.. O, woe is me, t' have seen what I have seen, see what I see!" (3.1. 116-164). The connotation is that her heart is breaking. This scene combined with her original startled outcry to Polonius in Act I further illustrates that Ophelia was in love with Hamlet, and that she did not meet him with ill intent despite the ulterior motives of everyone else.
This further builds upon previous evidence of Ophelia's subservience and accommodation to those in authority. She shut up when ordered to do so and followed orders when commanded even at her own expense subjecting herself to Hamlet's caustic degradation, "You should not have believed me...Get thee to a nunnery
I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck... Go they ways to nunnery. If thou dost marry, I'll give thee plague for thy dowry... Or if thou wilt marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.
To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell... God hath given you one face, and you
Make yourselves another...I say we will have no moe marriage...To a nunnery, go"
Despite his malice, Ophelia loves him, but only after she has slipped into insanity will she openly articulate this love, "How should I your true love know from another one? By his cockle hat and staff, and his sandal shoon [a cockleshell on the hat was the sign of a pilgrim who had journeyed to shrines overseas. The association of lovers and pilgrims was a common one]" (4.5.23). Further, "Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day, all in the morning betime, and I a maid at your window, to be your valentine. Then up he rose and donned his clothes, and dupped the chamber door, let in the maid that out a maid never departed more" (4.5.46-55). "Quoth she, 'Before you tumbled, you promised me to wed.' He answers, 'So would I 'a' done, by yonder sun, and though hadst not come to my bed"(4.5.64-66).
Moreover, earlier in the play Polonius read to Gertrude and Claudius a love letter from Hamlet to Ophelia, a letter personifying the straightforward discourse of lovers offering more proof that Ophelia and Hamlet were intimate. "To the celestial, and my soul's idol, the most beautiful Ophelia. In her excellent white bosom, these, & c. Good madam, stay awhile, I will be faithful, doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love... I have not art to reckon my groans; but that I love thee best, O most best, believe it. Adieu. Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him, HAMLET" (2.2.109-124).
In light of the aforementioned, it is likely that when Ophelia spoke of Hamlet to Polonius and Laertes, she hoped for their approval rather than admonishment. Yet despite her love for him, she followed the commands of Polonius, once again substantiating her subservience.
It is also likely that Ophelia's madness drove her to suicide despite Gertrude's and the coroner's assertion that Ophelia's death was an accident, "The coroner... finds it a Christian burial" (5.1.4). But most credible is the sexton who has been long employed "of all the days I th' year...(5.1.146) and is thus knowledgeable and observant of these cases as evidenced in his rhetoric denoting logical deduction. He contends that Ophelia drowned herself, but as a "gentlewoman" she was permitted a Christian burial....
Further, the theme of secrecy -- disguise and veneers -- is a recurrent motif which also adds credibility to the "clown's" hypothesis.
His credibility is further denoted in his accurate discourse to Hamlet not knowing it is Hamlet with whom he speaks, "Cannot you tell that? Every fool can tell that. It was that very day that young Hamlet was born -- he that is mad, and sent to England" (5.1.149-151); factual, yet not factual, but only because Hamlet has guarded so well his secret, his veneer of insanity.
In addition, the doctor who presides at Ophelia's funeral states, "Her death was doubtful... She should in ground unsanctified been lodged till the last trumpet" (5.1. 229, 231).
Ophelia was a complex human. She had a conscience despite the fact that those in her sphere were devoid of one. The theme of the play is madness woven in and out of devious dialogue and impassioned rhetoric. Shrouded in mystery, everyone but she was devoid of sick secrets, malice, devious schemes, and a perpetual state of denial as evidenced in her dialogue brimming with honesty and sincerity. Simply stated, she especially was protective and genuine, but a victim of norms in a setting of political intrigue dominated by men. Thus, and as a female, Ophelia was readily manipulated by all and accommodated all, including Hamlet who loved her, at her own expense.
The tragic flaw, Hamlet's feigned madness and modus operandi of revenge, not only drove Ophelia to madness, but to her grave. Thus, she was human as evidenced in her ultimate demise. Amazingly courageous, she withstood extreme abuse and manipulation. As mandated, she never thought of herself and there is only so much abuse and loss one human can endure. She was isolated without a mother, without any friends.
Her father, Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, and Laertes were all she had, and they were a twisted lot indeed. She adored her father and she adored Hamlet, always at their beck and call, consistently compliant.
Shakespeare ensures that Ophelia's character is invariably enveloped with flowers. In literature, this is not by chance. The flowers around Ophelia are but motifs personifying her purity, innocence, vulnerability, and fragility, foreshadowing the grave into which she is led. She loved unconditionally while those around her would not and that is what made her the bravest and noblest of them all, the real protagonist of the play despite her figuratively assigned role in a subplot of the setting.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York:…
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