In class we had begun to talk about Ophelia as the virginal character within the tragedy of Hamlet who takes most of the blows from Hamlet’s preconceived method of madness. The ambiguity surrounding Ophelia’s virginal attributes end up being revealed within her maddened state brought about by Hamlet’s own unadulterated pseudo-madness. Once entering into Act IV, Scene V, the switch within Ophelia’s speech from lyric to prose indicates her downfall not only in grace but in the madness that has encompassed her after Hamlet’s “Get thee to a nunnery (3.1.139) speech. As we had spoken about in class, the duality of the “nunnery” where it would have meant going into a convent for the rest of her life or to the English audience in Shakespeare’s England, it would have meant a brothel, evoking a provocative facade to what had been the virginal, pure Ophelia that Hamlet constructed only to deconstruct as the play itself falls to pieces.
During her last scene alive, Ophelia’s maddened state as exhibited though the stage direction “Enter Ophelia, mad” (4.5.21) and as I had pointed out before, the change in the presentation of her dialogue into prose. During the scene with Gertrude, Uncle-Daddy Claudius, and Leartes the scene with Ophelia giving out her bouquet of flowers:
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray, / love, remember. And there is pansies; that’s for / thoughts [ . . . ] There’s fennel for you and, and columbines. There’s / rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it / herb-grace o’ Sundays. O, you must wear your rue / with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would give you / some violets, but they withered all when my father / died” (4.5.175-177; 179-184).
The act of her distributing the flowers could be a possible indication of Ophelia deflowering herself, just as one would be deflowered through the loss of virginity. As well, Ophelia’s title as a women had been slandered by Hamlet through the desecration of her name, by calling her a slut. In the process of her giving away the different flowers that could stand as a representation of herself, she does hold onto rue which symbolizes sorrow and repentance, whether it be for the loss of her innocence (or her impending suicide). But the repentance towards what either could be her permanent loss of innocence through death, her loss of innocence through her madness, her loss of innocence from the slandering of her name, or her loss of innocence though losing her virginity are all potential candidates to the corruption of her mind and her body through death.