Utopia: Restitution, Philosophy, and Conformity

In Utopia, Thomas More introduces concepts of restitution, other’s first, and conformity. While the ideas of a Utopian society sound wonderful, being able to execute and maintain it, pushes the culture into something quite sinister.  

The idea of restitution of thieves, instead of the practice of More’s era of imprisonment and hanging, seems much more fitting to the crime. This is an idea that was ahead of its time. He writes, “those that are found guilty of theft among them are bound to make restitution to the owner, and not, as it is in other places, to the prince, for they reckon that the prince has no more right to the stolen goods than the thief; but if that which was stolen is no more in being, then the goods of the thieves are estimated, and restitution being made out of them, the remainder is given to their wives and children; and they themselves are condemned to serve in the public works, but are neither imprisoned” (More 1). Restitution is good for everyone involved. It can give back to the owner what was lost (although, technically, the Utopians didn’t own anything so they didn’t really need this law), but it also gives the thief another chance to make good and possibly be rehabilitated since he is put to work. 

I like the philosophy that is taught and upheld, which teach people to be selfless. “The reflections that he makes on the love and gratitude of those whom he has so obliged, gives the mind more pleasure than the body could have found in that from which it had restrained itself” (More 1). If all societies had the philosophy of others first, the world would be a better place. I think it is this premise that would make a Utopia, because if everyone is taught without any prejudices or hate, life everywhere would be a Utopia. I can’t fault an entire society trying to live this way, and kudos to those who can pull it off. That’s where my admiration stops, because I believe it is just a philosophy and can’t be maintained, which moves into the idea I don’t think is a good idea, that of conformity. The philosophy is to be applauded, yet the way they enforce it, is not.

Everything in Utopia is uniform. The structure of the cities are the same, “all large and well built” (More 1). The people have the same manners, dress, laws, governing bodies. Thoughts. Everything is the same. While this seems great in the sense of equality and not having anyone preening about because they own more or have better stuff than another, anytime people are forced to conform, that is freedom taken away. Even the amount of family members you have is something that has to be conformed to. “No family may have less than ten and more than sixteen persons in it, but there can be no determined number for the children under age; this rule is easily observed by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them” (More 1). I don’t believe that human beings are capable of living with 1) being told what to do all the time, and 2) living without any kind of self-expression. It almost sounds like a type of brain-washing where the priests educate the children, using “all possible methods to infuse, very early, into the tender and flexible minds of children, such opinions as are both good in themselves and will be useful to their country” (More 1). Yeah, that doesn’t sound like free will at all. This same type of social conformity is thrust on the old and diseased as well. If they reach that state and are unwilling to take their own life, they will not receive an honorable funeral, but their bodies thrown into a ditch (More 1). That reeks of forced social pressure. I do not like the idea of forcing everyone to behave the same and taking choices away. This sounds like freedom, but socially, it is not. It’s pretty much a behave-this-way-or-else construction. 
Image: "Utopia" by Felipe Venâncio is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Faerie Queene: The Archetypical Hero

According to Joseph Campbell’s idea of the archetypical hero of the main protagonist being called out of his normal life into a more supernatural type world, The Faerie Queene meets this criteria and then some. The hero generally starts out in his normal world. The Redcrosse Knight is a young man who has not seen war. He wears “on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore, the deare remembrance of his dying Lord” (Spenser 1:2:1-2). He wants to prove himself so he gets the Call to Adventure from Gloriana the Faerie Queene who sets him on a mission to slay the dragon that has been keeping the princess Una’s parents and kingdom captive. So starts the journey. 

Edmund Spenser used a lot of symbolism in his poem. The young knight represents England. He is heroic, but also a little foolhardy in his eagerness to jump into adventure. Una represents truth and faith, or the church. As James W. Broaddus puts it in Studies in Philology, other characters such as “Archimago, Duessa, and Orgoglio could represent Satan’s work in the papacy” (578). Redcrosse does not yet have full faith. He shows this through his impulsiveness to run into the cave and fight the dragon/snake even while Una (truth) was advising him not to. His immaturity in the faith was showing. Likewise, when Archimago deceives him with visions of Una and another man, “if he had known what faith really is—he would have doubted the evidence of his senses before he doubted Una” (Broaddus 580). But he was still young in his full conversion to being a Christian and the bad influences achieved the separation of Una and the knight or symbolically, England and the church for a time. It is only after Redcrosse has gone through several more tests and been in the company of deceivers such as Duessa that he comes forth as the true defender of the faith and is ready to slay the dragon. Which brings us back to the archetype of the hero. 

 After the call to action, our hero is given helpers in the form of Una and the dwarf and they all cross the threshold into the supernatural world of adventure. They are “led with delight, they thus beguile the way, until the blustering storme is overblown; when weening to returne, whence they did stray” (Spenser 1:10:1-3).  They have entered the next world and move into the phase of the journey where they encounter a Series of Tests. In each test, Redcrosse learns something about himself, although it takes turning his back on Una, the truth, and going off alone and being imprisoned by pride, represented by Orgoglio, before he matures enough in his faith and is recused and brought back to health by Una. He is then ready for the Final Battle with the dragon, which is epic. Once the dragon is defeated, he is promised to Una, yet must still Return to his Everyday World to honor his pledge to the Faerie Queene. And so we see that Redcrosse has followed the journey of the archetypical hero, coming full circle back home, but as a different person who has grown into the knight he esteemed to become at the beginning.
Works Cited
Broaddus, James W. “Spenser’s Redcrosse Knight and The Order of Salvation.” Studies in Philology Vol. 108, No. 4. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23056053?seq=7#metadata_info_tab_contents
Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. The Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15272/15272-h/15272-h.htm 

Parentification in The Road and The Hunger Games


A common motif in stories has to do with the hero having to take on a role that circumstances tossed him into (wizard, symbol of rebellion, jedi, politician, mob boss, super spy, etc.). And then the hero discovers that it is the role they were meant to be all along. The hero must learn to take on a leader role to stand on his or her own. Young Adult novels, especially, are littered with the absent parent or adult figure, both emotionally checked out or oftentimes deceased and completely out of the picture. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and the boy from The Road are two such characters who have single parents who have checked out of their parenting responsibilities and have unconsciously forced their children to take on the role of the adult. Figuring out our path into adulthood, or what we want to be when we grow up, is a question that everyone can relate to. Especially when, like Katniss and the boy, the paths we are placed on aren’t of our own choosing. Many people can relate to taking on responsibilities at too young of an age, which makes this theme so popular. The theme of finding one’s place in the world is expressed in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games through characters who had to shoulder the burden of two very different types of parentification: instrumental and emotional.

Parentification happens within a parent-child relationship when the parent takes on the dependent role and the child has to take on the responsibilities of an adult. There are two types of parentification; instrumental parentification and emotional parentification. According to Lisa M. Hooper, a counselor at The University of Alabama, “Instrumental parentification is the participation in the physical maintenance and sustenance of the family” (1) which differs from emotional parentification, which “is the participation in the socioemotional needs of family members . . . serving as a confidant, companion, or mate-like figure, mediating family conflict, and providing nurturance and support” (Hooper 1). From the Graduate Student Journal of Psychology, Jennifer A. Englehardt states that, “most often, one or both parents are incapacitated, commonly for physical, social, emotional, or economic reasons, and they come to depend upon the child to meet their needs and the needs of the family” (46).  Katniss and the boy certainly fit that criteria. In The Hunger Games, Katniss shows she is a parentified child on a personal level, however all the children in all of the twelve districts are children of parentification as well. After Katniss’s father’s death, she is forced to step into the role of provider and adult for her mother and sister. At the age of eleven, a year before she can enter her name into the drawing for tesserae, she becomes the provider by hunting when her mother emotionally checks out, a “woman who sat by, blank and unreachable, while her children turned to skin and bones” (Collins 8). Calabria Turner from Georgia College and State University puts the parentification of Katniss this way: “While her mother is succumbing to grief, Katniss becomes the provider her family needs, which forces her to bury her emotions of her father’s death and also disregard any childhood innocence pertaining to the perils of adulthood” (38). While Katniss can be identified more with the instrumental parentification as provider/protector, the boy in The Road is an example of emotional parentification.

The man’s entire purpose for not taking his own life and ending it all, is the boy. The man’s constant has become dread. He no longer sustains faith that there are decent humans left. The man believes that “beauty and goodness are things he’d no longer any way to think about” (McCarthy 61). He even tells the boy, “If you died I would want to die too” (McCarthy 11) reinforcing the boy’s emotional role of keeping his father alive. The man is emotionally unable to confide anything to the boy without passing on his fear of other human beings. It is in this sense that the boy has become the parent figure in providing hope for the future with his insistence that there are other “good guys” still in the world. At the beach, the boy wants to write a message in the sand for the good guys to see. The boy asks, “Maybe we could write a letter to the good guys. So if they came along, they’d know we were here” (McCarthy 245), to which the man immediately answers, “What if the bad guys saw it?” (McCarthy 245). The contrast between the man’s disbelief that there really is anyone good left, and the boy’s hope that there is, is significant in who is keeping the emotional strength between them. This swap of emotional roles is explained by Victoria Hoyle, a medieval archives researcher, as: “The boy needs his father to care for him, to socialize and love him, and the father is acutely aware that he needs the boy to give him a purpose, a reason to keep living in an unreasonable, inconceivable world” (1). The boy’s role isn’t so much as the provider, as Katniss Everdeen’s is, but more in providing the emotional stability for his father. He has become the confidant and companion. On a larger scale, the situation both Katniss and boy find themselves in, also forces them to find their roles in the world. For Katniss, the adults in the districts have to rely on their children for food. There is no way for the children not to step into that world.

The Capitol has ensured that the parents in the district are not able to fulfill their adult roles by making the availability of food limited and only children between twelve and eighteen years of age have the means to get more.  “A meager year’s supply of grain and oil for one person” (Collins 13) is given as tesserae if the children put their names in the reaping drawing extra times. Turner explains the toll this takes on the parent-child relationships this way: “Their role, as is any parent’s, is to supply the family with the necessary provisions, and they cannot do this. The Capitol succeeds in making parents feel impotent as each parent watches their children’s chances of dying increase for the sake of obtaining food that will barely sustain the family” (Turner 32).  While Katniss becomes the provider for her mother and sister, and then protector and provider in the arena for Rue and Peeta, the boy in The Road is an example of parentification in more of an emotional role in his relationship with his father. They both move into their roles. Katniss finds her place as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the resistance. The boy also finds his place in the world as a child survivor who, thanks to his emotional parentification with his father, has the emotional maturity to lead the other children into a more hopeful future for mankind. Collins and McCarthy created fascinating characters who had to find their own place in the world. It is relevant that these books were written in a time when the world was reeling from terrorism and war and everyone was trying to find their place in this uncertain new world.

The Hunger Games and The Road were written in the first decade of the 2000s. This was after the events of September 11th and in a decade when school shootings were rampant, and the economy was in its downward spiral. These events combined had an influence on the authors and what they saw in the youth of the nation. Collins admits to have taken her inspiration from a reality TV show where children were competing for money and McCarthy’s idea came on a trip with his young son. The younger generations were not alive during the attacks on their home nation like the generation before who remembered Pearl Harbor and the London air raids. Before then we heard of isolated bombings by crazed radicals, and distant attacks in foreign countries. On September 11, 2001 terrorism shattered our sense of safety, of isolated incidents. The decade became one of The War on Terror and bullied children posting manifestos and walking into schools to kill their classmates. Nowhere was safe. No one was safe. And it was obvious to the younger generation that the adults who couldn’t manage the economy had also failed to keep them safe. The youth, as a whole, took it upon themselves to make the change in a world-wide type of parentification where they began leading the charge against anti-bullying, gun control, responsible climate control, and political accountability. No generation before has been as accepting of others and as vocal about the harm of shaming and bullying. Individually, it is a new world of social media shaming and/or uplifting each other that is an obstacle some might say, or a stepping stone in the path of discovering their place in the world. With fear and becoming adults too soon, it’s a small wonder that The Hunger Games and The Road spoke to so many and grew in popularity and commercial success. Collins hit on the unspoken fear of never having any place of real safety and blended it with the popularity of a reality TV spectacle when she wrote The Hunger Games (Engelhardt 46). Likewise, McCormack struck on this same theme as he gazed out of a motel window one quiet night in El Paso and wondered what it would be like in a century where no one is safe and a son and father have only each other to rely on (Johns-Putra 520). Whether he meant to endow the boy with characteristics of a parentified child or it came from his subconscious where he knew the man had no one else to gain emotional support from, it’s difficult to tell. However, the traits of parentification are evident in the boy, which is not necessarily a bad thing. According to Hooper, a study found that “parentification was related to positive outcomes such as high levels of individuation and differentiation from the family system” (1), which is undeniably the case with Katniss and the boy. Each was able to shoulder the “adult” role they were thrust into due to the physical and emotional experience they received through being parentified children.

The theme of discovering one’s role in life has always been a popular theme. Since it is a self-awareness everyone must come to terms with in their own life, it is an idea that everyone can relate to. The Hunger Games and The Road take this theme to new levels as Katniss and the boy must come to the realization of who they are in places of horrific violence and lack, where they were not allowed an innocent childhood and had to take on attributes of adults for themselves and their families. The idea of having to grow up too soon, of lost childhoods, and figuring out who you are, what you stand for, even in a world where your safety can be taken away at any moment accounts for the commercial success of The Hunger Games and The Road.  Whether it was becoming the provider of the family or taking on the role of giving emotional support, Katniss and the boy took on the burden of adulthood and became examples of parentified children who ultimately became the people they were meant to be in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  






Works Cited

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2008. Print.

Engelhardt, Jennifer A. “The Developmental Implications of Parentification: Effects on Childhood Attachment.” Columbia University. 2012. https://www.tc.columbia.edu/publications/gsjp/gsjp-volumes-archive/gsjp-volume-14-2012/25227_Engelhardt_Parentification.pdf

Hooper, Lisa M. “Defining and Understanding Parentification: Implications for All Counselors.” The University of Alabama. Jan 2008. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281905738_Defining_and_Understanding_Parentification_Implications_for_All_Counselors

Hoyle, Victoria, et al. “Two Views: The Road by Cormac McCarthy.” Strange Horizons. March 2007. http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/two-views-the-road-by-cormac-mccarthy/

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. Vintage Books. 2006.

Turner, Calabria. “A Parthenos in Pop Culture: Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.” Journal of the Georgia Philological Association, vol. 7, Jan. 2017, pp. 31–44. EBSCOhostsearch.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hlh&AN=133435701&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Elizabethan Theater: Entertainment or Distraction?

Life during the Elizabethan era had some freedoms that previously weren’t available to the masses. Education was one of these new freedoms. Before, if you weren’t of the nobility, you didn’t get a chance to go to school. Period. Under Elizabeth’s rule, boys, whether from noble families or not, were “educated to be literate members of society”, according to The National Endowment for the Arts. Girls, on the other hand, did not have the expectation to be educated. “By 1600, at least one-third of the male population could read” (Nat End). Religion had a lot to do with this increase as the Puritans funded many of the schools. 

Religion was ever-present in the lives of the Elizabethans. In fact, Queen Elizabeth decreed that everyone must attend worship services of the Church of England of which she was the head. Anyone who didn’t attend, were faced with heavy fines if they couldn’t prove illness. So what if you were Catholic, which had gone out of taste with the monarchy? It wasn’t illegal to be Catholic. It was only illegal to “hold or to attend a Mass” (Nat End). And as far as the theater went, it was not approved by the Puritans. “Puritan leaders and officers of the Church of England considered actors to be of questionable character, and they criticized playwrights for using the stage to disseminate their irreverent opinions” (Nat End). Even Parliament was worried about plays spreading opposing politics and heresy. Yet the Queen loved the theater and protected them. As a compromise to the Puritans, the theaters and performances had to be outside of London, so most of the theaters were built just outside of the city limits. But why was entertainment so important to the Elizabethans?

At a time when work was hard, the death rate was high due to frequent plagues, and more and more people were educated and able to imagine a much broader world beyond their own walls, entertainment was both a distraction and a way to view other people’s lives. It was also a way to poke fun at religion and politics in the guise of making fun of characters who just happened to have similar traits to those they represented. If there was any way to find any kind of entertainment out of life, the Elizabethans were ready for. They went to plays. They held annual fairs. The wealthy held feasts and banquets for anything worth celebrating from a couple getting engaged, to the wedding, to jousting, hawking, and hunting victories. The poor went to dances and tournaments. Troupes came through villages with actors, dancers, jugglers, and animals (Era). They enjoyed dog fighting and bear and bull baiting. And of course, plays, where everyone from the most wealthy and noble to the lowliest was welcome for the price of a ticket, which ranged in the price of admission. 

Plays were also a social affair, which added to the entertainment. The round theaters gave the audience views of not only the stage, but also a view of everyone else in the audience and their behavior. Audience members were not shy about shouting out how they felt about what was going on with the actors on stage. Much like one of today’s sporting events where the spectators react to great catches or fumbled misses, attending a play during the Elizabethan period was a few hours of entertainment on many levels.  
Works Cited
“Elizabethan Entertainment.” Elizabethan Era. http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-entertainment.htm
“Elizabethan Theater.”  National Endowment for the Arts presents Shakespeare in American Communities.  https://web.archive.org/web/20170725155908/http://www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org/education/elizabethan-theater
“The Elizabethan Age.” National Endowment for the Arts presents Shakespeare in American Communities.  https://web.archive.org/web/20170725155845/http://www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org/education/elizabethan-age

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


Annie Dillard takes a meandering route, moving forward and backward and around again as she writes about how she attempted to search out gifts from the universe in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She equates this exploration to how as a child she would leave pennies along the sidewalk near her home for anyone to find, sometimes leaving chalk arrows, or clues for them to see the penny. (Dillard 1) In the same vein of a passerby finding the pennies, she set out to find presents left by the universe in the backyard of her home on Tinker Creek. Dillard explained, “I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises” (1). Dillard’s view of nature in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is both beautiful and sometimes risky and horrible as she sets about finding how to see nature’s gifts by seeing what isn’t seen by the natural eye, by seeing before understanding, and by seeing with the senses by letting go.

 When Dillard begins trying to see the gifts of the universe, she simply looks, being observant as she walks around Tinker Creek. She knows that if you look for clues like the cut wheat-stalks of grain, she will find mice, or if she looks for caterpillar droppings, she should be able to find the caterpillar (Dillard 1). However in the reflective style that is intertwined with her observations, Dillard also realizes that experts or lovers of certain subjects (like experts of mice or horses) are able to see things that the mere observer misses. At one point an airplane flew overhead and its shadow on the creek bottom gave sight to gifts Dillard could not see outside of the shadow. “At once a black fin slit the pink cloud on the water…I saw hints of hulking and underwater shadows, two pale splashes out of the water, and round ripples rolling close…and out of that violet, a sudden enormous black body arced over the water” (Dillard 4). As she reflects on this, she recalled a time when she saw clouds reflected in the water that she could not see in the sky. She later read the explanation that “polarized light from the sky is very much weakened by perfection, but the light in clouds isn’t polarized. So invisible clouds pass among visible clouds, till all slide over the mountains; so a greater light extinguishes a lesser as though it didn’t exist” (Dillard 4). Dillard admits that although this experience led her to see the beauty of the water, she saw it because she stayed out later than was wise. She could have easily walked into a rattlesnake or other creature. Another time she got so caught up in walking hawks through her binoculars that she nearly staggered off a cliff (Dillard 5). As Dillard sought finding the gifts of nature, she tried to relearn how to see before understanding.

Dillard read a book about the experiences of blind patients who had surgery and could then see. They had no understanding of what they were looking at and so saw the world in an entirely different way. Dillard attempted to recreate what they must have seen but learned that it didn’t work as knowledge of what she is seeing is too ingrained. There was a child that “when her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw ‘the tree with the lights in it’” (Dillard 7). Dillard saw the color-patches the newly sighted did for a while, but could not sustain it. She lamented, “But the color-patches of infancy swelled as meaning filled them; they arrayed themselves in solemn ranks down distance which unrolled and stretched before me like a plain. The moon rocketed away. I live now in a world of shadows that take shape and distance color, a world where space makes a kind of terrible sense…the fluttering patch I saw in my nursery window—silver and green and shapeshifting blue—is gone; a row of Lombardy poplars takes its place, mute, across the distant lawn” (Dillard 8). She wishes that the people who had just received their sight would have been given brushes to paint what they were seeing before understanding took over and then we could see that as well (Dillard 8). But there is another type of seeing, she moves on, seeing by letting go and giving into the senses.

Dillard says that letting go is like going from seeing the world through the lens of a camera, looking one from shot to the next, or letting the camera go and allowing everything in. In one moment she was looking into the creek, not seeing much, when she let go and “blurred my eyes and gazed towards the brim of my hat and saw a new world. I saw the pale white circles roll up, roll up, like the world’s tuning, mute and perfect, and I saw the linear flashes, gleaming silver, like stars being born at random down a rolling scroll of time. Something broke and something opened. I filled up like a new wineskin. I breathed an air like light; I saw a light like water. I was the lip of a fountain the creek filled forever” (Dillard 9). She warns that although wonderful, staying in that sense-filled state can lead to a type of madness as it will “flow unheeded in the dim channels of consciousness” (Dillard 9). Dillard concludes that with all of her searching that “Seeing is a gift and surprise” (9).

Dillard’s search in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek turns out to be an interesting guide to go about seeking the beauty and sometimes horrors of nature by looking at what isn’t normally seen through the natural eye, by trying to glimpse what might be seen without labeling it with our own understanding, and by using our senses and letting go. What Annie Dillard learned is that “although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought…a gift and a total surprise” (9). Dillard searched for years among the peach trees to see the same light the girl who had been blind once saw, but it was when she wasn’t looking and “was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance” (Dillard 9). Just like finding a penny in an unexpected way, the universe gave Annie Dillard the prize she had been seeking all along.


Dillard, Annie. “Seeing.” Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, HarperPerennial, 1974. WayBack Machine, web.archive.org/web/20160702065318/http:/dcrit.sva.edu/wp-content/uploads/1974/01/Seeing.pdf


Hamlet: Depression Unchecked Leads to Tragedy

“To be or not to be” (3.1.56) is one of the most famous literary lines in fiction. Even people who have never read William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet have heard this phrase, however many would be surprised to learn that it is a line about the contemplation of suicide. Hamlet may as well have been saying, “To live, or to take my own life?” That was his question. Unfortunately, that same question has been contemplated by many people in the Elizabethan era and throughout the decades to our current time period. That Shakespeare was able to portray characters with issues of depression as well as some of the causes of mental health, demonstrates the brilliance he had of tapping into issues that plagued everyday people. Or perhaps it was his ability to observe people around him and then flesh out their issues into his characters. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet explores mental illness through word play, allusion, and the pressures of family and society’s expectations. 

In regards to hinting about a character’s state of mind, William Shakespeare was very clever with how he played with words. Clues are given of Hamlet’s “melancholy” and building depression as well as the cause of it when Hamlet first comes onto the stage. The first glimpse of Hamlet’s depression is foreshadowed subtly with a word that can be interpreted two ways. At the beginning of the play, right after the marriage of Claudius and Hamlet’s mother, Claudius asks Hamlet why he still looks so sad. “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” (1.2.66). To which Hamlet answers, “Not so, my lord. I am too much I’ th’ sun” (1.2.67).  There can be two meanings of this, yet both are correct. “Claudius may interpret the word ‘sun’ as celestial, or Hamlet may be referring to ‘son,’ as he is experiencing stress over being a son and the duty which comes with it” (Hall 9). Another play on words has to do with Ophelia and a hint of her upcoming mental struggle when Hamlet sees her reading a book and exclaims, “The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in they orisons” (3.1.97). A beautiful nymph on one hand, who is in prayer on the other hand allude to the causes of her later insanity. Shakespeare had Ophelia holding a book, which was also how the Virgin Mary was often depicted during the Catholic era of England. Then Hamlet seals the allusion to the Virgin Mary in his next breath when he asks her, “Be all my sins remember’d” (3.1.98). While Shakespeare played with the meaning of words to express encroaching insanity, he also utilized allusion to express the mental state of his characters.

Shakespeare revealed Ophelia’s madness to his audience by alluding to what was going on in his society. When Hamlet was written, the Protestant reformation from Catholic beliefs was firmly in place. Earlier female characters of Shakespeare had the option of fleeing to a convent, yet when Hamlet tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery, it is all the more hurtful because it isn’t an option. “With her avenues to both marriage and the female community of a cloister blocked, Ophelia seems to fall by default into madness. Instead of reciting lauds in the company of nuns, Ophelia must voice them alone” (Chapman 113). She drowns “chanting snatches of old lauds/As one incapable of her own distress” (4.7.176-177). By alluding to old Catholic based lauds, which have no place in the time of the play, Shakespeare is showing his audience how Ophelia has fled into her own mind. I see Hamlet as a depressed young man struggling between duties, however Ophelia’s mental illness became more than she could deal with and unable to cope, she retreated. The causes for this are stemmed in the family and social expectations that were firmly placed on both Hamlet and Ophelia. 

When a person is depressed, any kind of stress will seem compounded. For Hamlet, he is already sorrowing over the death of his father and with how quickly his uncle has married Hamlet’s mother. This is a source of his saddened state, however “it is not the death of Hamlet’s father, but the struggle to define the death that is the central problem for Hamlet’s family” (Hall 5). Hamlet is sad, yes, yet it is when the ghost of his father shows up and places upon Hamlet the duty to avenge his death, that Hamlet begins to spiral. “Shakespeare has depicted a man with an acute depressive illness with obsessional features, unable to cope with a heavy responsibility” (Pickering 1). Hamlet falls into a struggle to honor his father’s wishes while not wanting to hurt his mother. “Hamlet contemplates suicide to escape the discourse of sonly duty to exact revenge on Claudius, when he knows the action will destroy his mother, his family, and himself” (Hall 7). Hamlet believes that he has to either kill Claudius or kill himself. He ruminates on this decision throughout the entire play. Hamlet is trapped within the idea of doing his duty as a son for his dead father and in doing what society expects to not destroy himself or his mother to the point that he feels that he has no control to make his own decisions because he is bound by his duty as a son. To make it worse “in Hamlet’s case, what may be perceived as madness may be his way of protesting against the dominant narrative that his father has been forgotten” (Hall 9). Hamlet bemoans the fact that the marriage took place so quickly in the following lines:

Would have mourn’d longer,—married with mine uncle, 
My father’s brother; but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month?
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to good.
But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue. (1.2.147-155)

Polonius later declares that Hamlet is insane and everybody else starts seeing him that way because Polonius is so resolute about it. He affirms, “Your noble son is mad./Mad call I it, for, to define true madness,/What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?” (2.2.92-94). Everyone believes Polonius’s declaration that Hamlet is insane. This same scenario between one’s duty and what one wishes is echoed with Ophelia.

Ophelia is also trapped between two duties. Her father has asked her not to talk to Hamlet anymore, yet she is in love with Hamlet. She is trapped between what she wants to do, and her duty as a daughter to her father. Hamlet tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery, and he later kills her father. Ophelia “finds herself at a point from which she cannot escape so she appeases all by going mad…losing contact with one’s reality” (Hall 8). “In act 3, Ophelia appears to think that cooperating with her father will help Hamlet’s madness and thus secure her future marriage. What she cannot predict is the fact that Hamlet will read that choice of loyalties as an unforgiveable rejection of him” (Chapman 117). Retreating into madness is the way that Ophelia can satisfy the duties placed upon her by both Hamlet and Polonius. By safely tucking herself away in her mind, she stayed away from Hamlet (as her father required), yet also avoided all men as though she had gone to a nunnery (as Hamlet demanded of her). 

This theme of mental health is common today as many people struggle with conflicting duties and become depressed over it. Some examples put forth by Hall are a gay adolescent who is taught that being gay is not normal, or a career-minded woman with feeling of guilt over not being a homemaker for her family (7). Shakespeare understood the internal conflict between the messages that society says we should do, and what we (being true to ourselves) want to be. There may always be someone like Polonius that states, “he depressed, he needs counseling, he is wrong” with such conviction that the diagnosis is readily accepted by friends and family whether it is entirely accurate. For Hamlet and Ophelia, could the outcome have been different if someone listened to them? If Hamlet’s mother had simply listened to what her son was feeling and given his conflictions some relief, instead of parroting Polonius’s diagnosis of madness, could Hamlet’s sonly duty been assuaged? And what of poor Ophelia? She had no one to turn to. Had Shakespeare written a sympathetic character to give Ophelia a listening ear, or guide her to some sort of herbal anti-depressant of the time, would she not have entered the river? Yet Hamlet is a tragedy, with a tragic ending for all the characters involved. Perhaps the lessons of their tragedy helped people in the Elizabethan time and our current time avoid the same. William Shakespeare plays with words, utilizes allusion to the Protestant Reformation, and the pressures of family and society’s expectations to demonstrate a vivid portrayal of madness in his play Hamlet. 

Works Cited
Chapman, Alison A. “Ophelia’s ‘Old Lauds’: Madness and Hagiography in Hamlet.” Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, vol. 20, Jan. 2007, pp. 111-135. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct-true&db=khh&AN=26650478&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Hall, J. Christopher. “A Narrative Case Study of Hamlet and the Cultural Construction of Western Individualism, Diagnosis, and Madness.” Journal of Systemic Therapies, vol. 35, no. 2, June 2016, pp. 1-13. EBSCOhost, doi; 10.1521/jsyt.2016.35.2.1.
Pickering, Neil. “Depressive Illness Delayed Hamlet’s revenge” BMJ Journals: Medical Humanities, www.mh.bmj.com/content/28/2/92.full
Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1524/1524-h/1524-h.htm

Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet." The Project Gutenberg. www.gutenberg.org/files/1524-h/1524-h.html 
Image: "Hugues Merle (French, 1823-1881), 'Hamlet and Ophelia'" by sofi01 is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/