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Hamlet Analysis: Ophelia's Death

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Amanda is an Advanced Placement student with college-level analysis skills.

"There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death."

-Hamlet, Act IV scene VII

Psychological Analysis

In scene VII Ophelia drowns. The nature of Ophelia's death makes the situation even more tragic: an apparent suicide. Because of Ophelia’s all-consuming grief and loss of sanity, she allows herself to drown,

Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death.”

Ophelia’s death is "muddy" in two ways: literally and metaphorically. The circumstances surrounding her death “muddy” her reputation,

Nature her custom holds, Let shame say what it will: when these are gone, The woman will be out.

The church at the time regarded suicide as a mortal sin. Ophelia is repeatedly warned to protect her virtue throughout the play, but she ultimately loses it in the most tragic way. In this way, her legacy is stained with shame and her innocence is lost.

From a psychological standpoint, Ophelia exhibits clear symptoms of trauma-induced psychosis. Her disconnection from reality is shown in her lack of concentration and attention span. She quickly addresses who is talking to her and immediately returns to her absentminded singing.

"Queen Gertrude: Nay, but, Ophelia.--

Ophelia: Pray you, mark. (Sings) White his shroud as the mountain snow,-”

Another symptom of psychosis is dissociation, or the detachment from physical or emotional experiences. However, Ophelia’s sense of reality is not completely gone, as she is subconsciously singing songs that have to do with the present situation, or the aftermath of her father’s death,

“He is dead and gone, lady, He is dead and gone; at his head a grass-green turf, at his heels a stone.”

Another obvious symptom of psychosis exhibited by Ophelia is depression; which is ultimately represented by her suicide. When Ophelia is leaving, she says goodbye to people who are not there,

“Come, my coach! Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies;good night, good night.”

This indicates that she is hallucinating and in a severe state of delusion.


Symbolism

There is an abundance of symbols in the description of Ophelia’s death. One symbol is the weeping willow.

“There is a willow grows aslant a brook, That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.”

The weeping willow was a specific choice by the author to convey her grief, or her “weeping”. The willow being “aslant” represents Ophelia’s descent into madness. The “hoar leaves” or the greyish colored underside of leaves from a willow tree, represents the dull, grey, mental state of grief. The glassy stream could possibly represent her fragile, "glassy" mental state or her “stream” of tears. The author uses diction that implies that Ophelia figuratively drowns in her own tears. Ophelia is described

“As [being] one incapable of her own distress, or like a creature native and indued unto that element.”

The author uses the simile comparing Ophelia to “a creature native and indued unto that element” in order to emphasize her familiarity with the feeling of being figuratively submerged in her own tears. Ophelia takes her collection of flowers with her when she dies,

When down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook.”

Her flowers could be a symbol of her virtue, which is repeatedly mentioned through the play. The drowning of the flowers symbolizes the death of her innocence, as she has committed suicide.

© 2019 Amanda M

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