October 23, 2005

The Big O....phelia

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 from http://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 KatieAikins at October 23, 2005 5:47 PM

Getrude gives flowers back to her at her graveside, saying she wished she could have given them to her at her wedding.

According to a long-standing convention in dramatic literature, the dishonored woman was expected to commit suicide, typically inciting her male relatives to avenge her (and so lead to further dramatic action).

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at October 24, 2005 10:17 AM