Monday, November 12, 2012

The Release of Ophelia

 I have always had a hard time understanding the roles of women in the days before that of our present time. The idea of being an object of property and without any opinion or rights seems just downright unimaginable to me. Women were more of a nice piece of art that you show off to your friends and neighbors. Many of the women in Shakespeare's plays are the epitome of this perfect woman. At first, I thought Ophelia was of the same character, but it is in her last moments of life that we actually get to see who she really is.

After the death of her father Polonius, it seems as if Ophelia has a break in her reality. It is due to this break that she loses all the restraints that she once had and she finally has a voice. Ophelia expresses her anger and sadness through song, much like the average teen in our present day. Each of the songs that she sings pertains to a specific situation in her life that she was previously silent about. She focuses her songs on the death of her father and that of her relationship with Hamlet.

In respect to her father, Ophelia sings “He is dead and gone, lady/ He is dead and gone. / At his head a grass-green turf, / at his heels a stone” (4.5.28-32) to Queen Gertrude when she asks how she is doing. This shows that at the moment she is grieving for her dead father. She elaborates with another song “Larded with sweet flowers, Which bewept to the grave did—not—go/ With true-love showers” (4.5.37-39). The reason why she is so distraught is not only how her father died, but more importantly that she was unable to respectfully bury him and grieve for him since King Claudius gave him a hasty, secret burial. The death of Polonius was kept quiet so that most of the people of the state were unaware of what happened and how it happened. It might have been very possible that Ophelia was unable to publicly grieve for her father and most of the court did not grieve either because they wanted to hide what actually happened.

We also find out through her songs that she did not heed the advice of her brother and father when it comes to Hamlet. She sings about Valentine’s Day and alludes to what happened between her and Hamlet “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. 49-54). She seems as if she is reminiscing about the time that they shared and at first does not seem too upset or anger about it. It is when she sings her second song immediately after that one can better understand her feelings towards what conspired between the two of them “By Gis, and by Saint Charity, / Alack, and fie for shame! / Young men will do’t if they come to’t. / By Cock, they are to blame. / Quoth she ‘Before you tumble me, / You promised me to wed.’/ So would I’a’done, by yonder sun, / An’ thou hadst not come to my bed” (4.5.57-64). She blames Hamlet for manipulating her and getting her to sleep with him. She also claims that it is in the nature of men to do so since they want to sleep with anything that is to their liking. She also blames herself to some extent because she sings “So would I’a’done, by yonder sun, / An’ thou hadst not come to my bed.” It was not as if Hamlet came to her in the night and ravaged her; she went to him willingly and lost her virginity which ruined her and also broke her heart.

In the end, when Ophelia dies singing, it was her own way of releasing all the sadness and anger that she had experienced through her father’s death and her broken heart. It was not as if she struggled, but that she willfully went floating down the brook and drowned. This is what makes her drowning so odd and confusing when written in the play. She technically just committed suicide but Shakespeare plays it out in a different light since he does not condemn her choice but just makes it seem like a strange occurrence of a distraught female.


Hannah Hoffman said...

I love Ophelia's character when she turns mad after her father's death. She shows a stronger side to her character, now that she does not have to keep silent, she can break free and show that she has a voice. She shows her true emotions about the different men in her life.
I love how Ophelia shows her emotions, In this play she is my favorite character when she turns mad. I love the emotion of her character at this point.
I agree that her death is a symbol of her release from all the sadness and the pain that she has felt.

Cyrus Mulready said...

You provide a really interesting analysis of Ophelia's songs here, Christina, and I like how you note that she does singing, as well. That's an easy detail to overlook, but I agree that it might be Shakespeare's way of showing us that she was not of sound mind at the moment of her death (and thus justifying the Christian burial she receives). Earlier, Sam Grove mentioned that there isn't much attention paid to Ophelia, but you do her justice here!