AWEJ for Translation & Literary Studies, Volume 6, Number3. August 2022 Pp.2-16
“[S]ome vicious mole of nature”: Hamlet’s Erratic Behaviour and Brain Neurotransmitter
Mohammad Wajih J. Alyo
The Language Center
Naif Arab University for Security Sciences
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Received: 05/04/2022 Accepted: 07/20/2022 Published: 08/24/2022
The aim of this paper is to investigate, from a neuroscientific perspective, the complex but still unravelled mystery of Hamlet’s inconsistent conduct in Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Adopting the ‘medical diagnosis’ method, the paper contends that such manifestations of Hamlet’s eccentric comportment as depression, social isolation, impulsiveness, sleep disorder, aversion to women, and procrastination, are all salient symptoms of low levels of dopamine, a vital brain neurotransmitter responsible for reward and motivation. The paper concludes that ‘dopamine deficiency’ in Hamlet’s brain has a devastating impact on his mood and outlook on life. It aggravates his depression, adversely affects his disposition, focus, cognition, and motivation and subsequently deprives him of the incentive to act. The significance of this study is that it identifies the reason for Hamlet’s hesitation, enhances understanding of the play and enriches representations of the leading role in the play on stage. Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as severely afflicted with such an intricate neural illness (not identified in Elizabethan England then), expertly dramatizing the devastating impact on his protagonist of the acute clash between will and inability. Hamlet’s hamartia is, consequently, not a fault of his making, not a commonplace Aristotelian tragic error of judgment, or a psychological personality flaw, but – as Hamlet intuitively prophesies – a birth defect, the result of ‘some vicious mole of nature.’
Keywords: Delay, depression, dopamine, hesitation, motivation, neuroscience, procrastination, Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Cite as: Alyo, M. W.J. (2022). “[S]ome vicious mole of nature”: Hamlet’s Erratic Behaviour and Brain Neurotransmitter Imbalance. Arab World English Journal for Translation & Literary Studies 6 (3) 2-16.
Alyo, M. W. J. (2019). “And what’s he then that says I play the villain”: Understanding Iago as a Histrionic. Arab World English Journal for Translation & Literary Studies3 (4) 139-154. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24093/awejtls/vol3no4.12
Bear, M. F., Connors, B.W. and Paradiso, M. A. (2007). Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. (3rd ed.). London: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Belujon, P., & Grace, A. A. (2017). Dopamine System Dysregulation in Major Depressive Disorders. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology; 20(12):1036-1046. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyx056. PMID: 29106542; PMCID: PMC5716179.
Berry, J. (2022). ‘What are neurotransmitters?’ MedicalNewsToday. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326649.
Bradley, A. C. (1904; rept. 1985). Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. London: Macmillan.
Breuning, L. G. (2012). Meet Your Happy Chemicals Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, Serotonin. E-book. (3rd ed.). System Integrity Press
Cadman, B. (2018). Dopamine Deficiency: What You Need to Know. Medical News Today. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320637.
Carey, L. (2021). Psychosis. Healthline.com. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/psychosis.
Critchley. S. & Webster. J. (2013). The Hamlet Doctrine. London: Verso.
Dunkin. M.A. (2022). Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). WebMD. Available at https://www.webmd.com/brain/restless-legs-syndrome/restless-legs-syndrome-rls
Egnor. M. (2018). Hamlet: Did his perplexing neurotransmitters cause his tragedy? Mind Matters News. Available at
Furness, H. H. (Ed.). (1877). A New Variorum of Shakespeare. (Vol. II. 3rd ed.). London: J. B. Lippincott & Co.
Han, Y. (2001). Romantic Shakespeare: From stage to page. London: Associated University Press.
Hull, E. M., Muschamp, J. W. & Sato S. M. (2004). Dopamine and Serotonin: Influences on Male Sexual Behavior. Physiology & Behavior 83(2):291-307. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.08.018
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Role of Dopamine in RLS Neurology and Neurosurgery. Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/restless-legs-syndrome/what-is-rls/causes.html
Jones, E. (1910). The Œdipus-Complex as an Explanation of Hamlet’s Mystery: A study in motive. The American Journal of Psychology. 21, 72-113. Available at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_American_Journal_of_Psychology/Volume_21/The_Œdipus-complex_as_an_Explanation_of_Hamlet%27s_Mystery: A_Study_in_ Motive.
Kancel, C. (2016). Happy Brain: Boost your dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and other neurotransmitters naturally, improve your focus and brain functions. Version 3.2. Live & Life Publishing at KDP
Knight, G. W. (1930, rept. 1989). The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy. New York: Routledge.
Kwatra, V., Khan, M. A., Quadri, S. A., & Cook,T. S. (2018). Differential Diagnosis and Treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome: A Literature Review. Cureus. 10(9): e3297. DOI: 10.7759/cureus.3297
Lamontagne, S.J., Melendez, S.I. & Olmstead, M.C. (2018) Investigating dopamine and glucocorticoid systems as underlying mechanisms of anhedonia. Psychopharma-cology 235, 3103–3113. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-018-5007-4
Magana, P. (2019). Conquering Procrastination: How to Stay Motivated, Become More Productive and Cure Laziness Forever. Independently Published
Mandal, A. (2019). “Dopamine Functions.” News Medical Life Science. Available at https://www.news-medical.net/health/Dopamine-Functions.aspx
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). Restless Legs Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20377168.
McClure, H. (1922). The Modern Reader’s Hamlet. London: R. G. Badger.
Michely, J., et al. (2020). The role of dopamine in dynamic effort-reward integration. Neuropsychopharmacology. 45, 1448–1453. Available at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-020-0669-0.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). (2020). Psychosis. Available at https://www.nami.org/earlypsychosis.
Nowell, D. D. (2012). Procrastination and Dopamine Receptor Density. Psychology Today. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intrinsic-motivation-and-magical-unicorns/201206/procrastination-and-dopamine-receptor-density
Olguín, H. J., Guzmán, D. C., García, E. H., Gerardo, B. M.(2016). The Role of Dopamine and Its Dysfunction as a Consequence of Oxidative Stress. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
Podrug, D. (2005). Through Hamlet to Narrative Medicine and Neuroscience: Literature as a Basic Science of Psychiatry. Psychiatric Times, 22(7), Available at
Role of dopamine in motivation and learning. (2015). Neuroscience News.com. Available at https://neurosciencenews.com/dopamine-learning-reward-3157/
Saeed, M. (n.d.). “How Does Dopamine Drive Our Behavior?” Into Action Recovery Centers. Available at https://www.intoactionrecovery.com/how-dopamine-drives-our-behavior/#:~:text=Dopamine%20communicates%20with%20brain%20cells,actions%2C%20dopamine%20influences%20our%20behavior.
Schmidt, W. J. & Reith, M. E. A. (Ed.) (2005). Dopamine and Glutamate in Psychiatric Disorders. New Jersey: Human Press,
Seo, D., Patrick, C. J., & Kennealy, P. J. (2008). Role of Serotonin and Dopamine System Interactions in the Neurobiology of Impulsive Aggression and its Comorbidity with other Clinical Disorders. Aggression and violent behavior, 13(5), 383–395. Available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2008.06.003
Shakespeare, W. (1968). Hamlet. Lott, Bernard (Ed.). New Swan Shakespeare. Advanced Series. London: Longman.
Shaw, A. B. (2002). Depressive illness delayed Hamlet’s revenge. Medical Humanities, 28,92-96.
Skolnick, Ph. (2005). Dopamine and Depression. In W. J. Schmidt & M. E. A. Reith (eds.), Dopamine and Glutamate in Psychiatric Disorders (pp. 199-214). Humana Press.
Swaim, E. (2017). 10 Ways to Boost Dopamine and Serotonin Naturally. Good Therapy.
Available at https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/10-ways-to-boost-dopamine-and-serotonin-naturally-1212177.
Tost, H., Alam, T., & Andreas M. (2010). Dopamine and Psychosis: Theory, Pathomechanism, and Intermediate Phenotypes. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Review. 34(5): 689-700. Available at
Tredell, N. (2015). Shakespeare: The Tragedies. London: Palgrave.
Types of Learning Disabilities. (2020). Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA). Available at https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/
Villines, Z. (2019). What Is Dopamine Deficiency? Low Dopamine Symptoms to Watch For. Good Therapy. Available at https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/what-is-dopamine-deficiency-low-dopamine-symptoms-to-watch-for-0926197. Accessed 24 April 2022.
‘What is dopamine?’ (2019). WebMD. Available at https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine#1 and https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine#2.
‘Restless legs syndrome.’ (2020). WebMD. Available at
Wender, P.H. & Tomb, D.A. (2017). ADHD: A Guide to Understanding Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Changes over Time in Children, Adolescents, and Adults. (5th ed.), Oxford: Oxford UP.