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Character Analysis of Hamlet: Psychological Disorders

Before proceeding with this entry, it must first be clarified that this is written for the sake of interpreting Hamlet’s personality in context with modern assessments, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Although the latest to be published was the fourth edition (DSM-IV), diagnostic criteria as proposed in the DSM-5 will be used, which will be published in 2013. This essay does not disregard the worldly and timeless appreciation for the character of Hamlet, but instead takes on another perspective – something that has always been done when Hamlet is talked about. As a matter of fact, this method of diversifying the strategies on tackling Hamlet has enriches our understanding and appreciation of his character. As Levin (1959) puts it, “The Prince of Denmark has been identified with many other personalities, none of them bearing much resemblance to any of the others.”

But why? Why try to diagnose Hamlet of a mental disorder? To those who actually know Hamlet, the question is: why not? After reading the text, seeing movies, and watching plays all of Hamlet, one is convinced he has gone mad. It is one thing to appreciate his craziness, but another thing (and peculiar I might add) to think that he is perfectly fine.

It is difficult to classify Hamlet, but let us start by selecting from these three: crazy, troubled, or normal. As we have long abandoned the notion that he is normal, let us talk about him being crazy.

What exactly is crazy? If a person has been diagnosed of a mental disorder, you cannot automatically conclude that person is plain crazy. You cannot conclude that at all. The term ‘crazy’ in itself is problematic. Events may have triggered certain episodes, and these factors have an interplay with genetic factors, a phenomenon conceptualized under the name gene-environment interactions. And what exactly is troubled? Everyone has been troubled in at least one certain point in their lives. What is to be troubled but to be normal? But to be human? The magnitude or frequency as to which one is troubled can describe much about one’s personality. There is a fine line between being a human being with feelings, and addedly being utterly inconvenient to other people. As Hamlet is undoubtedly the latter, we end this effort in trying to classify him. He can be both crazy and troubled.

Enough with absurdity and getting down to business: assessing if Hamlet meets diagnostic criteria for any disorder. Below is a list of suspected disorders Hamlet possibly qualify for. Assessment is subjective and therefore can be erroneous. This is for the sake of adventure.

Under Mood Disorders

1) Major Depressive Disorder

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A. Sad mood or loss of pleasure in usual activities

B. At least five symptoms (counting sad mood and loss of pleasure):

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Psychomotor retardation or agitation
  • Weight loss or change in appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

C. Symptoms are present nearly every day, most of the day, for at least 2 weeks.

Diagnosis: Although we have no reference as to how Hamlet is everyday, since parts of the play jump from one day to the other, we can say that he may manifest four of the symptoms namely sad mood, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and recurrent thoughts of death and suicide. Five symptoms are needed in order to meet criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, so he does not qualify.

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria for Manic and Hypomanic Episodes

A. Distinctly elevated or irritable mood for most of the day nearly everyday.

B. Abnormally increased activity and energy.

C. At least three of the following are noticeably changed from baseline (four if mood is irritable):

  • Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation
  • Unusual talkativeness; rapid speech
  • Flight of ideas or subjective impression that thoughts are racing
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Increased self-esteem; belief that one has special talents, powers, or abilities
  • Distractibility; attention easily diverted
  • Excessive involvement in activities that are likely to have undesirable consequences, such as reckless speeding, sexual behavior, or driving

For manic episode:

  • Symptoms last for 1 week or require hospitalization
  • Symptoms cause significant distress of functional impairment

2) Bipolar I Disorder (formerly known as manic-depressive disorder)

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A single episode of mania during the course of a person’s life

Diagnosis: Hamlet had both an irritable and elevated mood, which was manifested in three symptoms namely unusual talkativeness, flight of ideas, and excessive involvement in activities that are likely to have undesirable consequences. He may have had Bipolar I Disorder.

3) Bipolar II Disorder (milder form of bipolar I Disorder)

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

At least one major depressive episode

At least one hypomanic episode

Diagnosis: Hamlet already qualifies for Bipolar I Disorder, so there is no need to diagnose him of Bipolar II Disorder.

Under Anxiety Disorders

1) Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A. Excessive anxiety and worry at least 50 percent of days about at least two life domains ( e.g. family, health, finances, work, and school)

B. The worry is sustained for at least 3 months.

C. The anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following:

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance

C. The anxiety and worry are associated with marked avoidance of situations in which negative outcomes could occur, marked time and effort preparing for situations that might have a negative outcome, marked procrastination, difficulty making decisions due to worries, or repeatedly seeking reassurance due to worries.

Diagnosis: Although Hamlet worries a lot, he does not avoid situations that cause him to worry. He confronts the ghost of his father as it appears before him. Also, he only presents two symptoms namely restless or feeling on edge, and irritability.

2) Panic Disorder

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A. Recurrent uncued panic attacks

B. At least 1 month of concern about the possibility of more attacks, worry about the consequences of an attack, or maladaptive behavioral changes because of the attacks.

Diagnosis: Panic attacks are characterized by an intense apprehension, terror, and feelings of impeding doom (Kring, Johnson, Davison, Neale, 2012). Although Hamlet may experience panic attacks, he does not worry about the possibility of more attacks. He does not have panic disorder.

Under Trauma-Related Disorders

1) Acute Stress Disorder

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A. The person was exposed to death or threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violation, in one or more of the following ways: experiencing the event personally, witnessing the event, learning that a violent or accidental death or threat of death occurred to a close other, or experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the event(s).

B. At least 8 of the following symptoms began or worsened since the trauma and lasted 3 to 31 days:

  • Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Recurrent distressing dreams related to the traumatic event
  • Dissociative reactions (e.g. flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event were recurring
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress or physiological reactivity at exposure to reminders of the traumatic event
  • Subjective sense of numbing, detachment from others, or reduced responsiveness to events
  • Altered sense of the reality of one’s surrounding or oneself (e.g. seeing oneself from another’s perspective, being in a daze)
  • Inability to remember at least one important aspect of the traumatic event
  • Avoids internal reminders of the trauma(s)
  • Avoids external reminders of the trauma(s)
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Hypervigilance
  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Agitation or restlessness

Diagnosis: The event experienced by Hamlet that qualifies as traumatic is that of his father’s death, and learning who killed him. However, he only manifests three symptoms namely hypervigilance, irritable or aggressive behavior, and agitation or restlessness. He does not have acute stress disorder.

Under Dissociative Disorders

1) Depersonalization/derealization disorder

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A. Depersonalization: Persistent or recurrent experiences of detachment from one’s mental processes or body, as though one is in a dream, despite intact reality testing, or

B. Derealization: Persistent or recurrent experiences of unreality of surroundings

C. Symptoms are not explained by substances, another dissociative disorder, another psychological disorder, or by a medical condition.

Diagnosis: Although Hamlet ventures into discussions about his existence, he does not think that he is detached from his body, or from his surroundings. He does not have depersonalization/derealization disorder.

2) Dissociative Identity Disorder

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A. Disruption or identity characterized two or more personality states (called alters) or an experience of possession, as evidenced by discontinuities in sense of self, cognition, behavior, affect, perceptions, and/or memories. This disruption may be observed by others or reported by the patient.

B. At least two of the alters recurrently take control of behavior.

C. Inability of at least one of the alters to recall important personal information.

D. Symptoms are not part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice, and are not due to drugs or a medical condition.

Diagnosis: Hamlet does not have alters. Alters are different identities that characterize a person, and these include different names, personal information, and personalities. When an alter taken over, it is like the person is a different person for now. Although Hamlet recurrently shows different behaviors, he still has the same identity and sense of self. He does not have dissociative identity disorder.

Schizophrenia (under one category)

Proposed DSM-5 Criteria:

A. Two or more of the following symptoms for at least 1 month; one symptom should be either 1, 2, or 3:

  1. Delusions
  2. Hallucinations
  3. Disorganized speech
  4. Abnormal psychomotor behavior (e.g. catatonia)
  5. Negative symptoms (blunted affect, avolition, asocialty)

B. Functioning in work, relationships, or self-care have declined since onset

C. Signs of disorder for at least 6 months; at least 1 month of the symptoms above

Diagnosis: Hamlet does not have delusions, since he does not think that everybody can hear his thoughts nor has he have an exaggerated sense of self. He also does not have hallucinations, but that depends if he really saw the ghost of his father. He does not show disorganized speech, as he does not have loose associations in his trail of thought nor does he change topic midsentence. He does not show abnormal psychomotor behavior, as he does not exhibit catatonia wherein the person gestures repeatedly using peculiar movements, nor catatonic immobility wherein the person adopts unusual postures and maintains them for very long periods of time. Lastly, he does not have negative symptoms, as he does not exhibit blunted affect, avolition, or asocialty. Blunted affect is a lack of outward expression of emotion while actually having the inner experience of the emotion. Hamlet consistently showed his emotions.


Eliot, T. S. (1960). Hamlet and His Problems. In Summers, J. H. & Leveson, J. C. (Eds.),Discussion of Hamlet (pp. 47-50). Boston: D. C. Heath and Company.

Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., Neale, J. M. (2012). Abnormal Psychology (12thed.). Singapore: John Wiley & Sons.

Levin, H. (1959). The Question of Hamlet. New York: Oxford University Press.

  1. kurtjah
    October 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Besides applying the rigorous framework of admittedly monolithic, contemporary medical psychoanalytic discourse on Hamlet, perhaps it would also be of interest to you to cross-analyze these findings with psychoanalytic doctrines of past periods? Not only to reveal the fissures in the evolution of this particular medical theory, but also to reflect the changes in the socio-political environment of beliefs that could definitely deepen this personality analysis of Mr. Hamlet. Excellent anticipation for use of the criteria that’s just about to be published though.

  1. July 7, 2016 at 3:43 am

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