Gertrude and Ophelia’s Death in Hamlet
The Queen gives a remarkably detailed account of Ophelia’s death leaving one to believe that she may have witnessed the event. We know that she emphasized with Ophelia’s suffering to such an extent that perhaps she realized that the kindest action to take would be to let Ophelia decide her own fate, although she clearly was not in a fit state of mind to do this and was barely aware of her surroundings “incapable of her own distress.” Ophelia’s death is “beautified” as she dies in a romantic and beautiful scene befitting her character where she was surrounded by her garland of flowers. (Ophelia herself was “beautified” in a letter from Hamlet which Polonius found to be a “vile phrase.”) There is much detail, leading me to believe that Gertrude is trying to soften the blow for Laertes who is already enraged over his father’s death and his sister’s madness; the King says, “How much I had to do to clam his rage.” This is a typically selfish reaction of Claudius which serves to emphasize the need for Laertes to control his grief, as he is an extremely fiery character.
Ophelia died after collecting flowers from over a brook. I think that she was collecting them to distribute to the court, as she did after her father’s death. Flowers are a symbol of innocence, pure and easily destroyed. The tree she was crawling along whilst collecting these garlands was a willow, which is usually associated with weeping and grief, something we have assigned to the “watery” (perhaps with tears) character of Ophelia. The branches of a willow hang down towards the ground in a downcast fashion, indicating grief. The personification even extends to her garments that were “too heavy with heir drink.” The “hoar leaves” which symbolize the silvery gray color which comes with age, emphasize the youth and innocence of Ophelia, who spent her entire life being used by people, especially by her father who treated her as an animal seen in his reference to his ability to “loose my daughter to him (Hamlet.)”
Ophelia had many different types of flowers in her garland, of contradicting symbolism behind each one, and I believe they were to symbolize other’s attitudes. In this particular collection, Ophelia has included “crow-flowers” which symbolize a virgin, presumably collected to represent herself; “nettles” which sting people, perhaps these are for Claudius and refer to “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown;” “daisies” which symbolize deception in love affairs, perhaps these are intended for Hamlet (although Ophelia in her madness has already mistaken Laertes for her “love;” “long purples” which are given a “grosser name” by “liberal shepherds” as the roots look like male genitalia. “Cold maids” chaste, innocent virgins, refer to them as “dead men’s fingers” which has a phallic connection, suggesting that Ophelia has never been touched, and is indeed a “cold maid.” “Cold” because she has...