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Hamlet and bereavement

Literature and Bereavement: Hamlet

We begin this part of the week by looking at Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the title character’s response to the death of his father. Much to the annoyance of his mother Gertrude, and his uncle and step-father Claudius, Hamlet is very evidently in mourning for his late father at the beginning of the play, refusing to make merry or discard his mourning clothes.

We recommend that you read Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2 to gain a fuller understanding of the impact that bereavement has on Hamlet, and how Hamlet’s mother and new step-father react to this.

Claudius. How is it that the clouds still hang on you?

Hamlet. Not so, my lord. I am too much i’ th’ sun.

Gertrude. Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know’st ‘tis common. All that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

Hamlet. Ay, madam, it is common.

Gertrude. If it be,
Why seems it so particular with thee?

Hamlet. Seems, madam, Nay, it is. I know not ‘seems.’
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forc’d breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show-
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

In the next step we talk to Lucy Clarke, a teacher, about how Shakespeare’s Hamlet provided solace for her during her own experience of bereavement.

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Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing

The University of Warwick

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