I think it was previously mentioned in class that Ophelia’s character is remembered for her death, rather than anything she did while alive throughout the play.
In Act 4 Scene 5, throughout her insane song and mindless chatter, Gertrude and Claudius attempt to interject and get her to be quiet, constantly oppressing her just as everyone else throughout the play has always done. However, she will not be silenced for once because it has taken her to go completely insane in order to speak exactly what is on her mind, even though her mind is described as being distracted at this point. The way that the king and queen refer to her while attempting to appease her is condescending, constantly being described as, “pretty lady,” “pretty Ophelia,” and “sweet lady.” They are relating her to the imagery of a flower by describing the delicateness and fragile state she is in. Claudius says of her:
Divided from herself and her fair judgment,
Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts” (4.5.60-62).
This view sets up her death in a way that gives the excuse of helplessness. If she is merely a beast, or a picture, what else can she do but kill herself? Her judgment and state of mind have been changed and she is crazy with grief, which is understandable for a girl mourning the father that she so heavily depended upon, but to Claudius, she is a simple girl that has been objectified into a simple image that no longer has any type of judgment to recover and live properly. For a character like Ophelia, her life has constantly been dictated by the men around her: Polonius, Laertes, and Hamlet. Polonius has now died, she believes Laertes to still be gone, and Hamlet is a murderer that has been sent away. It is almost as if her character cannot exist within the realm of this play without being directed by male authority. Her reference of purpose has been taken away, therefore leaving her with nothing but the image of what she was believed to be, a pretty girl.
The representation of her death is iconic to the representation of her character in that she has been reduced to nothing more than an image of a fragile girl, surrounded by flowers, as she takes herself away from a life without direction in which she knows nothing about. The fragility of the flowers depicts the frailness of her sense of self. She no longer exists outside the realm of her appearance; her identity has been taken by the disappearance of those who controlled her life. Her life has been reduced to the image of her death.
It is sad that the first choice she seems to make for herself is one of suicide.