The Hamlet Syndrome

I love Shakespeare. I think he is the profoundest individual I have ever come across, demonstrating more insight into the human imagination and heart than anyone else has even approached. And of his work, I prefer the tragedies and especially Hamlet.

Hamlet was a very depressed young man who was stymied by indecision. This indecisiveness stemmed from obsessive thinking, a thoughtfulness which he noted, “if quartered would be one part wisdom and three parts cowardice.” Shakespeare valued thoughtfulness but realized that being lost in thought was as much a problem as being incapable of thought.

In his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy he concluded “thus conscience (i.e. “consciousnessness”) doeth make cowards of us all and the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought; and enterprises of great kith and kin, in this regard, their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.”

Shakespeare realized that excessive “self-awareness” was merely a ruse, an escape from the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day grind of life. He realized I’m sure, that self-awareness was critical in life but needed to be balanced with a willingness to plunge head-long into the fury of life, to make a commitment in action.

Hamlet’s indecisiveness has given rise in the past few decades to the clinical conception, the “Hamlet Syndrome”, describing young men…usually they are young men…who are similarly stymied and incapable of taking the plunge into life.

And I close with a relevant observation from W. B. Yeats:

God, guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He who sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow bone…

Or perhaps, from an anonymous source:

The centipede was happy quiet
Until a toad in fun, said,
“Pray which leg goes after which?”
This through his mind to such a pitch
He lay distracted in a ditch
Considering how to run.


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