Act 4 Scene 7 (continued). A sadness has fallen upon Elsinore, sadder than the day King Hamlet died. A sadness has fallen upon Elsinore. Ophelia is dead. The coroner’s report says she drowned. But we know the True Cause. She died of a Broken Heart.
Gertrude tells us how with these sad lines:
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
Could it be that with these lines Shakespeare is mourning his son, Hamnet?
As “Much Ado About Nothing” illustrates, love always overcomes hatred. But where is the love in “Hamlet”. It is only Ophelia who loves and there is none who would love her. She has a pure heart. When thinking of Ophelia, for some reason I recall another play. “Antigone.” If Lear is Oedipus, Ophelia is Antigone.
Ophelia is not mad. She has no one. She is lonely. But it is not just lonely the way you and I get lonely. It is an existential loneliness that goes to the depth of who she is. It is a loneliness without the hope of love. It is a loneliness without God. So she dies. This little girl lost. Alone.
The priest says she committed suicide. Since when does falling from a tree and getting your clothes caught on a rock in the water add up to suicide. Ophelia is Catholic. And though she may have stepped out over the edge, I don’t think she commits suicide. No, she drowns and let’s leave it at that.
Alas, Ophelia is dead. Laertes is heartbroken, and he is mourning. Mourning for the sister he never paid much attention to. Mourning for the sister he did not know.