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Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Cause of Ophelia's Insanity

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Hamlet: The Cause of Ophelia's Insanity

        Shakespeare, through his intricate uses of symbolism and dramatic

irony, arranges a brilliantly detailed account of how Hamlet's mental

upheaval served as the driving force of Ophelia's  swelling insanity  and

imminent suicide.  He floods the early acts with an impending sense of

confusion within Ophelia, for her feelings toward hamlet greatly contrast

those of her brother and father.  Ophelia begins to willingly take heed of

her family's advice as the prince finds himself removed from a lucid

pattern of thought. However, because her feelings for him are genuine, this

serves only to exalt her mental strain.  In the height of Hamlet's

incoherent rage, he provides Ophelia with the ultimate medium for her

ensuing madness.  The murder of Polonius is the greatest among many factors

that were contributed by Hamlet to the somber fate of Ophelia.


        A prelude, composed of warnings from Polonius and Laertes, is

tactfully set up by Shakespeare during Ophelia's initial appearances in the

play, aiding in the preparation for her subsequent mental deterioration.



               What is between you?  Give me up the truth.


                He hath, ny lord, of late made many tenders

               Of his affection to me.


               Affection, puh!  You speak like a green girl

               Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.

               Do you believe his "tenders" as you call them?


               I do not know, my lord, what I should think.

                                              (I, iii, ln.107-113)


Ophelia openly professes her confusion.  Polonius' response is presented in

a manner which is clearly intended to sincerely disdain Hamlet before his

daughter, making obvious his opinion of their involvement.  His intent for

her actions, however, will merely magnify her confusion.  Ophelia concedes

that she is not aware of a solution with which to halt or even improve this

situation.  For this reason, no preventive measures are taken, only

allowing the situation to worsen.


        Hamlets mind grows more and more clouded as his goal becomes clear,

and in the midst of his pervading preoccupation, he pushes Ophelia to the

point of mental breakdown.  This notion appears in the second act, after

Ophelia first sees a deranged Hamlet.



               Lord Hamlet…

               …with a look so piteous in purport

               As if he had been loosed out of hell

               To speak of  horrors -he comes before me


               Mad for thy love?


                My lord I do not know

               But I truly do fear it.

                                               (II, I, ln. 87-97)


Her confusion has evolved into a state of dread, and this dread will begin

to penetrate her consciousness as it grows more and more intense.  Polonius

suggests that Hamlet may have fallen victim to "the very ecstasy of love".

Yet, Ophelia's response is peculiar in it's morbid tone, for if love is the

liable force, she displays no form of satisfaction for it's effect on

Hamlet.  During an encounter later in the story, he tells Ophelia,



               "…I did love you once


               Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so


               You should not have believed me, for virtue

               Cannot so (inoculate) our old stock but we shall

               Relish of it.  I loved you not.


               I was the more deceived

                …And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,

               That sucked the honey of his musicked vows…"

                                  (III, I, ln.125-130,169-170)


Again, her mind is twisted by Hamlets involuntary fraudulence.  His apathy

attacks and consumes her innocence, takes grip of her mind and ultimately

destroys her spirit.  In the above quote, she describes her opinion of

Hamlet's present character, that of an untruthful user.  Moreover, however,

she feels naïve, placing undue blame on herself and enlarging the gap

between herself and reality.


        As the impending tragedy becomes increasingly apparent, Ophelia is

finally and completely consumed by the delirium of her sick mind.  The most

significant factor in this event is Polonius' murder.  Her condition is

explained by the king after she makes it obvious.



                Thick, and unwholesome in thoughts and whispers.

                For good Polonius' death, and we have done but greenly

                poor Ophelia

               Divided from herself and her fair judgment.

                                           (IV,v, ln.81-85)


Ophelia who was once nearly flawless, now moments from suicide, has been

completely mentally shattered by Hamlet and has made it quite obvious.  He

was the fate of her father, and had apparently manipulated her quite

ruthlessly.   Her demise is inevitable, for her only love had hone mad and

methodically destroyed all that was her reality.  Shakespeare is distinct

in his portrayal of this downfall.


        The obvious becomes just that when the aim of the author is

discerned through the symbolic congruencies and events which precisely

outlined the tragic decline of Ophelia's character.  The author provides a

vast amount of foreshadowing in the early acts.  The tragic hero then drags

her into the same hell that is his personal realm.  He accomplishes this by

eliminating everything that had sustained her. Eventually, a the factors

developed, she was overwhelmed by these acts, a reality becomes nothing

more than an illusion, and she falls victim to the limits of her own mind.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Cause of Ophelia's Insanity." 08 Dec 2016

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