until after the First Player’s ‘for Hecuba’ speech. After this, he becomes unsure again. Though still resolved to plan the players’s part in his revenge scheme, he is now slower again, he ruminates more on each action. He thinks everything through much more, almost to the point of inaction.

This depressive episode is when he has his famous “to be or not to be” speech, again weighing the value of continuing life against the release of death. He then somewhat accidentally throws himself into another manic episode when he needs to fake his insanity again when Ophelia approaches him, by prompting of Polonius. This episode takes him through the planning of the play, the play itself, and right up to when he is standing behind Claudius, ready to strike. For one brief moment, he seems to level out, being able to stop his impulsivity and back that decision up with reason. He does not kill Claudius because he does not want him to go to heaven when he should rightfully go to purgatory, as his father’s ghost wished. This manic episode continues throughout the closet scene– leading him to his impulsive murder of Polonius. He’s able to finish hiding the body and goad Claudius before he is sent to England.

The next time we see him, in 4.4, he gives a long monologue (in Q2) lamenting his depressive episodes and the inaction that they cause. He resolves to action once again, but remains in his depression through the beginning of 5.1, when he gives the “alas poor Yorick” speech, one of despair, and highlighting the unimportance of man’s impact on the world. Suddenly, upon seeing Ophelia’s body, he is thrown back into a manic episode, and she is the most important thing in the world to him. So much so that he is ready to be buried with her.

In 5.2 he explains to Horatio the actions of an episode of mania that he had while on the way to England. He says “Ere I could make the prologue to my brains, / They had begun the play,” meaning that he acted before he consciously thought it through (5.2.31-32). This was a serious impulse, as it lead to the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He also recognizes that his bout with Laertes at Ophelia’s grave was another like moment, saying the the “bravery of his grief” put him “Into a tow’ring passion” (5.2.80-82). He also starts the scene saying that “in [his] heart there was a kind of fighting / That would not let [him]sleep.” A decreased need for sleep is a symptom of mania, but also of hypomania, a less extreme episode of mania, which Hamlet might be experiencing here. But after Laertes wounds him, and he wounds Laertes back, he enters another episode of full-blown mania. He quickly disposes of Claudius before collapsing into Horatio’s arms. His last moments could be of mania or depression, though I tend to think depression, it could be interpreted either way.

One other thing that stood out to me constantly was Hamlet’s inconsistent sense of time. Many people diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder experience the speeding or slowing of time, or feel like they experience time differently than others seem to. The example that most stands out to me is lines 3.2.113-117:

HAMLET: O God, your only jig-maker. What should a man do

but be merry? for, look you, how cheerfully my

mother looks, and my father died within these two hours.

OPHELIA: Nay, ’tis twice two months, my lord.

HAMLET: So long?

Olivia’s Sexuality: Contracted to a Maid

In discussing the duplicity of Cesario/Viola’s appearance during this reading of the play, it struck me what Cesario’s feminine appearance means for Olivia’s sexuality. It is stated several times before Olivia appears onstage that she is refusing admittance to men, and is remaining veiled in the presence of those she does see. In 1.4, when Orsino is giving Cesario their job to woo Olivia, Orsino makes a point of say to Cesario that anyone “shall belie thy happy years / That say thou art a man.” He points out specifically Cesario’s lips and voice and says that “all is semblative to a woman’s part” (1.4.28-33). In the next scene, Malvolio describes Cesario to Olivia as “not old enough for a man” and “as a squash before ‘tis a peascod” (1.5.139-144). There is a very heavy emphasis on Cesario’s femininity — or at least their lack of masculinity. In her speech at 261 Olivia first points out those parts of Cesario that Orsino described as the most feminine as the parts that she likes, namely his “tongue” or voice and his “face.”

In 3.1 Olivia fixates on Cesario’s voice, saying that she would rather hear Cesario speak that hear the planets move. This meaning that she cares more for them than for the innermost workings of the universe. Later in this same scene, she focuses on Cesario’s “lip” which in 1.4, Orsino described as “more smooth and rubious” than Diana’s (1.4.30-31;3.1.137). She then swears her love upon “maidenhood,” even after Cesario tells her “That you do think you are not what you are” and “I am not what I am.” In Cesario’s last speech in this scene, they say “I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth / And that no woman has, nor never none / Shall mistress be of it save I.”

While much of this could be excused in saying that Olivia simply likes effeminate men, there is something to be said for how she reacts to Cesario’s wooings. She consistently rejects the speeches that Orsino has given to Cesario. She specifically says that she “cannot love him,” something she repeats several times. Not that she will not, or does not, but that it is not possible, it is not within her ability. It is only after Cesario’s speech at 1.5.233 and 237, when they tell Olivia their own composition, that she reacts, and becomes nervous, asking “what is your parentage?” At the end of this scene Olivia says “I do I know not what, and fear to find / mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind” and “Ourselves we do not owe.” She acknowledges that her feelings are out of her control, and that she is surprised by them.

Olivia’s primal reaction to Cesario is based on her instinctual feeling of their feminine energy. Olivia is, at some level, aware that Cesario is different than other men, and though she cannot pinpoint why, I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that it is because she is reacting to the woman and not the man. Her strong reactions come from admiration of Cesario’s feminine qualities and affections. They are the opposite of every other suitor Olivia has had: rather than pushing her with aggressive masculinity and overly-poetic verses, Cesario enchants her with their high voice and sweet heart-felt words. Olivia is attracted to the femininity that she recognizes from herself, because Cesario can understand her in a way that men cannot.


The Public and the Private in Julius Caesar

One thing that stood out to me both in the reading of the text and our discussions in class was the difference between public and private space. The difference affects the opinions, or strength of the opinions of many of the characters. This first time this came up in our group discussion when we were trying to find justification for the double report of Portia’s death. I mentioned that it may have something to do between the difference between public and private spaces. Cassius and Brutus have a tight relationship; and when Brutus tells Cassius of Portia’s death, they are in a private space (4.2.199). There is room for them to mourn, and when Lucius enters, Brutus immediately asks Cassius to put the news and the grief aside (4.2.210). 4.2.239-245 shows a public response to her death, where Messala tells him to take the news “like a Roman.” Brutus’ response here is much less emotional and Messala says that this response is what Romans expect of someone as great as Brutus. This differentiation between public and private is especially present in 2.1, when Brutus is repeatedly interrupted in his private thoughts. His first soliloquy also includes the difference between the personal and the political. Much of Brutus’s reluctance to kill Caesar comes from his friendship with him. He insists that his actions were completely motivated by the politics, not the personal. In 3.2, we see that there is danger Brutus’ separation of the public and the private. His funeral oration for Caesar is almost completely reliant on logos and ethos. There is a bit of an appeal to the friendship that Brutus and Caesar shared but Brutus claims that the public good was more important than private grief, and so diminishes the impact of that appeal. After he leaves, Mark Antony gives his funeral oration, which takes up the rest of the scene, and completely turns the Roman citizens against Brutus and the other conspirators. He’s able to do this by constantly putting emphasis on the personal rather than the political. He first acknowledges Brutus and the other men, and gives sound reasons against the claim that Caesar was ambitious. He quickly moves on to appeal to the emotional core of the citizens. He begins to cry, and says “Bear with me./ My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,/ and I must pause till it come back to me” (3.2.102-104). The plebeians opinions are changed already, and they begin to side with Mark Antony. Later he de-mystifies Caesar, and stirs the plebeians to rage by showing Caesar’s dead body (3.2.191-196). He then creates a personal bond between each of the citizens and Caesar by reading the will in which Caesar named all the Roman citizens his heirs (3.2.231-241). In Mark Antony and Brutus we see a blend of the personal and the political triumph over the separation of the two. This difference in behavior colors the play, with Antony making emotion public, and Brutus keeping it private. It is a major reason why the conspirators do not get away with their murder of Caesar, and the only moment where Brutus truly blends the public and the private is his death. He takes away political victory from Octavius and Antony while simultaneously settling his own personal troubles.

Curses as Prophesies in Richard III

One thing that really interested me in the first act was the usage of curses by the women, and the ironic and prophetic nature that they take on as the play moves forward. The first of these is spoken by Lady Anne in the opening of 1.2. At first, she begins just lamenting King Henry and Prince Edward, but at line 14, she switches her shift to the murderer, Richard. She rains curses upon the hand, blood, and heart that killed King Henry, and likens him to a “creeping venomed thing.” From lines 21-25 she curses any child that he might have to be ‘abortive’ and ‘untimely brought’ into the world. While the historical Richard and Anne’s child, Edward, does not appear in the play, what little historical information exists on him implies that he was often sick, and died at barely 10 years old. Anne then curses any wife that Richard might take and says “let her be made / more miserable by the death of him / than I am made by my young lord and thee.” In 4.1, she misremembers this as “more miserable made by the life of thee / than thou hast made me by my dear lord’s death.” Anne realizes that she has inadvertently cursed herself to this misery. This is the last we see of her. In the next scene we hear Richard ask Stanely to create a rumour that Anne is “grievous sick,” and at 4.3.39 Richard says “Anne, my wife, hath bid this world goodnight.” So Anne’s curse becomes a sort of prophecy, one that will only be fully fulfilled after her own death. Margaret’s curses from 1.3 also become like prophetic speeches. She wishes a young death upon the current Prince Edward as retribution for her own lost Edward (1.3.196-197). She curses Elizabeth to ‘outlive her glory,’ or position as queen, and that she should die ‘neither mother, wife, nor England’s queen” (1.3.200-206). Her curse finishes with a long section on Richard. She heaps on him that he should live to perform the worst of his sins, and doubt the loyalty of his followers, before he suffers the “plague” that heaven should have in store for him (1.3.213-230). All of these curses are later fulfilled, making Margret feel less like someone just hanging about the current royal family, and more like a Cassandra-figure. Handing out warnings that none listen to, all of which should have been heeded.  

Iago’s Act I Scene iii Soliloquy

Iago’s soliloquy at the end of 1.3 is one of the most important moments in the show for Iago’s character as well as the overall plot. It is one of the few moments where we are seeing Iago as he is, with no other characters for him to have to act for. Through this monologue we find out that he has no relationships in which he’s not playing a part: for Othello he is an honest and loyal officer, for Roderigo he is a blunt, but caring, confidant, and for his wife he is the husband, who does not suspect infidelity.  Shakespeare foreshadows the first line of this soliloquy in the very beginning of the play. Roderigo’s opening lines, “thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / as if the strings were thine” preludes Iago’s line “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” However, Iago takes the idea further than Roderigo. Roderigo still considers Iago a friend and a confidant of his feelings toward Desdemona and Othello, despite Iago using him for his money; however, Iago barely sees him as a person, calling him his “fool” and then his “purse.” Not only is Iago using him for his money, but he claims a possession of him, is constantly manipulating him, and say that if he genuinely spent time with Roderigo it would ‘profane’ his intellect (1.3.366). Iago then turns his focus to Othello. It’s a drastic, and dramatic, changed. His first words on Othello out of the sight of others are “I hate the Moor.” There can be no questions as to his feelings from here on out (1.3.368). He then says there are rumours that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. He has no proof but says “I know not if’t be true / But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, / Will do for surety” (1.3.370-373). This is where his plan to destroy both Othello and Cassio comes from. At 377 we see the conception of the idea, “After some time to abuse Othello’s ears / that he is too familiar with his wife.” Again at line 384, Othello is compared to an animal, this time an ass because of this “open nature.” Iago shows himself to the audience in this soliloquy, he both tells us his motivations and sets up the plot of the rest of the show based on the decisions made within it.

Truth and Lies in Act I, Scene i of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is well known for questioning reality. A pattern of constantly questioning of truth versus lies or dreams, veracity or deception, is established from the beginning of the play, and we see many examples of it in just the first act, and it is constantly built upon The first moment where authenticity can be questioned is the opening of the show, between Theseus and Hippolyta. Theseus is obviously impatient, but Hippolyta seems more reserved and refers to the marriage as their “solemnities.” While “solemnities” does refer to the full formal religious occasion of marriage, is also implies a dignified and serious attitude. We know that Hippolyta was Queen of the Amazon, and Theseus has told us that he won her in battle (1.1.16-17). He then says that he wants to wed her ‘in another key,’ but they only have four days for this drastic shift in their relationship to occur. The tenuousness of this relationship calls into question the nature of their affections; are they genuine love or fondness, or are the feelings being forced by the situation?

Later in that same scene, Lysander and Hermia plot to steal away from Athens in the night(1.1.156). This situation offers an interesting mix of truth and lies. They are going to cheat Egeus and Theseus of their say in Hermia’s marriage so that they can live truthfully to themselves. Were they to stay, they would have to lie and deny or suppress their love for each other. Yet, in their deception they are truthful to Helena, which later causes a great deal of complications, and makes one wonder whether this honesty was slightly misplaced. Helena’s betrayal of their plot to Demetrius is a form of deception as well; Hermia and Lysander implicitly place in her the trust of silence and secrecy, and she disregards that to gain Demetrius’s favor (1.1.246). In the same speech Helena has also told us of Demetrius’s lies to her, which Lysander also pointed out in lines 106-110. This web of lies and deception only gets more complex as the show progresses, and upon introduction of the fairies, also includes the question of where fairies and human worlds collide or separate, which is real, or if both can co-exist as reality.