Sweets to the sweet

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.

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3 thoughts on “Sweets to the sweet

  1. elisebrucche

    I was really intrigued by your suggestion that perhaps Ophelia’s sense of guilt is linked to the fact that she is mad rather than being the cause of her madness. Traditionally, Ophelia’s guilt is interpreted as the cause of her madness, indicating that she has either a) disobeyed her father’s orders and had sex out of wedlock or b) she just cannot process the trauma of Hamlet’s slander and Polonius’s death. However, if her guilt is actually a symptom of her madness, we get a sense of Ophelia’s own anxiety regarding corruption. Having been told most of her life how important it is to be chaste, Ophelia is forced to accept a sense of self that may have been quite different from her own. However, once this externally prescribed image is destabilized (through the departure of her brother, the insults of Hamlet, and the death of her father), Ophelia would be forced to reconcile this image with the impulses she actually feels, a process that could create a profound impact on anyone’s mental state, perhaps even driving one to “madness.” Unable to stabilize her self-image and her position in society, Ophelia might very well interpret her “mad” state as mental corruption, making her feel like she is guilty when she is not.

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  2. sabrinabyrne

    I very much like the way you analyzed Ophelia’s madness. I am intrigued that you questioned the loss of her innocence not only by the possible loss of her virginity, but also through her death and Hamlet’s slandering of her name. Her madness seems to come from many different components all dealing with her love for others. First: forbidden to be with Hamlet by her father and brother, Second: being yelled at and insulted by her love, Hamlet, and lastly: the loss of her father… and possible loss of virginity? Her love for others, in the end, was her ultimate downfall.

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  3. cmstewart024

    I was interested in your post because this is what I am writing my final project on. I am looking deeper into Ophelia’s song and how it is a effect of her lack of motherly figure and extreme shaming from all of the males she encounters in her life. Ophelia is so conditioned by the male created stereotype that she is supposed to abide by she eventually just cracks. I think we see the culmination of this breakdown in the coded lyricism of her song. Great post!

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