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Reid, S.A. (1974). Hamlet's Melancholia. Am. Imago, 31(4):378-400.

(1974). American Imago, 31(4):378-400

Hamlet's Melancholia

Stephen A. Reid, Ph.D.

Little attention has been paid to the consideration of Hamlet's mental disorder as a case of melancholia. Freud neglected the matter. Jones dismissed it. None of the seven articles on Hamlet which have appeared in the American Imago (from its inception to 1972) has considered it. Eissler's recent mammoth study denies it as implicitly do those who contributed to a symposium on his book in the Winter, 1972, issue of the Imago, Ninteenth century psychiatry commonly held melancholia to be a correct diagnosis. And if we are to credit popular linguistic messages—as Freud so often enjoins us—we ought not to ignore the notion of the “melancholy Dane.” It seems to me that a re-evaluation is in order. But first, it is reasonable to ask why the neglect—if it is indeed that? The answer, at first glance, is that to label Hamlet's “mental disorder” as one thing or another would be “reductionist,” and that even the most hardened psychoanalytic critics are perhaps still awed at tackling one of the most loved and admired of literary heroes. Actually, a refutation of the notion that Hamlet is in any way neurotic is the essence of Eissler's study:

My thesis is that Hamlet proves in the end to be victorious on all fronts. He frees himself of all inappersonated remnants of paternal imagery (the killing of Polonius and Claudius, and the absence of reference to the dread command at the end); he is accepted by the younger brother as the new authority (Laertes' request for forgiveness); he takes possession of the mother (dying together); and he is resurrected, or as one may say, reborn in the form of Fortinbras.

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