From Peter Kramer’s There’s Nothing Deep About Depression article, which appeared a while back in the New York Times Magazine. He lays out his argument brilliantly — during Shakespeare’s time it was trendy to romanticize depression — and Hamlet is “arguably the seminal text of our culture.” His point being, romanticizing depression is ingrained in the culture to a point not often acknowledged. Interesting.
In dozens of stage dramas from the period, the principal character is a discontented melancholic. “Hamlet” is the great example. As soon as Hamlet takes the stage, an Elizabethan audience would understand that it is watching a tragedy whose hero’s characteristic flaw will be a melancholic trait, in this case, paralysis of action. By the same token, the audience would quickly accept Hamlet’s spiritual superiority, his suicidal impulses, his hostility to the established order, his protracted grief, solitary wanderings, erudition, impaired reason, murderousness, role-playing, passivity, rashness, antic disposition, “dejected haviour of the visage” and truck with graveyards and visions.
“Hamlet” is arguably the seminal text of our culture, one that cements our admiration for doubt, paralysis and alienation. But seeing “Hamlet” in its social setting, in an era rife with melancholy as an affected posture, might make us wonder how much of the historical association between melancholy and its attractive attributes is artistic conceit.