Analysis of The Significance of Ophelia's Madness

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Words: 569 |

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3 min read

Published: Sep 14, 2018

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Words: 569|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Sep 14, 2018

Analysis Of The Significance Of Ophelia’s Madness
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The essay explores the significance of Ophelia's madness in Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." It begins by providing background information on the play's plot, including Hamlet's quest for revenge against his uncle Claudius, who has poisoned Hamlet's father, and the role of various characters in spying on Hamlet.

The essay's thesis statement focuses on Ophelia's madness as a result of losing two important men in her life: her father Polonius and her lover Hamlet. It argues that Ophelia's descent into madness is a consequence of the oppressive forces acting on her.

The analysis delves into the patriarchal oppression Ophelia faces, with her father treating her as a possession and dictating her romantic choices. Polonius's interference in her relationship with Hamlet and his intrusion into her private affairs contribute to her mental distress.

The essay also highlights Ophelia's grief over her father's death and her fixation on it through her songs and references. Her songs reflect her shattered mental state and obsession with death and loss.

Additionally, the essay discusses the sexual references in Ophelia's songs, suggesting that her madness is compounded by Hamlet's rejection and broken promises of love and marriage.

Introduction: The play, The Tragedy of Hamlet The Prince of Denmark, follows the story of Hamlet shortly after his beloved father’s murder. Background: Hamlet learns that Claudius, his stepfather and uncle, poisoned his brother and the ghost of his father wants his death to be avenged. Claudius uses Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius, and Polonius’s daughter Ophelia to spy on the young prince. This caused Hamlet to lose his trust in his lover, Ophelia, and pretends to be insane to throw the spies off his plan to murder his uncle and the new king. Hamlet accidentally murders Polonius during his first attempt to kill Claudius which leads to Ophelia to become mad herself. Ophelai is seen as “...a cult figure embodying their own turbulent hopes,” (Romanska 485). Thesis statement: The significance of Ophelia’s madness is to signify her losing two of the most important men in her life, Polonius and Hamlet. It is clear that Ophelia is grieving over the death of her father, Polonius, when Horatio says “She speaks much of her father, says she hears...” (Shakespeare IV 4-5), but a secondary cause of Ophelia’s madness may be due to her failed relationship with Hamlet as well.

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Topic sentence: Ophelia begins her own descent into madness, as her family possesses and oppresses her feelings, and the man she loves declares he did not ever love her. Further, he alludes to her being a whore as she should "get thee to a nunnery" which has a duality, more so than the meaning of a place of the Christian faith, this terminology also stood for brothels. Furthermore, Hamlet also uses Ophelia to rant on his hatred for women as a whole, furthering the patriarchal misogyny of the early modern period. He claims how all women are liars and not to be trusted with painted faces. Consequently, Ophelia's oppression pushes her further and further into madness until suicide, and this is the cost to Ophelia as she is entirely compliant with those around her.

Furthermore, her father Polonius treats Ophelia as his possession, and he also believes Hamlet not to be of best intentions for Ophelia. However, although he agrees with Laertes that Ophelia is a "green girl", he poses a different stance to her brother's assertions. Polonius believes that Hamlet wishes to take her virginity and attempts to talk her out of her love for him, thus introducing familial devotion as Ophelia agrees to no longer see Hamlet; she succumbs to her oppression as she states, "I shall obey, my lord". Even as "Polonius is deliberately unconcerned with what his daughter feels", much as her brother is, Ophelia assumes the role of the dutiful sister and daughter and agrees to call off her romance. Polonius takes his patriarchal oppression further when he insists on listening when Ophelia returns the presents Hamlet gifted to her during their relationship. This further intrusion by her father shows, again, his neglect of Ophelia's emotions, as she readily agrees to speak with a man she had not long told him she had "been so affrighted".

Evidence & citing: The evidence suggesting that she is simply mourning her father is clear in lines from her many songs and prove she is grieving over her father like in the lines, “His beard as white as snow...” (Shakespeare IV 190-191). This line references her father because he was an older man and because of this detail it shows that Polonius’s death has taken its toll on Ophelia’s psyche causing her to sing bitter songs. There are further references to Ophelia’s father, such as “I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died,” show Ophelia’s shattered mental state, as she is constantly fixating on the death of Polonius, so much that everything reminds her of his passing (Shakespeare IV 180-181). Ophelia’s madness is overtaking her so much so that she does not even recognize whom she is talking to like her brother, Laertes. Polonius was such a vital figure in her life, she is insane beyond help and thus does not recognize her own brother nor anyone else she speaks to.

Commentary: However, the sexual references in Ophelia’s songs account for her obsession with the now mad Hamlet, as in “promising his love” to her earlier in the play and then being scorned, she is doubly heartbroken by his absence alongside the death of her father. With lines like “Young men will do’t if they come to’t...” might signify an oblique reference to a promiscuous man who promises love but backs out after a brief time (Shakespeare IV 59-60). The line shortly after is, “You promised me to wed...” which might claim Hamlet to be a cause of her deteriorating mental state (Shakespeare IV 62-64). Though the man in the song has promised the speaker that they will soon wed, he has left her for no apparent reason and like Hamlet’s alleged claims of love and marriage to Ophelia, has also Hamlet broken those vows for reasons unknown to Ophelia. It is likely that Ophelia fixated upon Hamlet’s oath breaking so much that in not requiting her love, Hamlet had broken both her heart and her poor mind. Ophelia exists as a tragic character in Hamlet and one that is entirely pitiable because of unfortunate circumstances that she has been put through.

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Conclusion paragraph: Perhaps if Ophelia didn’t live in a world where social constructs and hierarchies dictated how she had to live her life, she wouldn’t have had to find peace only in death. It is our responsibility to build a world that is not held down by social constructs like gender or class to prevent future deaths of those like Ophelia. It would be impossible to tell that it is those social constructs that led her to death without all of the natural references in Gertrude’s monologue. Stripped of any of the references, Gertrude’s monologue says only that Ophelia, wearing a dress that spread wide, fell. She sang, and “ incapable of own distress” she drowned. Everything else that is revealed is dependent on references to nature that give a deeper view of Ophelia’s connection to nature and the conflicts that led to her distress, madness, and death. This monologue proves that metaphors matter and provide a lot of insight into what is going on just beneath the surface.


  1. Dane, G. (1998). Reading Ophelia's Madness. Exemplaria, 10(2), 405-423. (
  2. Bialo, C. (2013). Popular performance, the broadside ballad, and Ophelia's madness. SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 53(2), 293-309. (10.1353/sel.2013.0014)
  3. Camden, C. (1964). On Ophelia's Madness. Shakespeare Quarterly, 15(2), 247-255. (
  4. Bostrom, M. (1996). Women in Madness: Ophelia and Lady Macbeth. Articulāte, 1(1), 6. (
  5. Gates, S. (2008). Assembling the Ophelia fragments: gender, genre, and revenge in Hamlet. Explorations in Renaissance Culture, 34(2), 229-248. (

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Background close-button

Provides a foundational overview, outlining the historical context and introducing key information that will be further explored in the essay, setting the stage for the argument to follow.

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Analysis Of The Significance Of Ophelia’s Madness. (2023, February 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from
“Analysis Of The Significance Of Ophelia’s Madness.” GradesFixer, 28 Feb. 2023,
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