Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Write an essay discussing the possible significance and implications of the circumstances and nature of the death of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Essay Length: 3 pages (i.e 750 words).
Each essay will assume its own length and can certainly exceed the recommended word limits.
Due: December 13, by 5:00 pm
The essay will be graded on the basis of accuracy of observation and depth of analysis of the details of the textual evidence, consideration of the literal and figurative/symbolic meanings of language and imagery, ability to make relevant comparisons and draw pertinent implications, specification of the ideas and issues embedded in the situations, relevance of the discussion to the concerns of the course, clarity and precision of the writing, and logic of the arguments.
The death of Ophelia is described in the following speech of Queen Gertrude in Act IV, scene 7, lines
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.
While you are free to decide on the specific focus and nature of your arguments, you might want to consider some of the following questions:
Is it significant that Ophelia is said to suffer from a form of madness?
Is her madness in any way similar to that of Hamlet?
What is peculiar about the manner of her death?
Is her death in any way reminiscent of or otherwise related to the death of Hamlet himself?
Do the words of the clown/gravedigger, in Act V, Scene 1, apply in some way to their situations?
Give me leave. Here lies the water; good: here
stands the man; good; if the man go to this water,
and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he
goes,–mark you that; but if the water come to him
and drown him, he drowns not himself: argal, he
that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.
Does the river in which Ophelia drowns have figurative significance beyond its literal meaning?
What are effectively the waters that engulf Ophelia?
Are those waters related to other images of dangerous agents/objects/substances that bring about the deaths of the protagonists?
How is the setting of her death related to the courtly environment?
Is her courtly attire involved in her death?
Which of her actions proves to be the most deadly?
Are these passages related to the advice of Hamlet to Ophelia, “get thee to a nunnery”?