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Sweet Ophelia, Or Not? Essay

1827 words - 7 pages

Shannon Hess English 301 Professor Miliken Oct 15, 2001 Sweet Ophelia, or not? I desperately tried to make myself write this report on Hamlet's madness. I had planned to compare/contrast Hamlet and Ophelia's mental states to prove that Hamlet was not actually insane. In studying about Ophelia and trying to understand why she went mad, I became increasingly curious about Ophelia's chastity. The idea that Hamlet and Ophelia had a sexual relationship is lacking in hard evidence, but the slightest possibility makes it probable, doesn't it? Many of the interactions concerning Ophelia in the play would be easier to understand if, in fact, there was a sexual relationship. Does this mean that Hamlet was correct in generalizing all females as lustful harlots? Certainly not. Ophelia loved Hamlet and she believed that Hamlet loved her as well. Hamlet had promised to marry Ophelia and she trusted his word. A sexual relationship would have been kept quiet, but it would not have been unheard of. Without a sexual relationship, and with a perfect, good, chaste Ophelia, Hamlet's attitude would be based completely on what he saw as his mother's infidelity and betrayal. Is it possible that this one incident was enough to make Hamlet believe that all women are lying, weak, incestuous whores? Two lines in the play make it easy to assume that Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia is because of his generalization of all women. The first appears in Act I, Scene II, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" (Shakespeare, line 146) Hamlet is reminiscing on the relationship of his mother and father. It is obvious that Hamlet feels betrayed by his mother. All of his life he has seen her loving his father and hanging on him "as if increase of appetite had grown/ By what it fed on," and then within a month she marries his father's brother (Shakespeare, line145). The image he has of his mother is shattered. He feels that in her weakness and lust she betrayed the King Hamlet, thus destroying Hamlet's trust in her and perhaps all women. The second incidence of specific generalization occurs in Act III, Scene II. Ophelia comments that the prologue of the play is brief. Hamlet replies, "As a woman's love" (Shakespeare, line 153). This is referring to the Queens brief period of mourning for her deceased husband, and "o'erhasty marriage" (Shakespeare, line 56). Hamlet projects this shallowness on all women. Without the ability to view Hamlet's relationship with any other females, we can only assume that Gertrude's relationship with Claudius causes Hamlet to distrust all women. But if Ophelia had been perfect in purity, wouldn't Hamlet falter in that assumption for a moment? Could he not realize that Ophelia had been the epitome of goodness? Ophelia was raised by her overprotective father and brother who obviously didn't approve of Ophelia having a relationship with another man. Yet somehow Hamlet and Ophelia had managed to have a relationship serious...

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