Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bad Parenting

Ophelia has legitimately gone insane, and it is largely due to bad parenting on the part of Polonius. She is a fairly flat character, who, like various other women in Shakespeare’s plays (Gertrude being one of them), is seen in terms of her sexuality, chastity, and ability to reproduce, and shows no evidence of having a mind of her own as she is consistently told what to do and think by the men in her life, particularly her father. Because she is accustomed to having little to no control over her life and to live off of the instructions given to her by men, she becomes lost after her father’s death and goes completely mad. She speaks mostly through song in act 4; this is a moment in Shakespeare play where song is meaningful and the lyrics should be closely considered (like a couple of the songs in Much Ado About Nothing).
Right away, in her talk with Gertrude in scene five, she sings, “How should I, your true love know / From another one?” (IV.v.22). She expresses confusion and is perhaps questioning her feelings for Hamlet which stands to reason given the history of their relationship. Throughout Ophelia’s entire relationship with Hamlet, she has been told how to act and feel by her father and Laertes. In fact, it is quite likely that throughout her entire relationship with Hamlet, she never acted on account of solely her own feelings, without the influence of her father and brother’s opinions and demands. Because of her dependency on her father--especially in relation to her relationship with Hamlet--she is left not only without a father, but also with a lack of direction and mind of her own. 

It is part of a parent’s job to encourage their children to think for themselves and to make their own decisions in order to better prepare them to go out into the world as an individual, away from their parents. Polonius does not prepare Ophelia for a life without him at all. He essentially raises her to be dependent on the men in her life, not encouraging her to develop her own sense of self, individuality, or independence. He does not account for their potential separation/his death and therefore leaves her feeling lost, confused, and vulnerable which leads to her eventual insanity. Maybe it was normal to raise daughters to be dependent on men in those days, or maybe this situation just further characterizes Polonius as being controlling of his daughter. Either way, it is an irresponsible and unfair way to raise a child as it leaves them defenseless against the world on their own. Polonius illustrates a sheer lack of good parenting throughout the play. Not only is he controlling of Ophelia, but he shows little concern for Laertes as well, and when he does concern himself with him, it is only to ensure that he is not tarnishing the reputation of the family as Laertes is said to be somewhat of a reckless young man who gets into trouble without regard for others--a stereotypical product of bad parenting.

3 comments:

Sam Montagna said...

I never thought about Polonius as a parent or his parenting style. I think you are correct that Polonius does not raise Ophelia to be a strong woman that can take care of herself. However, while Polonius is a bad parent, I do not think it is because of lack of love. I think Polonius loves his daughter too much that he wants to do everything for her so she does not have to worry. He does not account for their separation because he does not believe it will happen. Usually controlling parents love their children too much, which can be unhealthy sometimes, and it has a lasting effect on their dependent children.

Julian Mocha said...

I agree mostly with what Sam commented above; while Polonius' parenting styles hadn't crossed my mind before, I don't think it's necessarily his fault that Ophelia is reliant on men and a fragile being. I think this can be largely accounted for the time period in which Shakespeare is writing and overall expectations for women, rather than Polonius himself. I would argue that this post would be more accurately titled "Bad Societal Expectations" than "Bad Parenting". It's hard, as independent women who see this image of independence and capability reflected in our culture, to recognize that in Shakespeare's time independence and free-thought in a women were actually detrimental and rarities. If your only option is to marry a man and reep the benefits of his success, you best marry a good and successful one because your own success and intelligence won't serve you very well! I'd also wager that Ophelia's irresponsible decisions throughout the play which seem short-sighted to us are definitely of her own fault rather than that of her father's (especially once he is dead and unable to boss her around anymore!)

Samantha Grove said...

I totally agree with Julian. During the time in which Hamlet was written, Polonius's parenting style would be considered sober and admirable. Of course, he could have and should have taken his daughter's needs and desires into consideration when making decisions affecting her but he can hardly be blamed for her madness in its entirety. It seems to me that Shakespeare empathizes with the plight of women in his plays not only explicating their struggles within a sexist society but showing them a way out. Shakespeare gives Ophelia plenty of opportunities to rise above her situation and at least express herself to her father but she doesn't take any of them. She passively accepts her "fate". This may be far from the mark but maybe Shakespeare is calling women to take a stand?