Hamlet, Ophelia's Decent to Madness

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In Hamlet, madness is portrayed through both Hamlet and Ophelia, but while Hamlet feigns his insanity, Ophelia truly goes insane by her father's murder, and the unjust harshness of Hamlet. They each share a common connection: the loss of a parental figure. Hamlet loses his father as a result of a horrible murder, as does Ophelia. In her situation is more severe because it is her lover who murders her father and all of her hopes for her future as well. Ultimately, it is also more detrimental to her character and causes her melancholy and grief to quickly turn to irretrievable madness.

As Hamlet feigns away insanity, Ophelia begins to descend into true madness. In Act 3, scene 1, line 91 Hamlet begins with his malicious sarcasm toward her. "I humbly thank you, well, well, well," (ActIII.i.166) he says to her regarding her initial pleasantries. Hamlet readily refuses that he cared for her. He tells her and all of his uninvited listeners, "No, not I, I never gave you aught" (166). Her shock is genuine when Hamlet demands "get thee to a nunnery" (168). The connotations of the dual meaning of "nunnery" is enough in and of itself to make her run estranged from her once loving prince, and it is the beginning or her sanity's unraveling as well. Hamlet's melancholy permits him the flexibility of character to convey manic-depressive actions while Ophelia's is much more overwhelming and painful.

When it happens that Hamlet accidentally slays Polonius, he does not appear to be thinking of the potential effect of his actions on Ophelia. Hamlet has sealed her fate. Throughout the entire murder scene in Act 3, Scene 4, Hamlet does not remark about the damage he has done to Ophelia. His emotional upswing is devoted entirely to his mother, and while his emotions are not an imitation, he does admit that "It is not madness that I have uttered…but my madness speaks (ActIII.iiii.232). Ophelia is then left to mourn her father, but it is not his death alone that spurns her...
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