Most people do not associate with William Shakespeare with mental health issues. After all, for over 400 years, most people have only thought about him as a young genius from Stratford-upon-Avon who left his wife with three young children to follow his dreams and write plays in London. He was stable mentally because he led a group of investors to rebuild the Globe theater. He also lent money and sold malt and grain. Where are the mental health issues?
But mental health issues can be found in Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. In Hamlet, for example, when Hamlet utters the line, “to be or not to be,” what is he really talking about? He is talking about suicide, isn’t he? When King Lear talks to the fool, he is referring to his own belief he is going mad, not the fool. ‘O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! / Keep me in temper, I would not be mad! ‘ (1.5. 46–47); ‘O Fool, I shall go mad! ‘ (1.4.)
Finally, Macbeth sinks into a state of madness, doesn’t he after killing the former king, Duncan? Madness and hallucinations are what drive the story for they become the antagonists of the story and bring about the end of Macbeth.
The sonnets are filled with snippets of talk about depression, time, the inability to sleep and death. They move into the bipolar realm too – hitting the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Unlike the man from Stratford, the 17th earl of Oxford also showed similar signs of bipolar disorder. His mood bursts and reckless spending were legendary. But insomnia, mood swings, heightened sexuality, depression and recklessness are symptoms of bipolar disorder which often starts in the late teen years. Psychologists believe that a traumatic event in early childhood is often the cause of bipolar disorder and in de Vere’s case – his father died and his mother remarried so the young earl was sent to live in London with his maternal uncle. Could these events have contributed to his personality disorder?
Scholars often say there is “a fine line between genius and madness” and yet scholars often dismiss de Vere as the “real” Shakespeare. Was madness the reason why people today call his authorship a “conspiracy theory”? Find out more in Hang Shakespeare!