Drama as Literature (EL 250)

26 Oct 2005

Shakespeare, Hamlet (continued)

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Ophelia's End
Excerpt: Shakespeare, Hamlet (continued) -- Drama as Literature (EL 250)...
Weblog: Shameless Digressions
Tracked: October 24, 2005 08:13 PM

Ophelia: Accident or Suicide?

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark can not be fully appreciated without understanding the character Ophelia.

“The voices on which I had been
Taught to depend, deserted me all:
Lover cocooned in mania,
No thoughts or words to spare for others,
Brother absent, learning in a far land
To speak for himself,
Father speaking for the king
(Who, of us all, least needed another voice),
Speaking for me only
When my interests intersected
Those of the state; soon
Even those words taken from me.”
(taken fromhttp://www.zvan.net/stephanie/ophelia.html by Stephanie M. Zvan)

Listening requires a person to tune into, hear, and decode what another person says. Hamlet’s Ophelia certainly says things throughout the play, however, there is nary a listener. Throughout the work, Ophelia searches for a listener that seemingly eludes her captor.
Scene 1.3 has Ophelia speaking to her father – with no chance of his listening. She tells of Hamlet’s “tenders” toward her and asks her father what to think. Ophelia sets up a conflict of role versus role: the mindless, voiceless youthful girl versus mature father. Her father eventually listens to Ophelia, but only because when she tells him about Hamlet frightening her, this is a fact that will eventually affect the state of Denmark. In 3.1 Ophelia and Hamlet discuss the nunnery – Hamlet will not listens to her because he has aligned her with certain marks of femininity: weakness and frailty. The next scene has Hamlet and Ophelia getting ready to watch the play. In Elaine Showalter’s Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism, it is indicated that the word ‘nothing’ (in Elizabethan slang) is indicative of female genitalia. “To Hamlet, then, ‘nothing,’ is what lies between women’s legs, for, in the male visual system of representation and desire, women’s sexual organs...’represent the horror of having nothing to see.’” Perhaps at one time Ophelia meant something to Hamlet, but because of his mother’s behavior his views on women have narrowed. Ophelia is nothing more than ‘country’ matters to Hamlet.

“Determined to breathe now for self alone
I began to sing as I waded far
From shore. Feeling the water
Strong against my legs.
I let my legs be weak,
And borrowing the river's strength,
I breathed out, my own bubbles
Indistinguishable from the others
As they swept downstream.
Though they would not hear me say it,
A life was owed to me.
Remembering, I took my own.

Madness, of course, but
Could it be madness if it worked?
What all the lungsfull of air
Could not accomplish
One chestfull of water did.
They listened.
He remembered how he loved me.
A brother, too late,
Was recalled to duty.
My voice shook a kingdom to pieces.”
(taken fromhttp://www.zvan.net/stephanie/ophelia.html by Stephanie M. Zvan)

Ophelia’s mad scenes are of the utmost importance. She has been seen with garlands of flowers, but at one point gives them away. By her father, she is a chaste young woman; by Hamlet, she is contaminated. Her giving away of the flowers is a symbolic deflowering of herself (Showalter 224). Questions must be raised: Is she mad in reality? Or is she taking after Hamlet and pretending to be mad? Ophelia attempts to voice herself , but when that does not work – she commits suicide.

Posted by: Katie Aikins at August 17, 2005 06:38 PM

That is very interesting Katie. Thank you for pointing that out. I sometimes feel like Ophelia in the way of her trying to voice herself, like when i try to tell my dad something.

Posted by: Denamarie at October 22, 2005 04:22 PM

I don't really think Ophelia was pretending to be mad. Throughout the whole play she’s a meek little thing, and at the end she just snaps. She isn't the kind of person who would pretend to be mad.

However, I do think Ophelia knows a lot. She pays attention to what’s going on, and with Hamlet acting the way he was, I think it would have been quite easy for her to catch on; when he killed Polonius, everyone knew he had been trying to kill the king.

Hamlet pretended to be mad as a means of saying what he really thought and taking what people said to him at face value. If Ophelia was pretending to be insane, did she do it because it liberated her to say whatever she liked?

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at October 22, 2005 11:00 PM
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