Madness in Literature: Shakespeare and Mental Illness

#WorldMentalHealthAwareness

Fatima Altaf

Note: This academic essay was originally written for the literary blog Two Drops of Ink. The original essay can be viewed here.

‘Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me. (Hamlet, Act III Scene 2)

These lines, from what is often referred to as the greatest play ever written, depict a seemingly acute episode of mania experienced by Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. From the beginning of the play, symptoms indicating the onset of a serious psychological disturbance are visible in Hamlet, and as the play progresses, a distinct clinical condition marked by acute psychotic symptoms becomes plainly discernible.

Shakespeare’s remarkable ability to discern and apprehend psychological illnesses, especially in an age when there was very limited knowledge regarding mental health, does not fail…

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