Hamlet as an Accessory to Ophelia's Suicide
William Shakespeare's character of Ophelia in Hamlet, suffers greatly, from the time she learns of her father Polonius' death, until her own mysterious death. In Hamlet, Gertrude, Horatio and Claudius refer to her state, and conclude that she is crazy1. Though there is some truth to their claim, Shakespeare created Ophelia as an overly- dramatic character, who is somewhat exaggerating her emotions to give an impression of madness. Although their impression of Ophelia can be supported, evidence is not shown as much in her words, as it is shown in her actions. Ophelia's songs seem like riddles and nonsense2, yet they are similar to the patterns of speech by Hamlet, revealing truths and true emotions, and at times sarcasm. However, Ophelia's whimsical, and child-like behavior is quite different than the prim, reserved Ophelia at the beginning of the play. Still, this behavior is not consistent with the sad words in her grief-laden songs, nor is it consistent with a woman in grief rather Ophelia's physical behavior is the strongest evidence that Ophelia may exhibit signs of madness. Hamlet's act to convince his insanity to all that knew him influenced Ophelia to perform following Hamlet's lead with his feigned madness, eventually leading to the girl's suicide, thus implicating Hamlet in her death.
In act four, scene five; Gertrude and Horatio discuss Ophelia's worsening condition directly prior to her entrance. They attribute the young girls' decline to her concern for her recently dead father. Ophelia displays signs of being overly sensitive and volatile, which concerns Horatio: "Spurns enviously at straws, speaks things in doubt / That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing;"3 Horatio states the important truth that even though Ophelia appears mad, her words are not completely nonsense or words that a mad person would say, instead they make half sense. Carol Thomas Neely postulates that Ophelia's perceived madness is described as a combination of feigned and actual madness4, however she does not make it clear where the feigned madness is from, and who possesses genuine madness. Through close examination of act four, scene five, as well as other pertinent scenes, it can be shown that Hamlet's own feigned madness, and his attempts to fool the court into thinking he is insane is internalized by Ophelia to the point where she actually becomes mad. Though her madness is partially feigned, she is not aware of this, and Hamlet's detrimental influence eventually causes her to go insane, and to subsequently commit suicide.
Claudius, Horatio and Gertrude consider Hamlet and Ophelia as mad, and Neely suggests that her songs and poems of described madness are actually rational reactions to the immense loss and tragedy and the madness, which she exhibits, is a reflection of her lost love's pretended madness. Ophelia suffered immense loss...