The Madness of Ophelia

1914 Words8 Pages
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince Hamlet may act like he is "mad north-northwest", but it is his lover, Ophelia, who is truly mad. Both lose their fathers at the hands of others and both have loved ones that seem to have turned against them. Unlike Hamlet, who has revenge, Ophelia ends up having nothing to hold onto. Her sanity breaks and sends her into a downward spiral, while Hamlet's remains intact. In this paper, I will show that it is the manipulation by and loss of the two men Ophelia loved most-Hamlet and her father, Polonius-which leads to her madness. There have been many theories offered-especially by psychoanalysists-concerning the cause of Ophelia's madness. Freudian theorists like Theodor Lidz attribute it to Ophelia's incestuous feelings for her father and her desire for Hamlet to take her away from, or even kill him. When this actually does occur, Lidz says Ophelia's incestuous feelings drive her mad. Victorian theorists claimed that Ophelia was a hysteric. They defined hysteria is a mental breakdown during adolescence, when a girl suffered from sexual instability. This mental illness was applied to anyone who showed what psychiatrists thought were "Ophelia-like" behaviors, "the same young years, the same faded beauty, the same fantastic dress and interrupted song" (Shakespeare, 230). Modern day theorists have attributed Ophelia's madness to schizophrenia, which puts the madness into a biochemical framework. Schizophrenia has been argued to be "an intelligible response to the experience of invalidation with the family network, especially to the conflicting emotional messages and mystifying double binds experienced by daughters" (Shakespeare, 236). These theories are lackin... ... middle of paper ... ...ne to hold onto. What made everything fall apart, and what completely ruined her, was her love for them. Works Cited Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare's Bawdy. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1969. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. By Susanne L. Wofford. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1994. Wilson, J. Dover. What happens in Hamlet. Cambridge: University Press, 1960. Works Consulted Ronk, Martha. "Representations of Ophelia." Criticism 1: 21-43. JSTOR. Web. 22 May 2015. "Hamlet." William Shakespeare: The Tragedies. Paul A. Jorgensen. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985. 47-57. Twayne's English Authors Series 415. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 22 May 2015. Goddard, Harold. "Hamlet to Ophelia." JSTOR. National Council of Teachers of English, 23 Oct. 2007. Web. 23 May 2015. .
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