Hamlet and Ophelia's Madness Essay

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Madness. Although to most it seems like a simple mental betrayal, William Shakespeare's use of madness throughout Hamlet creates a sense of not just mind breakdown, but society breakdown. Two main characters give madness in the play, one is a fake, and one is all too real. In order to confuse Claudius, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, chose to act mad. Ophelia, on the other hand, is insane due to multiple factors accumulating, such as isolation, distrust, and grief. Ophelia starts the game as a naive, trusting and happy young girl, full of promise and full of life. Yet her view of people and the world in general is being corrupted all too soon. Her brother warns Hamlet to play with her affections and to 'fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister...' (1.3.33). He implants the seeds of distrust and betrayal with these simple words. Throughout much of the game, from the King's assassination to Polonius ' relentless espionage, these themes of mistrust and deception are interwoven.

Not long after her conversation with Laertes, Polonius wants to have a straightforward talk about her friendship with Hamlet with Ophelia. He has no empathy for her emotions and uses her as an information source to strengthen his political position. Also, he speaks about how you can't trust all that people say. He says, 'even in their promise, as it is a-making, you must not take for fire' (1.3.119-120). Once again, this theme of 'not everything is what is seems' pops up again. 'Something is rotten in Denmark'. Something is not right in Denmark. In society in general. And eventually, something will not be right in Ophelia's mind.

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There are many factors driving the ultimate insanity of Ophelia. Isolation is one of these. Her brother's heading for France. Hamlet is dismissing her. Her dad is dying. She has no one left. Although Hamlet claims to be alone, he has Horatio at least. There is no one from Ophelia. And so, her brain cracks in this fragile state and unlocks inside the insanity. While this safety break is a terrible thing, it can be considered very fair. This poor girl has gone from being patient, innocent, and happy to being heartbroken, furious, puzzled, and grieved. This would, of course, lead to a break in her health! From this place of love, joy, and safety, her whole world has changed into one of brokenness and deception.

After the death of Ophelia's father in Act 3, 'kills the unseen good old man' (4.2.11-12), Ophelia gets quite disturbed. She enters ballads singing even talking nonsense in Act 4. She sings these conversation ballads of love. Even though she's lost her heart, she's telling the truth. She can speak the realities of society now that her mind is unleashed. 'Lord we know what we are, but know not what we may be' (4.2.16-18) She's going mad because she's figuring out what other things may be whether it's good or bad. Yet, in Hamlet's case, this tends to lean towards the wrong side. Yet Ophelia sees the dark and evil side of society. Sending her over the brink is this dark and evil side. This dark and evil side is evident throughout the whole play and plays a crucial role in Ophelia's mental state disintegration. Interestingly, Ophelia's mental disintegration draws a parallel to Denmark's government disintegration. The Kingdom's corruption and evil eventually causes the political powers to collapse, and Norway's Fortinbras takes over.

Ophelia eventually takes her life in that haunting scene of a young girl, 'fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide...chanted snatched of old lauds...garments heavy with their drink...pulled the poor wretch....to muddy death' (4.7.173-181). She sees the world at this point as this awful, crazy place where she can't live anymore. She is taking the leap that can not be made by Hamlet. Her death marks her life's lowest point. She has come to realize that not all men are good, not all people are truthful, and this does not seem to be the universe in which she lives. It's not all full of rainbows and sunshine. It is full of covetousness, anger, sadness, and treason.

Ophelia’s madness represents the evilness of the society we live in. It shows the madness and darker side of the world, and the people who live in it.

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