Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Cause of Ophelia's Insanity
Length: 833 words (2.4 double-spaced pages)
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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.
…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.
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
Divided from herself and her fair judgment.
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.