Ophelias madness

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Ophelias madness

English Literature Books Shakespeare, it is claimed by many modern critics, was a feminist. Shapiro for example goes so far as to claim that Shakespeare was 'the noblest feminist of them all'.

Although I am inclined to agree with McLuskie that as Shakespeare 'wrote for a male entertainment', it is historically incorrect to regard him as a feminist.

I believe that Shakespeare because of his extraordinary genius for portraying human behaviour, necessarily depicted the condition of women within a patriarchal system and created women characters which in their richness, transcend the limitations of his time.

In this essay I will explore chiefly Shakespeare's treatment of the three heroine's Ophelia, Desdemona and Cleopatra, of the tragedies Hamlet, Othello and Antony and Cleopatra, beginning with an exploration of Shakespeare's representation of the effects of a patriarchal system upon the characters. Ophelia, it would seem, wholly at the mercy of the male Ophelias madness within her life, is certainly a victim figure.

Although it has been claimed by critics that Hamlet is unique amongst Shakespeare's tragic heroes for not being to Ophelias madness for the tragedy of the play, if we are to consider the death of the heroine as part of this tragedy then surely we must question Hamlet's innocence.

In Ophelias madness treatment of Ophelia, Hamlet oscillates between protests of undying love and cruelty such as his cold and accusing speech in the 'nunnery scene'. In short, Hamlet throughout the play uses Ophelia as a tool in his revenge plan. To examine this culpability more deeply however, it could be suggested that it is Queen Gertrude's behaviour that has instigated Hamlet's unforgivable treatment of Ophelia: She transgresses the patriarchal bounds of femininity by marrying so soon after her husband's death and not remaining in passive grief and obedient devotion to his memory.

This provides Hamlet with a model of women's inconstancy. His bitterness leads him to believe that all women are untrustworthy - 'Frailty thy name is woman' and as R. White puts it, Hamlet projects upon Ophelia the 'guilt and pollution' he believes exist in Gertrude's behaviour.

However we view his culpability, Ophelia suffers as a result of Hamlet's patriarchal values of womanhood.

Ophelias madness

With regard to her father and brother, the two direct ruling male forces in her life, Ophelia is also very much a victim. Unquestioningly obeying their remonstrances against pursuing a relationship with Hamlet, she rejects his advances - which of course she believes to be genuine - and thus when he pretends to be mad she believes it to be her fault.

Her speech reflects her deep and genuine sorrow: And I of ladies, most deject and wretched That sucked honey of his music vows O woe is me.

Ophelia's feeling of guilt is reinforced by Polonius's insistence to King Claudius: But Yet I do believe The origin and commencement of this grief Sprung from neglected love Polonius's conviction, in which one can't help believing, stems from a mercenary desire to marry his daughter off to such an eligible husband as the prince of Denmark, rather than a genuine belief in his daughter's role in causing Hamlet's madness.

Thus when Hamlet murders her father, Ophelia enters a double realm of guilt, believing herself to be to blame for both Hamlet's madness and her father's death. As a result she becomes mad. Although at one level this decline into madness sets Ophelia up indisputably as a victim figure, on a deeper level perhaps her madness itself can be seen as Ophelia's active rejection of patriarchal restraint.

Charney Maurice suggests that since within Renaissance drama madwomen were 'more strongly defined than madmen', and women's madness was 'interpreted as something specifically feminine', through depictions of madness dramatists were able to give women a chance to express their selfhood - 'make a forceful assertion of their being' - in a way which patriarchal conventions would otherwise have prevented.

In the later tragedy, Othello, it can also be argued that the tragedy occurs from adherence to patriarchal rules and stereotypes. Gayle Greene summarises this position in her claim that the tragedy of Othello stems from 'men's misunderstandings of women and women's inability to protect themselves from society's conception of them'.

Certainly Desdemona's very much feminised qualities of passivity, softness and obedience are no match for Othello's masculine qualities of dominance, aggression and authority. After Othello in his jealousy has struck Desdemona and spoken harshly to her, she tells Iago, 'I am a child to chiding'.

Protected by a system which makes women the weaker, dependent sex, Desdemona is unequipped to deal with such aggression; she is helpless against Othello.

Ophelias madness

As Dreher puts it 'following conventional patterns of behaviour for wives and daughters, these women lose their autonomy and intimacy and do not achieve adulthood'. Desdemona thus retreats into childlike behaviour to escape from reality.

With regard to men's misunderstandings of women, Greene points out that Iago's manipulation of Othello - the cause of the tragedy - occurs only because of 'the views of women the moor already possessed'. This is certainly a convincing argument, for Othello all-too-easily accepts a stereotypical view of his wife based on the authority of a male voice.On Hamlet's Love for Ophelia "Hamlet's love, though never lost, was, after Ophelia's apparent rejection of him, mingled with suspicion and resentment, and that his treatment of .

This is an interesting scene because it shows that Ophelia's madness has its origin in her recent experiences at Elsinore.

Before she hands out the flowers, she is singing songs to herself. When she goes mad, she sings a bawdy song about a maiden who is tricked into losing her virginity with a false promise of marriage ()—part of the reason why many literary critics see Ophelia's madness as a result of patriarchal pressure and abuse.

ESSAY QUESTIONS ON HAMLET Note: Some of the questions are examination-type questions; others are questions for learners to answer as a means to understanding the play. For the Elizabethans, Hamlet was the prototype of melancholy male madness, associated with intellectual and imaginative genius; but Ophelia’s affliction was erotomania, or .

Hamlet, in full Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, tragedy in five acts by William Shakespeare, written about – and published in a quarto edition in from an unauthorized text, with reference to an earlier regardbouddhiste.com First Folio version was taken from a second quarto of that was based on Shakespeare’s own papers with some annotations by the bookkeeper.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust