In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, it is possible for the audience or reader to come toview Ophelia as an innocent victim trapped in the most tragic circumstances.
She was anobedient and loving daughter to her father Polonius. Ophelia obeyed him, when heordered her to stop seeing Hamlet, her love, and even when she was asked to betray herlove, acting as a decoy to allow the King and Polonius to discover the source of Hamlet’sgrief. Her naive nature is evident in this love that she has for Hamlet, even though hepromised to marry her, took her virginity, mistreated her, and finally left her. Her youngage and motherless upbringing left Ophelia completely unprepared for a crisis like thedeath of her father and the insanity of Hamlet.Order now
However, it is possible to interpret Ophelia’s eventual insanity as a result of herguilt and involvement in her own sexual rebellion. In the 1996 movie version of Hamlet,directed by Kenneth Branagh, Ophelia, played by Kate Winslet, is not portrayed as theentirely innocent girl one expects. During the course of the movie, the viewer can watchOphelia evolve from the young innocent girl to a sexual woman, and then, finally, awoman stricken with grief and insanity. The most poignant example of this metamorphosis appears in Act IV, Scene V ofShakespeare’s Hamlet.
It takes place long after Ophelia is set up by the King andPolonius to act as a pawn in their attempt to discover the reason for Hamlet’s insanity. Also prior to Act IV, Scene V, Hamlet gives the famous “Get thee to a nunnery” speech,leaving a frightened Ophelia. This scene is also the first time we see Ophelia after theaccidental murder of her father by Hamlet. This scene begins with Horatio and some gentlemen convincing Gertrude, theQueen, to speak with Ophelia, who has gone mad. Ophelia enters and speaks of love,betrayal, and her father’s death through song, verse and finally prose. She exits, justbefore her brother, Laertes, arrives.
There is a great deal of commotion because thecommoners are outside demanding Laertes be made king. Laertes storms in to confrontClaudius, the King, and accuse him of murdering Polonius. Laertes is cut off by theentrance of the mad Ophelia. She speaks somewhat nonsensically about herbs andflowers. She mentions rosemary, pansies, fennel, rue, and a daisy.
Ophelia informsLaertes that all the violets withered at the time of her father’s death. This only angersLaertes more, and the scene ends with the King promising to prove his innocence toShakespeare’s word choice for Ophelia in this scene helps the viewer to perceiveher madness. Ophelia has suddenly become an outspoken and honest critic as opposed tothe shy daughter of Polonius. She is no longer restrained by the conventions of normalspeech and social constraints.
She requests that the Queen “mark” her words which aresurprisingly filled with great beauty and insight. However, Gertrude does not heed herwarning, perceiving Ophelia as mad beyond all comprehension. Upon entering, Ophelia immediately begins speaking of her inability todistinguish between true love and lust in regard to Hamlet. She sings, “How should I yourtrue love now from another one? By his cockle hat and staff, And his sandle shoon. ” Hersong immediately changes the subject matter to the death of her father.
She sings of theburial plot and headstone and then describes the burial shroud like the color of “themountain snow. ” Ophelia speaks some gibberish about the owl and the baker’s daughter,yet reverts back to some very sexual content. She describes Hamlet using her and takingher virginity. She says, “Then up he rose and donned his clothes And dupped the chamberdoor, Let in the maid, that out a maid Never departed more.
” Then, even more explicitly,”Young men will do’t if they come to’t, By Cock, they are to blame. Quoth she, “Beforeyou tumbled me, You promised me to wed. ” This blatant reference to the phallus allowsthe viewer to perceive her sexual experience and explicit verbal skills. This song letseveryone know that Hamlet had promised to marry her before sleeping with her. Opheilathanks the King and Queen for their “council”, and exits with the tender phrase, “Goodnight, ladies, goodnight. Sweet Ladies, good night, good night.
“A few minutes later, Ophelia re-enters the scene speaking mostly of her father’sdeath. Ophelia describes Polonius’ transport to his grave by saying, “They bore himbarefaced on the bier; Hey nonny, nonny, hey nonny; And on his grave rains many atear,–Fare you well my dove!” Ophelia then describes flowers that are representative ofdifferent aspects of the play. Rosemary and pansies are given to Laertes. They symbolizethe remembrance of and thoughts about their father.
The other imaginary flowers aregiven to King Claudius, and Queen Gertrude. Fennel represents flattery, columbines arefor cuckoldry, rue for sorrow, and daisy for dissembling. Finally she says, “I would giveyou violets, but they withered all when my father died. ” In this touching line, violetssymbolize faithfulness. After the death of Polonius, ophelia felt she no long had anyoneto be faithful to. She continues singing , “For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.
” This is areference to her only remaining love and joy, Hamlet. Ophelia then exits after a few morelines in regard to the death of her father and the fact that he will never return. Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Hamlet allowed actress Kate Winslet toexplore this scene in a powerful and sexual way. Her insanity is evident from the momentOphelia appears on screen wearing a modern strait jacket and helmet. Ophelia’s face istear streaked and puffy. Her voice begins somewhat capricious yet Ophelia begins tobreathe heavily and fight the strait jacket.
Ophelia speaks almost angrily at the Queen andKing raising her voice frequently. She appears in a near violent fit when Claudius says”Conceit upon her father. ” Winslet’s Ophelia screams “Pray let’s have no words of this. “In a split second, her tone changes back to a happy whimsical song about Valentine’s dayand then Hamlet’s use of her for sex. Winslet dances about with her arms outstretched. She had a huge smile on her face and seemed very content about what happened.
After this song, one’s impression of Ophelia quickly changes due to Winslet’ssuperb acting and Branagh’s expert directing. Ophelia runs up to King Claudius andpresses her body against his while she says, “By Gis and by Saint Charity, Alack, and fiefor shame! Young men will do’t if they come to’t, By Cock, they are to blame. ” WhenWinslet’s Ophelia says “Cock,” she forcefully and sexually thrusts her pelvic region intothe King’s. Ophelia then falls to the floor and thrusts her hips up and down in a sexualmanner as she says, “Before you tumbled me, You promised me to wed.
” and “So would I‘a’ done by yonder sun, An thou hadst not come to my bed. ” Branagh made an interestingdecision during the direction of these lines. We also see a flash back of Hamlet and Ophelia having passionate sex in a bed. It is obvious Ophelia is concious of her decision,and enjoying the choice she made in this scene. This changes the viewer’s opinion of herfrom an innocent girl, to an active participant in her own destruction.
The use of thisflashback is very effective in Branagh’s movie, but would be very difficult to implementon stage. The graphic thrusting of her hips through her insanity only adds to this, turningOphelia into a very sexual being. Ophelia briefly becomes somber as she speaks of herfather’s death. She sounds bitter and angry for a moment while thanking for the “goodcounsel,” and then, finally, she is playful as she says “Good night, ladies.
. . ” Ophelia thenruns away from the King and Horatio to avoid being confined again. When Ophelia re-enters, she is almost child-like.
Her strait jacket is off and herhair is now down. Ophelia wears a large night gown that is falling off her shoulder’s. Shegiggles, smiles and plays with her hands while she happily speaks. There is a newinnocence about her but it does not purge the viewer’s mind of the former sexual memoryof her. As she gives the flowers, she demonstrates them with her hands, even acting out adaisy.
She calmly speaks and somberly sings of her father’s death. Winslet’s facialexpressions allow the viewer to see how sad Ophelia is about the subject of her father’stragic death. Finally, Ophelia exits into a padded room to stare at the wall, alone. The new interpretation of Ophelia provided by Kate Winslet’s performance allowsthe viewer to perceive her in a new light. The flowers she gives actually come to almostsymbolize her deflowered maidenhead. She is deflowering herself in a sense, because shecan not give anymore of herself to anyone.
This lack of purity and innocence eventuallyleads Ophelia to commit suicide. She fell into remorse because, she had lost her virginityby her own actions, her love, and her father. She could not live with these feelings ofregret and guilt. Thus, she committed suicide to end the pain and grief, brought on by herown actions. Ophelia is not an innocent victim.
Her sexual desires involved her in the lifeof Hamlet and lead her down a road, not to a nunnery, but to her eventual demise. Bibliography: