Monday, November 12, 2012

Ophelia's Identity Through Her Death

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:

“Poor Ophelia
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.


Jacey Lawler said...

I enjoyed reading your blog post about the heart wrenching character that is Ophelia. You made some awesome points about her and her fellow characters. I particularly thought your comment on how the three men who control Ophelia being absent make her mad as she cannot function without their twisted leadership. It is awful that her first independent decision is suicide. It is so interesting that truth is spoken in her insanity and through her wild songs and that the audience finally gains some insight into Ophelia here. I noticed the words used to describe her as well and was upset at how the King and Queen reduce her to “pretty,” “sweet,” and “poor” Ophelia. Those words are so trite and reflect negatively on Claudius and Gertrude.

Sam Montagna said...

I really enjoyed your post and to be honest, I never really put too much thought into Ophelia. Perhaps, because she does not have a big role and she's easy to overlook. However, you are right, she finally speaks up and becomes noticeable when she goes crazy. Also, I agree with you that she cannot function without the men in her life to help her. Death, is a sad aspect of life but also a reality. People die. Eventually, her father would have died. Ophelia's fate, I believe, would be death no matter what circumstance her father died by.

Liz Schiavo said...

I agree with you sam, I overlooked Ophelia because she really didn't have a big role in the play until the very end. I think the songs she sings indicate having an affair with Hamlet; even though she was warned by her father and brother. Because she went behind their backs and rebelled, I think their deaths did in fact drive her crazy; feeling guilty for going against their wishes. I think her death was an act of guilt and the fact that she felt helpless and lost.

Cyrus Mulready said...

I really love your attention to the language associated with Ophelia, Kelsey--and what a nice point about this "painting" of her and the final, iconic, moment of her death. In that way her death is entirely appropriate to her life. This same treatment extends to her grave, as well, and the fighting over her body, which as we said in class seems to be a further objectification of her.