Hamlet’s Third Soliloquy: Melancholy vs Mourning

Sigmund Freud clarifies the difference between melancholy and mourning as depending on the un/conscious response of the individual. Though both mental states share similarities, as both can make people depart from normal attitudes of life, mourning is a conscious, natural response to a loss of a “loved one”1 or “some abstraction”1. The mental features of melancholia include “painful dejection”1, “inhibition of all activity”1 and “abrogation of interest in the outside world”1. To further distinguish mourning from melancholia, Freud explains that “in mourning it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself”1. Whilst those in mourning can gradually overcome it, melancholia can shift into mania and lead to suicidal tendencies. From my perspective, Shakespeare makes Hamlet predominantly melancholic in his third soliloquy, though can waver on the borders of the two states as Hamlet has inner conflict on who is to blame.


An important aspect of melancholia is the ego. A melancholic person is able to degrade themselves and share that with other people. Freud observes that they will often scold themselves for characteristics they believe to have, but in actuality it is the characteristics of someone they are close to. Hamlet, in his soliloquy, chastises himself as a “whore” (2.2.559)2 and “rogue and peasant slave”2 (2.2.520)2, the three nouns working together as they debase him to seem unprincipled and inferior despite his status as a prince. “Rogue” is also used to describe savage animals that have strayed from their groups. In this, he confuses animalistic traits he has associated with Claudius before, having compared him to a “Satyr” (1.2.141)2 in his first soliloquy, becoming angry in himself for having those traits. He further degrades himself as being “a dull and muddy-mettled rascal” (2.2.539)2, the sounds of the lexis almost making the sentence seem lyrical, as using “dull” and “rascal” at the beginning and end contrast the plosiveness of “muddy-mettled”. This shows how Hamlet is unable to retain the constant anger (he believes) he should have for himself, fitting in with Freud’s argument that in melancholia, the person can lessen themselves without further regard of what they are doing.


One could argue that Hamlet is seen as more in a state of mourning. He is able to identify that his grief is due to his uncle. After debasing himself, he also insults Claudius as “this player” (2.2.521)2, the determiner and deitic “this” used to highlight him as the only actor who is playing the kingdom. Calling Claudius a “player” is ironic as later on, he uses actual actors to try and find his weakness. Using the polyptoton “players/Play”, he introduces us to the game of trickery he is playing on Claudius, whilst Claudius is trying to trick everyone else. Hamlet therefore knows what he is aiming to do whereas those with melancholia have an “inhibition” to complete any activity. Later in his soliloquy, Hamlet’s anger builds up into rage as he uses the harsh plosives “bloody, bawdy villain!” followed by sibilance of “remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless, villain!” (2.2.553-4)2, the listing and repetition of the noun “villain” clearly showing how he has identified the source of his grief and is now directing his anger towards his uncle. This is what drives Hamlet; the recognition of his grief identifies him in the state of mourning and not melancholia.


What makes Hamlet predominantly melancholic is his “painful dejection”1 and lack of interest in the “outside world”. He uses a semantic field of spirituality and unconsciousness to separate himself from this world and projects himself into another to escape all of the grief. This is a glimpse of possible suicidal tendencies as coupled with his wish that his “flesh would melt” (1.2.131)2 in his first soliloquy, the only thing keeping Hamlet on Earth is that he is “prompted to [his] revenge by heaven and hell” (2.2.558)2. He also refers to himself as “John-a-dreams” (2.2.540)2 and repeats “soul” and “devil” throughout his soliloquy, showing that he is not grounded in reality and may not come back after being so obsessed with revenge. Since Hamlet is so pained with the events occurring in the real world, he wants to depart – not caring whether the revenge he seeks will lead him to heaven or hell. This is where melancholia is prevalent as he is starting to move towards mania. Those who are mourning would show manners of gradual overcoming of their situation, rather than going to such extremities for revenge.


Overall, there is an aspect which can make Hamlet seem in mourning in his third soliloquy, which is being able to find a reason for his grief: his uncle’s murder of his father. Due to this, he is able to find an activity of carrying out his father’s orders by seeking out revenge. It is however, doubtful that he is not in a state of melancholia. The distinguishing factors of a ceased interest in the “outside world”1 and “painful dejection”1 which Freud argues can define melancholia, is embodied in Hamlet during his soliloquy as the severity and insanity of his actions – passing him into the melancholic trait of mania – shows that his feelings run deeper than mourning. His belittling of himself and disregard for where his revenge may take him, can lead to us to interpret it as suicidal tendencies. Even if he lived by the end of the play, it would be hard to see a different alternative than one that doesn’t lead to his self-destruction or loathing.



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