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Ophelia's Madness Essay

1015 words - 4 pages

The character of Ophelia is an excellent element of drama used to develop interpretations of Shakespeare’s text. At the beginning of the play, she is happy and in love with Hamlet, who first notices her beauty and then falls in love with her. The development of Ophelia’s madness and the many factors that contributed to her suicide are significant parts of the plot. “Her madness was attributed to the extremity of her emotions, which in such a frail person led to melancholy and eventual breakdown” (Teker, par. 3). The character of Ophelia in Zieffirelli’s version is the personification of a young innocent girl. “Her innocence is mixed with intelligence, keen perception, and erotic awareness” (Teker, par. 13). This Ophelia is a victim of a distrustful lover and an authoritative father. She is an obedient daughter, who is controlled by her father Polonius, an advisor to King Claudius. Therefore, she believed she had to do everything her father told her to, which caused her to stifle her love and hurt Hamlet, the man she loved (Hamlet). In Branagh’s version, Ophelia is more emotionally mature and physically stronger. The reasons for her madness are outcomes “of her frustrated romance with [Hamlet] as well as her status as a pawn of all the men in her life” (William Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Teker, par. 17). The experiences she encountered with Hamlet result in great anguish to her. Specifically, he did not marry her when he had promised to do so. On St. Valentine’s Day, she alludes to this by singing a song about a maid whose lover also did not marry her as he promised (Shakespeare 4.5.24-64). She was constantly conflicted by what her father wanted, what Hamlet wanted, and what she wanted.
In one scene, Laertes warns Ophelia about Hamlet, saying that even though he might love her now, his feelings will change in the future. After this conversation, Polonius talks to Ophelia about Hamlet as well. He tells Ophelia that Hamlet isn’t good for her. He says “Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers” (Shakespeare 1.3.127). Then, Polonius commands her to stay away from Hamlet. When this scene is acted in Zeffirelli’s version, Ophelia gets upset with Polonius and storms off after she says “I shall obey my lord” (Hamlet; Shakespeare 1.3.136). In Branagh’s version, Polonius is angrier at Ophelia. He pushes her into a confessional, and after he recites his speech, he walks away. Then, Ophelia says the line “I shall obey my Lord” in her head while she has flashbacks of being with Hamlet (William Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Shakespeare 1.3.115-136).
In another scene, Polonius orders Ophelia to return the gifts that Hamlet gave her, and to make her rejection of him unmistakable and absolute. Polonius believes that if she is the cause of Hamlet’s madness, this would be the proof. “That Hamlet loses his mental stability is arguable from his behavior toward Ophelia…” (Foster, par.16) In Branagh’s version, we see how terribly this tears...

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