Ophelia’s Pursuit of Honour & Certainty
“When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like a while they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds
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,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”
Ophelia. The character of Ophelia was selected due to her an unorthodox approach to attempting to restore her sense of honour, the respect with which one regards themselves based on their own perception and the influence of others. Likewise, Ophelia also attempted to reconcile her certainty, the ability to dictate one’s life in accordance with their personal morals and standards – she lived through her obedience and passivity and in doing so, lost her honour and sense of certainty in regards to her identity and the relationships she was in. It was through her death, the fact that she consciously did not resist the drowning (refer to quotation), that she was able to restore a honour and certainty within her life, as she died on her own terms. Her death allowed those impacted by it, such as Hamlet and Laertes, to affirm their love for her and restore said lost honour through affirming their love and recognizing her unfaltering devotion to them. Moreover, in conjunction with the men in her life, their pursuit of honour and certainty impacted Ophelia’s sense of honour and certainty – she became what they needed her to be in order for the achievement of their pursuit. Ophelia’s obedience to the men in her life is evident not just through her interactions with Hamlet, but also through her submissiveness to both her brother and father. Being both sexualized and and seen as the epitome of purity created two contradictory worlds for Ophelia to live in, effectively diminishing her own sense of honour. Ophelia was unable to dictate the terms by which she lived, belittling her sense of certainty in her identity and relationships – Ophelia is torn between her love for Hamlet, the empty promise of marriage, and her devotion to her brother and father who believed that loving Hamlet will only lead to her downfall. Her resulting madness and death are representative of her struggle to restore honour and certainty – she descends into a state of madness due to her lack of self-determination, overshadowed by the expectations of her uncommitted lover and her family, along with the inability to maintain her own values while still being obedient to both her family and Hamlet. Due to the fact that she lived through the expectations of two conflicting worlds, Ophelia lost her sense of honour and certainty, as previously defined. However, in her madness, and eventual death, Ophelia restored her sense of honour and certainty as she essentially died for Hamlet. It was through her drowning that she chose to restore her personal sense of honour, the respect with which one regards themselves based on their own perception and the influence of others, and certainty, the ability to dictate one’s life in accordance with their personal morals and standards, by showcasing where her true loyalties lay. No longer does she choose to conform to the opposing expectations of the men in her life. Initially, Ophelia is the passive, obedient, uncertain woman that is seen through the majority of Hamlet – when one, such as Ophelia, who lives a life of obedience and reliance on others, retains no sense of honour and certainty in their identity, personal, and moral agendas, attempts to restore honour and certainty within themselves are often only recognized, and therefore achieved, when the most extreme acts of independence and personal urgency are taken. Throughout this piece, evidence of Ophelia’s attempts to restore honour and certainty within herself can be seen in the motivations for her actions before and during her madness and death.
CREATIVE – PAINTING
This is a creative approach that represents the Ophelia’s fate in the form of a mermaid, as referenced by the quotation “When down her weedy trophies and herself[…]” (Shakespeare 111-112). This piece is used to highlight Ophelia’s delicate honour and the dismissal of Ophelia’s character in the play, particularly through Gertrude’s passive perspective of her suicide. Ophelia’s obedience is disregarded for weakness by those in her life – most noticeably Polonius, Laertes, and Hamlet, as they are the men who she seeks affection from in the form of bestowing honour, thus gauging her uncertainty and madness. These three men are all present with her in the piece in the shades and tangles of her hair. Hamlet – the passionate but torrid lover interest in magenta – both lovely and oppressive, Polonius – the loving but icely dismissive father in blue, and Laertes – the distant and rash brother in green. All colours that are vibrant on their own, however when combined, they create an cooly oppressed palette that is Ophelia. Ophelia’s tail is black as it was the weight of her dismissal from others continued to heavy her soul as they “bore her up” and pulled her down into uncertainty. Ophelia is depicted as a siren to exemplify how she was perceived by the male influence in her life – mystically feminine, and of little realistic value. The word flower is woven delicately throughout her hair and it flows as if drifting in the water that she drowned in. The petals of the flowers surrounding the word are in black white to show stark reality of Ophelia’s character – a woman whose attempts at upholding her honour in the forms of her flower-like obedience were constantly trampled by male despotism, which eventually led to her seeking solace in death, however the details in each flower suggest the painstaking beauty of Ophelia’s surrender to uncertainty.
CREATIVE – POEM
i ran to the ocean and spoke
of my love for him;
it turned her saltwater
i’ve been coming here
i used to think that i was
a mermaid in disguise
i would sing to the waves
and they would sing back
storing my secrets in
friday, i would take off all
my clothes and lie there
floating on my back with
and flowers in my hair
looking up at the stars
until everything but these
of blue disappeared
from my world
and i could breathe again
the water was always there
to soothe me
but today it stings
i tell myself to breathe
and listen to the ocean because
she always knows what to say
instead i hear his cold voice
that was once as warm
as a sunset in july
i used to recite his poetry to
the currents because i couldn’t
keep it all to myself
and he is all around me
he has taken over the water and
i can no longer tell
the difference between the sky
and the sea
the water has filled up
my mouth now
and my body is begging me
to fight but
i am a puppet and he
has the strings
my lungs have always
been a little weak
i stuffed them with roses
he gave me so that i could
breathe him in
when he left me
but now they are rising
to the surface
he pulls me deeper still
into the darkness below
and all i can think about
is how lovely i must look
being destroyed by
the very thing that
used to keep me alive
and then time passes
enough for everything around me
to be black
and my mind to be still.
i hear a girl at the shore
singing to the waves
and i sing back;
my saltwater turning
–can’t you see, darling? i never left.
This poem was inspired by the way I envisioned Ophelia drowning herself, almost like her inner monologue. I’ve always felt empathy for her, as her whole identity was structured around the pursuit of affection from the men in her life. When the man whom she thought was her great love cruelly rejects her out of his madness and newfound cynicism towards women, she is left with nothing. Ophelia is a delicate character. The lyricism of the poem reflects this, along with the imagery of water and flowers, which become increasingly more delicate as their beauty increases. She is also described as singing in her stage of madness before death, reflective in the poem. I also think it’s an interesting concept for Ophelia to never have truly left the waters she drowned in, and for her to hear the confessions of love from other young and foolish girls, enraptured by a man destined to break them in his pursuit of honour and certainty.
As seen in the previous pieces, Ophelia’s responses to the uncertainty of identity and lack of honour in her life develops as a result of her dependence on men, and their pursuit of honour and certainty. Due to the fact that she was such a passive and obedient woman, she fueled the affection and expectations two conflicting environments – that of her family as well as Hamlet, while not upholding any expectations of herself, losing her sense of honour (the respect derived from self and external perceptions) and certainty (the ability to live one’s life as per their own standards) as a result of being submissive to two juxtaposing parties. In this regard, Ophelia’s sense of certainty is dependent upon her accountability to the men in her life, as exemplified through the first creative piece, through, symbolically, the causes of her madness (the colours of her hair, as well as the imagery of the mermaid) , supplemented with how others perceived/disregarded her, and in the second creative piece, in that she, even in death, relies on the affection of Hamlet. Consequently, her sense of honour is dependent on how the men in her life perceive her – the only way in which she is able to restore a sense of certainty and honour in herself is through acting in accordance with her own personal and moral standards. Her perceived “madness,” as showcased through the use of flowers in both creative pieces, references Ophelia’s first public display of her madness (4.4, 103 -104) – it is one of the few instances in which her speech and actions are not influenced by anyone but herself. Ergo, through madness, as a result of the realization of her lost sense of personal honour and certainty, Ophelia begins to act for herself, choosing to pursue Hamlet rather than obeying her father and brother. However, Hamlet, in his own state of “madness” will not accept Ophelia’s love, leading to her death – through acquiescing to the her suppressed emotions, Ophelia is able to act according to her own morals and standards, by which she attempts to restore honour and certainty in her life the only manner in which she can make her personal interests known – through death.
Though seemingly completely abstract concepts, modern terrorism and the character of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet have striking parallels. One could even argue that the universality of truth in Shakespeare’s characters appear in crisis around the world now more than ever. Ophelia, a character desperate to restore some sense of honour and certainty to her unfulfilling and ambivalent world, is the byproduct of the strong influences around her. The majority of recruited ISIS and other large terrorist organizations have had their worlds shaped by the strong influences around them, with the promise of creating a meaningful and honourable life after joining one of the most powerful and calculated organizations in the world. When an individual becomes reliant on external forces to create a sense of certainty, they will constantly be disappointed. This is true for Ophelia and her pursuit of certainty through Hamlet, whose emotions and madness drive him to cruelly rejecting her. It is also true for the young men and women who seek certainty in authoritative figures. The only way for one to truly attain honour and certainty is through a certain identity which is not built upon the perspectives of others. Humans innately crave a sense of balance in their lives, and when it is offered to us and the storms within is seem too tumultuous to stabilize, we jump at the opportunity. Another strong parallel between the Ophelia and modern terrorists is that both their pursuits end in death of either themselves or others. This seems fitting, as death is the only certain concept humans can chase. The idea of killing someone honourably or dying honourably has been around in literature and religion for centuries. However, one could argue that neither of the two characters in question were able to die honourably because of their skewed conceptions on the true meaning of honour in their lives – Ophelia equating it to love, and terrorists equating it to war. Both were crimes of passion, both ended with tragic certainty.
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the playwright exemplifies the danger of one’s identity being shaped around the influences of people around them through character Ophelia, who is therefore unable to restore any honour or certainty to her own life when she is so reliant on the uncertain people around her, specifically Hamlet. Ophelia attempted to restore her honour through attaining love and affection from the men in her life – her father, Polonius, brother, Laertes, and romantic interest, Hamlet. She was only able to see herself through the perspectives of these three men, who all viewed her in drastically different lights. This inability to separate herself from others left her with an uncertain identity. It was arguably impossible for Ophelia to obtain any real sense of honour or self respect after Hamlet’s cruel and sudden rejection of her, because her appearance of being an honourable woman was rooted in their romantic relationship. If Hamlet respected Ophelia, she was able to respect herself too. Her reliance on the influence around her is further portrayed when Hamlet’s madness is paralleled in Ophelia’s, suggesting that she felt as if she had nothing to live for without Hamlet’s approval and stamp of honour. Thus, Ophelia was destined to live a life of uncertainty when her life was a byproduct of the influence of the men around her. Her final attempt at restoring honour and perhaps the only certainty she had ever felt to her name was in her death. As stated in the introduction, Ophelia effectively died as a result of her unrequited love and lack of identity, and her loyalties were made clear in her death. Shakespeare has illuminated one of the clear truths of humanity: One will be rendered unable to live a life of honour and certainty when reliant on the ambiguous and ever-changing perspectives around said individual.
In conclusion, Ophelia was the epitome of beauty and uncertainty. A girl who was tarnished by the intoxication of influence around her while desperately searching for honour and certainty. Consequently, this led her to seek comfort in madness as a means of coping with the uncertainties she faced – her lack of identity and love from her male influencers. Where she possessed sexuality she lacked substance in the eyes of these men – a deficiency of self that left her with a fear of the unknown that she believed could only be relinquished in death. Perhaps, like so many others, Ophelia’s fear of self (or lack of) simply stemmed from the over exhaustion of her dependency on other’s influences. After all, when an individual is struggling internally to define their identity and purpose, it is reflective in their desire to find certainty in the relationships around them, as one’s honour is shaped around the perception of these influences. As demonstrated within this presentation in both artistic and poetic responses, Ophelia’s delicate and impressionable nature lacked a sense of certainty that made for the restoration of her honour to be exhausting, only leaving her with more uncertainty, as she really had no certainty to begin with. She was a young girl afraid of the unknown, which in turn meant that her attempts at obedience and passivity were simply ways to combat such fear. The human fear of the unknown is nothing more than the fear of uncertainty, and so one may search for certainty in the absolutes of life, whether that be death in the case of Ophelia, or the coercion of influence in the case of modern terrorism. In its simplest terms, what an individual with a conflicting sense of honour craves is a sense of certainty. Ophelia’s uncertainty about everything in her life is reflective of her lack of identity, or rather, uncertain identity. If one becomes reliant on others to craft one’s identity for them, they will never find any certainty, for emotions and relationships are ever changing. There is no certainty in love, lust, or friendship. Furthermore, when internally one is uncertain about their identity and purpose, it is reflective in their desire to find certainty in the relationships around them.
Alysha: Creative Piece 2 and Explanation, Personal Connection, Insight, Conclusion
Shyla: Quotation, Opening Paragraph, Transition Paragraph
Yasee: Creative Piece 1 and Explanation, Conclusion
3 thoughts on “Ophelia: Character Perspective (Alysha, Yasmeen, Shyla)”
Dearest Alysha, Shyla, and Yasee,
Shook! You have me quaking in my boots (actually socks – but you knocked those off too) behind my computer screen. This entire blog was wonderfully ~crafted~; there was insight, artistry and beautiful writing – what more could you want? Rather, how could one expect less from such brilliant minds. All of you offered an element of the blog that was necessary and unique but your voices all sounded very strong and unified through the entire thing. I loved everything!
Alysha – I could never in a million years think of such an amazing connection of Ophelia being a “byproduct of the strong influences around her” and terrorism – girl, what?!?!? Share your wisdom, please, you have so much to offer.
Shyla – I tell you how obsessed with everything you do every chance I get and you still did not disappoint me. My favourite line of yours was, “Being both sexualized and and seen as the epitome of purity created two contradictory worlds for Ophelia to live in, effectively diminishing her own sense of honour.” *AP LA sigh*
Yasee- your mastery of art (visual and written) surpasses anything my tiny mind could conceive. I know this is a written work and I am meant to praise that but the beautiful art work you created and the attention to detail and symbolism behind it was amazing! (“FLOWER” drawn into the hair? come on!)
I’m not sure what I would really improve upon so I shall just suggest a good ol’ read through to fix a few GUMPS. I noticed that Ophelia was referred to as “the Ophelia” a few times, was this unintentional or am I being ignorant?
Thanks for a wonderful blog.
Dear Shyla, Yas, and Alysha,
This was such an incredible read. As Ibukun said, you had such a unified voice. I tried to guess who wrote what as I was reading and was lowkey convinced that the whole thing was written by one person. You all did such a great job of creating flow while retaining your own beautiful, unique writing styles. I’ll admit I was a bit tired while reading this and was worried at first that a lot of it would go over my head, but you all were so clear and logical in your writing that only a little bit went over my tired head.
I loved the creativity and insight throughout. Yas, your creative and explanation were so well thought-out. I LOVED the lines, “All colours that are vibrant on their own, however when combined, they create an cooly oppressed palette that is Ophelia. Ophelia’s tail is black as it was the weight of her dismissal from others continued to heavy her soul as they “bore her up” and pulled her down into uncertainty. Ophelia is depicted as a siren to exemplify how she was perceived by the male influence in her life – mystically feminine, and of little realistic value.” Your ability to express exactly what you want to – without those flowery flowers growing everywhere (not that there is anything wrong with them of course) – and still create a beautiful overall effect, is incredible.
ThAt PoEm AlyShA. Just wow. I particularly died when you said, “listen to the ocean because/she always knows what to say/instead i hear his cold voice/that was once as warm/as a sunset in july/i used to recite his poetry to/the currents because i couldn’t/keep it all to myself/let go/he coaxes/stop kicking/and he is all around me/inside me/everywhere” In even that one short snippet you did several amazing things. Love how you contrast the female ocean with the male voice that drowns her. You describe both the initial passion and subsequent loss of their love. Also, I’m obsessed with how brought it full circle in the end. And THEN you hit me with the personal connection paragraph. That was such a creative parallel you drew there! Like Ibukun said, I’d never ever see that coming but it works SO WELL. Incredible!
SHYLA! My GoD! Your amazing ability to express yourself with complete clarity brought it home. Your intro paragraph excellently outlined exactly what reader should expect. The line, “Likewise, Ophelia also attempted to reconcile her certainty, the ability to dictate one’s life in accordance with their personal morals and standards – she lived through her obedience and passivity and in doing so, lost her honour and sense of certainty in regards to her identity and the relationships she was in.”, was an example of this incredible clarity. All your intensely insightful points and your eloquence make your writing a dream to read and truly solidify the group’s arguments.
My only ONLY suggestion to you guys would be to maybe break your paragraphs into slightly smaller chunks. Though your guys’ impeccable writing made your arguments easy to follow, I find it difficult to read huge, unbroken chunks of text. My poor little eyes just die.
Thank you all for such a lovely, inspiring piece!
Dear Alysha, Shyla, and Yasee,
I knew that anything written by any one of you three would be brilliant, but in putting your minds together for this, you’ve truly created an exceptional character analysis of Ophelia. I’m humbled by your insights and really inspired by the clarity with which you communicated them.
You guys were able to tell the story of Ophelia through the lens of the prompt really well; I never felt like you lost sight of it as you were able to weave your ideas regarding ‘honour and certainty’ throughout. The piece as a whole felt unified, despite having been written by three different people, and never did I feel like parts contradicted each other or were inconsistent with the rest of the piece.
Alysha – I love your poem! In keeping with its subject matter, the lines flow one after the other like water, and the lack of harsh capital letters and punctuation throughout reflects Ophelia’s own softness and delicacy. The imagery of water and of flowers is just beautiful. I really like that you chose to write in Ophelia’s voice, because in Hamlet we have so few opportunities to hear what Ophelia thinks, feels, and experiences; instead, we only see her reflecting the ideas and emotions of those around her.
I also really liked your connection to modern terrorism – very cool, I would never have thought about relating Ophelia’s pursuit of honor and certainty to the honour and certainty sought by the young men and women who join terrorist groups. But I would have liked to see you relate this to your own life and describe what personal connections you have to Ophelia and modern terrorism, as I believe this paragraph was supposed to describe the your connection to the character.
Yasee – what an interesting idea, to portray Ophelia as a mermaid in painting form! But I really would have liked to dee a visual of this painting so I could have some context for your explanation paragraph (which by the way, was very well written!)
Shyla – this opening paragraph blew me away. The precise insights and well-worded connections you made were amazing, and I especially love that you explored the idea that through dying, Ophelia was ultimately making a final attempt to restore honour and certainty. I would offer to you that the introduction section needed to be split up into smaller paragraphs (as did most of the sections, but this is especially relevant to the introduction, as it is here that we need to engage and draw in the reader.) Splitting up one large paragraph into a few smaller ones makes it easier for the reader to take pause and breathe instead of feeling swamped by all these heavy words all at once.
As a reader, I felt like I was thrust into a large and overwhelming chunk of text very suddenly. What might help with that is to ease the reader into your insights with simpler sentences at first, leading them into meaning and the matter of it instead of confronting them with a complex idea so suddenly.
Alysha and Yasee – This same sort of idea applies to the conclusion – I wanted to be eased out of the piece and left with something simple but powerful at the end, left with a lasting impression. Instead, I felt like I had to go back and reread the last few sentences over again to give myself closure – not that the sentences weren’t clear, just we needed to be guided out of the depths of your analysis and gradually taken to more shallow ground as you concluded.
Other than that, there’s very little for you guys to work on here. You know, I started reading this piece with the expectation that it would be excellent (I mean, it is the three of you after all), and you’ve more than exceeded my expectations. In fact, I almost want to go back and edit my own Ophelia character analysis to include some of your insights… almost, but not quite because this was a beast of a project and I’m glad it’s behind me! 🙂
Love this so much – it was a pleasure reading this piece!