Is There "Method in Ophelia's Madness" as Well, or Is She Entirely Irrational?
The character of Ophelia is an excellent element of drama used to develop interpretations of Shakespeare’s text. At the beginning of the play, she is happy and in love with Hamlet, who first notices her beauty and then falls in love with her. The development of Ophelia’s madness and the many factors that contributed to her suicide are significant parts of the plot. “Her madness was attributed to the extremity of her emotions, which in such a frail person led to melancholy and eventual breakdown”. The character of Ophelia in Zieffirelli’s version is the personification of a young innocent girl. “Her innocence is mixed with intelligence, keen perception, and erotic awareness”.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is one of Shakespeare’s most tragic plays. Most of the characters in this play suffered a heartbreaking death, although, all of the characters faced anger, regret, madness or distress. Madness was a reoccurring theme in this play, two characters portrayed this more than others. Ophelia and Hamlet faced similar fates, with similarities and differences along the way, all to do with their madness. Hamlet and Ophelia were two young people in love and were supposedly driven mad by their relationship and passion for one another. When they actually went mad, it was after the death of each of their fathers. His madness was argued to be an act to confuse Claudius. He acted crazy to cover his plans of seeking revenge on Claudius, when talking to Polonius he acted completely mad, “For in the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion-Have you a daughter?”. Hamlet used much blabber, such as this, when talking to anyone close to Claudius. As the play went on his madness was more and more liable. He started becoming very irrational and distracted by his plans. When Ophelia gives Hamlets letters back he goes into a rage, yelling “Get thee to a nunnery.”(Hamlet (3.1.131) The most well known action Hamlet committed was when he stabbed Polonius in a rash decision, hoping it was Claudius, “O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!“. One thing that brought him one step closer to going mad was Ophelia’s death. Hamlet may have been acting in the beginning but by the end of his devious plan to avenge his father, he lost himself and actually caused himself to go mad. Ophelia was such an innocent character. She was young and naïve. Ophelia was faced with many dilemmas. She was in a relationship with Prince Hamlet, who was very distracted and eventually went mad himself. Ophelia’s madness started with an overbearing, over protective father. He controlled Ophelia and used her with out thinking of her feelings, “I must tell you, you do not understand yourself so clearly.
Generally, the main idea of the play is considered to be the impact of people’s actions on their future. ”The ghost of Hamlet’s father does urge him to action” (Fredson 1966, p. 1). In other words, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is recognized to be one of the most required readings, as it discloses the issue of revenge and its consequences. On the other hand, the author wants his readers to be familiar with the effect of people’s thoughts. “Reducing all human concerns to sex and status leaves out all positive sociality, eliminating the interplay between impulses of dominance and impulses of affiliative, cooperative sociality” (Carroll 2010, p. 236). William Shakespeare’s tragedy is not easy to understand, as there are serious issues, which the author discusses. For instance, Shakespeare’s reflection of death and incest, gives us an opportunity to suppose that the play should not be studied by a young audience. It is obvious that “In Hamlet, the image of death is introduced from the very beginning” (Galita 2008, p. 29). Moreover, the language of an English playwright’s work is rather complicated; so, one can still fail to understand the essence of the author’s speech. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the tragedy gives young readers an opportunity to develop critical thinking, “being able to better understand Shakespeare’s language, and hopefully coming to at least appreciate some of his other works because of the knowledge gained from this unit” (Waldo 2008, p. 10). Unfortunately, most of Shakespeare’s works are associated with negative connotations, as students cannot define the point of the plays.Ophelia’s affection reflects her position of a woman, who belongs to the noble class. Taking into account her conversation with the queen and the king, one can understand her inner nature. She is honest, and innocent. Ophelia’s worldview is reflected in the language she speaks. There is a need to state that Ophelia’s descriptions have a symbolic meaning. Thus, she seems to represent an opposite side of a patriarchic community, and she is opposed to other characters who possess power. To my mind, Ophelia’s loss of identity is considered to be the key issue of the fourth Act.
Ordinarily, in Ophelia's case, the madness exhibited is fairly close to the perception of madness that is common today. Ophelia, in Act IV, Scene V of Hamlet, can be found shrieking, screaming, and singing nonsensical songs to the king and queen of Denmark. Her behavior frightens Gertrude to such a degree that she originally refuses to see Ophelia. Gertrude herself says that, "...her speech is nothing/ Yet the unshaped use of it doth move/ The hearers to collection; they aim at it/ And botch the words to fit their own thoughts." Neither Gertrude nor Claudius, who witnessed the outburst of song and rhyme, believe that in her madness Ophelia can say anything that would make sense in its purest form, but that it exactly what Ophelia does. She details the intimacies of her relationship with Hamlet, saying in her song that she lost her virginity to him, and after she had given herself to him he refused to marry her.
Carroll, J. 2010, ‘Intentional Meaning in Hamlet: An Evolutionary Perspective,’ University of Missouri–St. Louis, pp. 230-260. Web.
‘Compare Ophelia’s madness with Hamlet’s madness or feigned madness’, n. d., Unc. edu. Web.
Dane, G. 1998, ‘Reading Ophelia’s Madness’, Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, pp. 405-23.
Fredson, B. 1966, ‘Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy 1587-1642’, Princeton: Princeton UP, pp. 1-2.
Galita, R. 2008, ‘Imagery of Death in Hamlet’, Galati University Press, pp. 29-37. Web.