Certainly, depression is believed to be one of Hamlet’s typical characteristics; he is known and famous for sad soliloquies where he expounds on life, death, suicide and doubt. However, if we look at the text more closely, we can find signs of a profound understanding of the world around him; more than from his depression, the sadness he shows stems from the unavailability of hope for a change and from mankind’s ruthless hypocrisy. In his first scene with Claudius (I, 2), he reveals his inability and unwillingness to play a part (“Nay, it is. I know not seems”); this sets him apart from the court and allows him to contemplate the games people play to attain their objective, be it criminal (Claudius) or simply personal (Polonius).
Of course, he laments, in strict chronological order, the loss of a father (allegedly murdered), his mother’s all-too-hurried marriage, his thwarted succession to the throne, the ghost’s pressure to revenge, Polonius’ meddling, Ophelia’s refusal. Although these characters are partly to blame for his present sadness, his behaviour in the tragedy clearly indicates that the real reasons for his unhappiness are to be found in our faulty human nature, not in impromptu events.
On the other hand, madness is only a strategy he uses to destabilise, linguistically and metaphorically, the other characters’ false pretences; his conversations with Polonius assume an ironic colouring (see the “fishmonger” dialogue), whereas the exchanges with Ophelia mark a new level of reflection on the cruelty of love and human relationships. This spine-chilling view of love and the heinous characteristics he sees in human beings, together with his own shortcomings, contribute in creating a complex portrait of a society in utter crisis.