The Hamlet Syndrome

Jeffrey R. Wilson, Henry F. Fradella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bringing together legal, literary, and cultural studies, this article builds from a close reading of madness in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet to some psycho-social theories of malingering and the insanity defense in the modern United States. The basis of these theories is the notion that feigned madness – whether purposeful malingering or a failed insanity defense – often signifies actual madness of a lesser sort. When someone is found to be “faking it,” however, that discovery can result in a widespread assumption of mental health in the person on trial, an assumption that often turns out to be wrong.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-102
Number of pages21
JournalLaw, Culture and the Humanities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Hamlet
  • Shakespeare
  • crime
  • diminished capacity
  • forensic psychiatry
  • insanity defense
  • law and literature
  • madness
  • malingering
  • mental illness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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