Madness and ShakespeareAre the most of the characters of Shakespeare's tragedies psychiatric- patients ? How far Othello , Hamlet , Cleopatra etc are relevant ?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't think one can make a sweeping generalization that MOST of the characters could be psychiatric patients. Since the plays are tragedies, naturally many of the main characters are troubled or have lives that are tragic. But hey, many people could benefit from therapy, no?

I can see Hamlet receiving therapy for depression, Antony and Cleopatra could perhaps benefit from couples' counseling, certainly Shylock could use some counseling to resolve his bitterness. One true psycho would be, of course, King Lear. He is actually mad at the end of the play. Titus Andronicus is a psychopath. Also, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are definitely candidates for the psychiatrist's couch. Iago could use some intense therapy for his sociopathic behavior. As for the other tragedies - Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Troilus and Cressida, Timon of Athens -- I don't think they qualify in the same way.

I am not sure what you mean by the second part of your question - how far are the relevant. Can you explain this further.

I would be interested to see what others have to say about your question.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harold Bloom wrote that it was Hamlet who taught Sigmund Freud.  There is no doubt that Shakespeare's tragic heroes stand outside the norm in many ways.  They must.   For, great men must have great flaws or else there is no tragedy. Perhaps, with Hamlet, Othello, and Lear, for instance, Shakespeare points to the very burden of greatness.  With power comes manias.  History certainly underscores this truth as it records the deterioration of great minds such as that of the Caesars who lost perspective and became perverse, Bonaparte who became a meglomaniac, and Richard Nixon, who was subjected to paranoia.

Besides, it is these personality disorders that make these tragic characters intriguing; it is their magnificent flaws dramatized that teach us about our own.  And, after all, if such great personalities can be flawed, we feel less inferior about having our own, do we not?

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You know, big characters accomplish big things, but they also have big problems.  You've gotten a good listing of some prime examples, so I just want to point out that this abnormality is actually fairly normal--or at least typical.  People who get things done often have negative characteristics which match their positive attributes.  In other words, the flip side of the ability to lead men might be excessive pride.  Excessive pride might show itself in behaviors or thinking far beyond the "normal."  The bigger the characters, the bigger the flaws.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think most of Shakespeare's characters are troubled. Hamlet was suicidal. Lady Macbeth was psychotic. Juliet and Romeo were both suicidal. Macbeth was paranoid. I think you might be on to something here!  I agree with the others though, that it’s best not to overgeneralize.  Crazy people make good drama though!

staggerlee | Student

Well sure they'd qualify for counselling today: they're all killing each other! Or else themselves.


subrataray | Student

As per modern psychiatry the most of the heroes and the heroines of Shakespeare's tragedies suffer from physic-disorders .The principal characters of the four great tragedies as , Hamlet , Macbeth ,  Lady Macbeth ,Othello ,and Lear , are in conflict between reality and unreality .Their mental-recesses remain out side the container of a normal man .They can't accept the order of the world , their wishes and desires thrust them beyond the society . Their exceptions , and wish motives find no approval from the society .Modern psychiatry looks upon this as adjustment-disorder.They get psychologically exhausted with the struggle of their morbid thoughts .This gives birth repression and depression .Fixation-complex , is another out come of troubled thoughts .

To Macbeth fair is foul, foul is fair .To Hamlet the another name of woman is frailty .To Lear ego is truth , to Iago the pain is to see other happy , to Cleopatra men are the tools for sex-fulfillment .

Othello suffers from mania of love .He suffers from fixation,-his impulse betrays the reality . Mania or O.C.D, overpowers Lady Macbeth, for.-either she would use a lighted- candle, or she would frequently wash her hands.

A critical study on Shakespeare’s heroes and heroines eventually signals the sources of modern psychiatry , buried in Shakespeare’s tragic characters .The eminent professor of psychiatry Dr. Suhhas Csandra ray opines .-“Mental –disorder was common in all ages , but none in the history of world literature possessed the like empathy with which Shakespeare ,advanced four centuries ,to leave for the posterity the modern elements of psychiatry”

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