Dr. Susan Jones
March 20, 2011
The Suicide of Ophelia Romanticized by modern females, downplayed by literary critics and somewhat overlooked by the general public, the character of Ophelia in “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” offers the reader a tantalizing mystery - did Ophelia truly commit suicide? Bear in mind that in the deeply religious culture that was the basis for the inception of Hamlet, suicide was a mortal sin, bearing with it the consequence of eternal punishment and damnation, burial in unconsecrated ground and shame to be forever associated with the deceased. Or, perhaps, was Ophelia’s death an accident, or a murder?
While there is certainly room for conjecture centering on Ophelia’s murder or on accident, it was in fact, a suicide. Ophelia’s madness and suicide are the counterpoint to Hamlet’s feigned madness and accidental death. In addition, Ophelia’s death is yet another death caused indirectly by the lust for revenge that Hamlet has, as his words spurn her into madness and into the waters of her final resting place. The causes of Ophelia’s suicide are several-fold. Firstly, Hamlet’s rejection of her is a terrible blow, not only because Ophelia cares for Hamlet, but because her position in society is tenuous at best. Her father has passed away, Laertes is absent, and she is essentially at the mercy of the King for her basic human needs. Add to this pressure the religious views on female propriety, and in her own mind, Ophelia feels as though she only has a few options. A couple options she has are to enroll herself in a nunnery as Hamlet so callously suggests prior to her descent into madness, or to marry, which Hamlet summarily rejects in his conversation with her. The unspoken choice that remains to Ophelia is death, which, of course, does carry the stigma of eternal damnation. However, Ophelia is driven mad by her situation and is undoubtedly not in a position to truly contemplate the consequences of
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