Analysis Of The Significance Of Ophelia’s Madness
The play, The Tragedy of Hamlet The Prince of Denmark, follows the story of Hamlet shortly after his beloved father’s murder. Hamlet learns that Claudius, his stepfather and uncle, poisoned his brother and the ghost of his father wants his death to be avenged. Claudius uses Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius, and Polonius’s daughter Ophelia to spy on the young prince. This caused Hamlet to lose his trust in his lover, Ophelia, and pretends to be insane to throw the spies off his plan to murder his uncle and the new king. Hamlet accidentally murders Polonius during his first attempt to kill Claudius which leads to Ophelia to become mad herself. Ophelai is seen as “…a cult figure embodying their own turbulent hopes,” (Romanska 485). The significance of Ophelia’s madness is to signify her losing two of the most important men in her life, Polonius and Hamlet. It is clear that Ophelia is grieving over the death of her father, Polonius, when Horatio says “She speaks much of her father, says she hears…” (Shakespeare IV 4-5), but a secondary cause of Ophelia’s madness may be due to her failed relationship with Hamlet as well.
The evidence suggesting that she is simply mourning her father is clear in lines from her many songs and prove she is grieving over her father like in the lines, “His beard as white as snow…” (Shakespeare IV 190-191). This line references her father because he was an older man and because of this detail it shows that Polonius’s death has taken its toll on Ophelia’s psyche causing her to sing bitter songs. There are further references to Ophelia’s father, such as “I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died,” show Ophelia’s shattered mental state, as she is constantly fixating on the death of Polonius, so much that everything reminds her of his passing (Shakespeare IV 180-181). Ophelia’s madness is overtaking her so much so that she does not even recognize whom she is talking to like her brother, Laertes. Polonius was such a vital figure in her life, she is insane beyond help and thus does not recognize her own brother nor anyone else she speaks to.
However, the sexual references in Ophelia’s songs account for her obsession with the now mad Hamlet, as in “promising his love” to her earlier in the play and then being scorned, she is doubly heartbroken by his absence alongside the death of her father. With lines like “Young men will do’t if they come to’t…” might signify an oblique reference to a promiscuous man who promises love but backs out after a brief time (Shakespeare IV 59-60). The line shortly after is, “You promised me to wed…” which might claim Hamlet to be a cause of her deteriorating mental state (Shakespeare IV 62-64). Though the man in the song has promised the speaker that they will soon wed, he has left her for no apparent reason and like Hamlet’s alleged claims of love and marriage to Ophelia, has also Hamlet broken those vows for reasons unknown to Ophelia. It is likely that Ophelia fixated upon Hamlet’s oath breaking so much that in not requiting her love, Hamlet had broken both her heart and her poor mind. Ophelia exists as a tragic character in Hamlet and one that is entirely pitiable because of unfortunate circumstances that she has been put through.
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