1st Ungrading Essay: Hamlet,Mental Health and Gender

Shakespeare’s titular play Hamlet has had many reiterations and much discussion about its themes. In particular the film adaption by—- which brings the classic play unto a television screen, unchanged. Throughout the play, ideas about gender roles and how those roles change from the perspective of mental health in that time period shine through in a majority of different scenes. These perspectives and ideologies provide a massive resource in which we can look into the past and get an incite into how society thought about major topics that to this day garner fierce debate. Through the way Ophelia and her father Polonius interact both before and after her bout of madness, to the way Hamlet is ostracized by his kingdom when he still continues to morn his father’s death (and even speaks with him post humanously). Just how much of hamlets messages about gender and mental health still provide relevant examples to this day?

A prominent example of nineteenth thinking depicted in the play is within the very first act, with the courtroom full of nobles, the king and queen, and of course hamlet himself. Within the scene the king addresses the courtroom and speaks upon royal decrees and political business that are integral to the overarching plot of the story, this is where hamlet introduced to the audience, dawning all black attire (in stark contrast to other charters within the scene). Hamlet at this point in the film is still mourning his father’s death, which was the prior king before his uncle (now stepfather) Claudius married his mother and took control of the kingdom. Its apparent why Hamlet would still be hurt emotionally and mentally, and as he still grieves the loss of his father, having to live around his father replacement. He would comment to himself about his uncle “little more than kin, and less than kind.”, this alone shows the rift formed by the loss of his father.  Those around hamlet feel like his continued expression of his feelings of loss are misplaced and that he needs to move on, a “be a man” mentality.

Another prominent example of mental health, and even more so gender, would be that of Ophelia. As Hamlet’s actions become or erratic, Polonius, Ophelia’s father, demands that she stay away from him. This in an of it self-shows the lack of control that women have in their lives at that time. Further on in the play, in act four, with her father dead by Hamlet’s own hand and confronted with the task of spying on him, she completely breaks down mentally. With the lack of support from those around her, and without a modern understanding of how to cope with that amount of pressure and loss, she quickly descends into “madness”.  Before she takes her own life, she speaks to inwardly to herself after conversing with Laertes “And will he not come again? And will he not come again? No, no, he is dead; Go to thy deathbed; He never will come again. His beard was as white as snow, all flaxen was his poll. He is gone, he is gone.” This inward reflection from Ophelia shows how broken down she has become throughout experiencing everything she has gone through.

The play itself begins to look like a social commentary when viewed with a modern pair of eyes accustomed to a newer social environment. This arguably shows that there is a much deeper meaning to Hamlet than previously though before, whether this was intentional on apart of Shakespeare or this view was developed over time. The stark contrast between Hamlet himself and Ophelia can be seen as a gendered perception of how mental illness was viewed in society at that time, an inward reflection into society all of those years ago. I believe that this perception can be considered socially relevant today with the basic understanding of authorship and more specifically the phenomena known as “the death of the author, where the author of a creative medium loses his/hers say in what the text means and how it was supposed to be interpreted by those consuming the work itself. Without Shakespeare’s direct involvement anymore, there can be a wide variety of viewpoints on what Hamlet means and its importance within the literary canon. Overtime this can be perceived in so many more ways than just one, and In today’s social climate, where there has been a reopening of what gender is and how it is represented the linking of Hamlet to that conversation can be seen as valid when looking at the interactions between the characters and what they must go through within the play.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet contains many scenarios that can be looked and examined as means to make the connection between mental health and its gendered impact within society as a whole and can prove a valuable contribution to the discussion of mental health and its impact on those throughout the world. Ophelia herself can be seen as a representation for how women were treated and viewed in reality back then and as she is lost in the grip of psychological problems or “madness” we can see a surprising amount of reflection as this topic was encapsulated within those scenes. Through modern understanding, a connection can be made and a claim that the play is a creative interpretation of the thoughts of a society in a certain era of history can be proclaimed. As the literary world evolves, the perspective that the play in written from will inevitably be looked at with a different one entirely, and in the case of this time in history, the implication made in regards to medical theory and gender roles with the renascence era can be discerned from Shakespeare’s creation as of now.      

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