Why Has Ophelia Gone Mad?
While it is evident that Ophelia is grieving over the death of her father, Polonius, as Horatio says of her “She speaks much of her father, says she hears / There’s tricks in the world, and hems, and beats her heart” (4.5.4-5), a secondary cause of Ophelia’s madness may be in fact about her failed relationship with Hamlet as well.
The decision is helped by the fact he has found out that Ophelia has been refusing to see the Prince or to even receive his letters. From this, Ophelia will be confused because one minute she is forbidden to see Hamlet and the next her father allows it. In Act Three Scene One, Ophelia hands back to him the little presents that he had given her in the past. Hamlet gets angered by this, and lets loose on Ophelia all the bitterness he has been feeling since his mother’s marriage to Claudius. He then begins to suspect Ophelia too, and seems conscious that there are unseen listeners to their conversation. In this apparent madness, he drops a veiled threat: “I say we will have no more marriage. Those that are married already – all but one – shall live”. His departure with a final result leaves Ophelia terribly upset and quite convinced of his madness. Hamlet’s madness seemed to have had an effect upon Ophelia, because Hamlet is taking all his anger out on her, which seems to be unfair because she has no involvement, and is innocent. This makes Ophelia a tragic figure because Hamlet is putting all his anger on her, which makes Ophelia upset, which shouldn’t be the case because she shouldn’t be the victim throughout any of this.
He does it to mystify the other characters, but the weaving of it provides the same message: Hamlet cannot be controlled. The on-going squabbles Hamlet argues are often to do with women and failed devotion. Because of this, most of the characters from Rosencrantz to Gertrude to Ophelia herself, believe his madness is based on love. As if a man who is strongly unappreciated would burn with insane, screwball anger. Or, in reduced words: that Hamlet is controlled by the conduct of women. The notion provides amply to why Hamlet wishes Ophelia away to a nunnery, and despises his mother’s unexpired passion. If he could cure this female waywardness then that would leave Hamlet to be the sensible fellow he was. But these women no longer guide Hamlet because of their femininity and faithlessness. His hate for them is a rejection, and a freedom. Though Hamlet’s flippant manners toward his mother, and his lover, don’t deny how love can unravel a man’s rationality, there is a stronger reason for his disposition. Hamlet’s insanity always sobered by dire events. This provides an anecdote for him to be only acting mad but to an end. How he denies himself of murdering Claudius at the confessional is a popular example, as well as his trickery to composing a play to weed out said king’s deceitfulness. The strongest example reigns from his antagonizing of Gertrude only to be leveled down by killing of Polonius. This unplanned act frightens him to reconsider his antics. To appear the better but irresponsible person, he blames the moment it on the miscalculations of insanity. Unfortunately, the repercussion drives harder than expected. Hamlet is sent away because he’s out of order, and upon his return blazes all the more wronged and aware as his procrastinated motives had brought on the death of Ophelia. The madness of Ophelia is textual, and resides on two very familiar concepts for a heretic: sex and immaturity. One features the shortcomings of a woman with passion (Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. 1623). The other spotlights how childlike women are, that they deserve guidance at every turn. The result is an appealing, literary example of how the childish women work against their best interest (Kay, Margarita A. 1998).
As she attempted to gather the herbs needed to facilitate her abortion she failed here also as it led to her accidental drowning. She was a strong woman who did all she could to help the man she loved. Her failure to help him drove her to madness and ultimately her death.
Kay, Margarita A. Healing with Plants. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. 1623. The Oxford Shakespeare
Hamlet. Ed. G.R. Hibbard. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.