Hamlet, Depression, and Boundaries

I quote from Hamlet more than any of Shakespeare because I identify so much with him.  For example, my momma too could have said when I was young and moping about the castle, “Look yonder.  The poor wretch comes reading.”  And, I too am full of thoughts and ideas the sum of which “if quartered, would be one part wisdom and three parts cowardice.”  I am also very violent, as was Hamlet, but like he…in reference to his mother…”will speak daggers to her, not use them.”

Hamlet had serious boundary problems.  If I’d have been  his therapist, I would have diagnosed him with “depressive disorder” but only because I tended to be cautious when possible and avoided the “major” label to diagnoses.  But he simply suffered from “porosity of boundaries” as one psychiatrist I worked with once said of a patient, meaning that his boundaries were “holey” and “stuff” got through which did not get through for most people.  And it is no accident that there is an incest them in the play and boundaries are always skewed for every member of an invested family even if they were not the “victim.”

As Hamlet moped about that castle at Elsinore, people began to talk about the young prince and expressed worry.  Hamlet caught ear of these whisperings and at one point said, “My heart has in it that which passeth show. These are but the suits of woe.”  He was saying, “Oh, sure I’m depressed.  But heck, you don’t know true half of it!.”  He was saying that they only saw the outward “suits” or appearances of his emotional torment but inside he the unmitigated, nameless anguish, “that which passeth show.”  For, when boundaries are impaired, feelings that all of us experience are experienced more intently and his step-father noted at one point, “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

The most striking theme that I see in Shakespeare is his emphasis on the depths of the heart, the sub-text of life, which most people meticulously avoid. Most people see only the “show” and dutifully live out the “show” or play their role on the stage of life while the heart is never delved into.  But, unfortunately this “Ozzie and Harriet” existence deprives them of the meaning in life, a meaning which is found only by “Diving into the Wreck” of the heart’s ambivalences.  (“Diving into the Wreck” is the title of a book of poetry by Adrienne Rich.)  And let us not forget the admonishment of Jesus who asked, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”


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