Term Paper: Hamlet the Love Theme: Figure Out Ophelia

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Hamlet

The Love Theme: Figure out Ophelia

The figure of Ophelia and the relationship that builds between her and Hamlet are extremely significant elements in the overall meaning of Shakespeare's masterpiece. It has to be noted first of all that madness is one of the most important motives of the play. As it is obvious from Shakespeare's other works, madness is correlated paradoxically with wisdom, rather than nonsense. Thus, King Lear for instance, becomes wise only when he becomes mad. The same applies to Shakespeare's fools and clowns, who, while speaking nonsense, actually reveal the truth. In Hamlet madness plays the same role as is the other pieces: Hamlet finds that the only means of dealing with the moral and philosophical choices he has to make is to feign insanity. Interestingly, the effect of his game on Ophelia is fatal: his forced cruelty towards her and his apparent madness drive Ophelia mad. Also significantly, Polonius and Claudius think that Hamlet is driven to madness by his unrequited love towards Ophelia. Polonius admits to having summoned Ophelia to reject Hamlet's advances, as a maiden was required by the social constraints: "And he, repulsed -- a short tale to make -- /Fell into a sadness, then into a fast, / Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness, / Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension, / Into the madness wherein now he raves, / and all we mourn for."(2.2. 54-59) as such, Hamlet seems to have been driven mad by his unanswered love for Ophelia. In the end however, it is Ophelia who goes truly mad because of the pain Hamlet's apparent madness causes her to feel. However, in Ophelia, as well as in Hamlet, madness functions as a true redeeming power, that makes her unveil the love she had repressed before.

Throughout the play, Ophelia is shadowed as a figure by the patriarchal discourse. She is disposed of her own will, and she is made to obey her father and her brother, and then to suffer unresisting the cruelty that Hamlet piles upon her. Because Ophelia's presence and dialogue are seldom seen nor heard in Shakespeare's Hamlet, she may appear an enigma, but in actuality just the opposite is true. Using careful observation and literary analysis, the reader catches glimpses of Ophelia's motives and intrinsic nature via her submissive tone in response to dialogue of others in the play. The patriarchal discourse should not deceive however as to Ophelia's actual value as a pure and innocent character, fully capable of unconditional love. Ophelia is genuine and empathetic.

The setting, a royal palace in Denmark, exposes Ophelia as a product of her environment forcing women into subservience. Like a subplot, Ophelia's restricted presence personifies the norms of a culture where men dominate and order women around. She seldom speaks or emerges unless prompted to do so. Her compliance is further illustrated by the patronizing tone of men who dominate Ophelia influencing and commanding her to rely upon their decisions since they view her incapable of good judgment.

For example, Ophelia's declaration that Hamlet's intentions are sincere prompts a sarcastic, incredulous, and harsh response from her father, Polonius, "Affection, pooh! You speak like a green girl un-sifted in such perilous circumstance. Do you believe in his tenders, as you call them?"(1.3.101-103).

She is further disavowed assertiveness as evidenced in the patronizing tone of her father, "Be something scanter of your maiden presence. Set your intreatments at a higher rate...Do you believe his 'tenders' as you call them?..Do not believe his vows for they are brokers... The better to beguile... I would not in plain terms, from this time forth, have you so slander any moment leisure as to give words or talk with Lord Hamlet" (1.3.121-135).

Polonius then commands, "Look to it I charge you" (1.3.132-135) and Ophelia readily acquiesces with an obedient voice that she recurrently articulates throughout the play, "I shall obey, my lord" (1.3.136).

Similarly, Laertes's dialogue is dissuasive, but his tone conveys the element of protectiveness rather than the imperative, "For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor, hold it a fashion and a toy in blood, a violet in the youth of primy nature, forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute, no more" [1.3.5-10]. "Then if he says he loves you, it fits your wisdom to far believe it. As he in his particular act and place, it fits your wisdom so far believe it. As he in his particular act and place may give his saying deed, which is no further than the main voice of Denmark goes withal" [1.3.24-28]. "Be wary then, safety lies in fear, youth to itself rebel, though none else near" (1.3.5-43-44).

Once again she is put in her place, disavowed assertiveness and a mind of her own as noted in her submissive response, "I shall the effect of this good lesson keep as watchman to my heart" (1.3.45-46).

Thus, muted into subservience, Ophelia's eventual descent into madness makes perfect sense because intrinsically she is the only genuine human in the palace. Her madness is thus a result of the sins and crimes performed by the other characters. For Shakespeare, this is the logical effect of a situation that is entirely against nature. As such, her ability to relate to, understand, or see through the corruption in her environment is impossible just as a person who would never harm a child will ever understand how another could. She has no gauge with which to measure the madness in her environment and that madness is evident in many ways.

Hamlet feigns his own insanity and that in and of itself is deviant, devious, and manipulative. Also deviant is the way in which he feigns cruelty toward Ophelia exploiting her as a pawn.

Next, Gertrude is in a perpetual state of denial that Claudius murdered her husband; thus, a deviant (i.e., insane) element of incest reigns over the court as does Gertrude's perpetual state of bewilderment about the ways in which behaviors are unraveling in the court. The answers are in front of her, but she simply chooses not to see evil, hear evil, speak evil, and the reasons for Ophelia's subsequent madness.

Further, Claudius is not only treacherous and paranoid, he is also a sociopath. He exhibits no remorse for killing his own brother and marrying his sister-in-law. Further, Ophelia's father, Polonius, is so narcissistic that to fulfill his own agenda in the palace, he exploits his own child, his own daughter into conspiring with him, Claudius, and Laertus against Hamlet, Ophelia's love.

Indeed, isolated in a castle enshrouded by this madness, Ophelia takes on the mood of the court, she is subservient no more, and like those around her, her behavior ultimately contradicts that which the court is accustomed as noted by the "gentleman," "She is importunate, indeed distract... Her moods will need be pitied... She speaks much of her father, says she hears there's tricks, i' th' world, and hems, and beats her heart, spurns enviously at straws, speaks things in doubt, that carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing, yet the unshaped use of it doth move" [4.5.2-10].

Yet another reason for Ophelia's descent into madness is that she loved and lost Hamlet toward whom she felt empathy as evidenced in her startled, distressed, and shocking disclosure to Polonius of Hamlet's madness earlier in the play (i.e., Scene II, Act I). Indeed, Ophelia's startled outcry validates her spectrum of emotions which personify love, empathy, compassion, and a state of shock as evidenced in her lucidly shocking portrayal of Hamlet, "O my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!" (2.1.75).."..With his doublet all unbraced...pale as a shirt...and with a look so piteous as if he had been loosed out of hell to speak of horrors, he comes before me... He took me by the wrist and held me hard... He raised a sigh so piteous and profound as it did seem to shatter all his bulk... He seemed to find his way without his eyes" (2.1.77-95).

Further, so deeply instilled is Ophelia's compliance that despite her love for Hamlet, she betrays him as commanded by Polonius and Claudius. This compliance is further evidenced in her response to Hamlet's invective before Polonius's death

(Act I, Scene 3). Through Hamlet's invective, Ophelia's rhetoric illustrates a woman in love expressing genuine concern and distress. Indeed, the deeper his insults, the more

Ophelia cries out for divine intervention. The deeper his insults the more concern Ophelia expresses.

"You should not have believed me... I loved you not...We are arrant knaves all;

believe none of us" (3.1.117, 118, 119, 129,130). Her response is not that of an unfeeling creature or femme fatale exploiting a mandated role of conspirator. Instead, she replies, "Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so... I was the more deceived...

Oh help him, you sweet heavens!.. "Heavenly powers restore him!... O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!.. And I, of ladies most… [END OF PREVIEW]

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