Several of the characters in Hamlet could be considered mad. Most notably, Hamlet and Ophelia characterize the idea of madness in this play.
In the case of an ingenue like Ophelia, a very young and lovely woman, Shakespeare would have been writing for a boy. The extent Hamlet and ophelia which a boy could grasp subtle nuances might have prevented the playwright from fleshing out the character more fully.
We do know that Ophelia is torn between two contradictory poles. Her heart has convinced her that Hamlet loved her, though he swears he never did.
To her father and brother, Ophelia is the eternal virgin, the vessel of morality whose purpose is to be a dutiful wife and steadfast mother. To Hamlet, she is a sexual object, a corrupt and deceitful lover. With no mother to guide her, she has no way of deciphering the contradictory expectations.
Just like Hamlet, the medieval precept that the father's word is unquestionable governs Ophelia. But her Renaissance sense of romantic love also rules her. How can she be obedient to her father and true to her love? When she lies to Hamlet and tells him that Polonius is home when he is concealed in the room eavesdropping, Ophelia proves she cannot live in both worlds.
She has chosen one, and her choice seals her fate.
The dilemma also forces her into madness. She has no way to reconcile the contradictory selves her men demand that she be and still retain an equilibrium. Ophelia's desperation literally drives her crazy, and she has no means with which to heal herself.
Next Laertes Pop Quiz! Approximately how much time has passed between the death of King Hamlet and the remarriage of Gertrude to Claudius?Hamlet: Act 4, Scene 5 Enter HORATIO, [QUEEN] GERTRUDE, and a GENTLEMAN. QUEEN 1 I will not speak with her. Gentleman 2 She is importunate, indeed distract: 3 Her mood will needs be pitied.
QUEEN 3 What would she have? Gentleman 4 She speaks much of her father; says she hears. Ophelia is a difficult role to play because her character, like Gertrude's, is murky. Part of the difficulty is that Shakespeare wrote his female roles for men, and there were always limitations on them that restricted and defined the characterizations devised.
NOTE: Don’t waste time learning off what act and scene each quote is from, it won’t gain you any extra marks in the exam. Just have a general sense of where they belong chronologically eg ‘In the nunnery scene ’ or ‘In the prayer scene ’ or ‘In the gravedigger’s scene ’ Act 1, scene 2 – Claudius conducts affairs of state, begs Hamlet not to be so melancholy, and.
Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's HAMLET, with notes and line numbers.
Hamlet's not the only one who defines Ophelia by her sexuality. Even her brother has something to say about it. In Act I, Laertes dispenses advice to Ophelia on the pitfalls of pre-marital sex (for women, not men) in a lengthy speech that's geared toward instilling a sense of "fear" into his sister.
Hamlet returns to Denmark when his father, the King, dies. His mother Gertrude has already married Hamlet's uncle Claudius, the new King. They urge Hamlet to marry his beloved Ophelia.