Hamlet: Ophelia’s Finale

Gertrude: Sweets to the sweet. Farewell! (scatters flowers)
I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife.
I thought thy bride-bed to have decked, sweet maid,
And not have strewed thy grave. Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 5 Scene 1 (continued). Everything has conspired against Ophelia. She can’t even get a decent burial. The priest won’t bury her in consecrated soil. She was a suicide, or so everyone believes.

She is so like Shylock. At the end of it all, she is a woman without family or country or love or even religion.

She is ultimately the tragic hero of Hamlet. Hamlet has choices. She does not.

Gertrude has choices. Ophelia does not.

Everybody gets to choose. Not Ophelia.

This is why Ophelia is so hard to play.

Think about this. Ophelia’s mother is dead or maybe she went insane. Now Ophelia is at the mercy of her father and her brother. Polonius and Laertes are a lot to handle.

Again and again Shakespeare reveals the terrible plight of women. Ophelia and Juliet are at the mercy of the pleasure of their fathers. They command their daughters to marry Paris or leave Hamlet out standing in the rain. Hero is falsely accused of indiscretion in Much Ado About Nothing. Only Benedict, a man, proves her innocence. Kate in Taming of the Shrew has to marry Petruchio and then is at the mercy of his abuse. Hermia in Midsummer must marry a man she does not love. Thanks to her father. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, too must have been commanded by her father to marry Hamlet Senior. Then there is Ophelia. Poor Ophelia. It seems daughters just can’t win.

Laertes and Hamlet throw themselves onto the Ophelia’s wooden coffin, proclaiming their love for her.

“My poor dead sister,” Laertes cries out.

“I loved her,” Hamlet cries out.

“You scoundrel,” Laertes protests, grabbing Hamlet by the throat. “You killed her. You are responsible. You did not love her at all.”

“Did too.”

“Did not.”

The two are pulled apart.

They have given Ophelia what she wanted. Love. But it’s kinda late, fellows.

 

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