NOTE: Due to aesthetic purposes, and what I personally believe would disrupt the flow of the piece, I have not titled my sections. While each section should still be clear without a title, I have taken the liberty of creating a google doc in which each section is clearly labelled in case there does happen to be any confusion.
Other than that–enjoy! 🙂
Here is a link to the planning I did in preparation for this assignment!
Please keep in mind that not all the ideas represented on the mind map made it into this blog post due to relevance/lack of relevance.
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
Therewith 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 the 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 her drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious buy
To muddy death.
~Gertrude (4.6, 170-187)
Ophelia. A poor wretch of a girl that was driven mad by the casualties of discrepancy. Perhaps you were merely a victim. For it seemed that honour and certainty were never quite able to coincide within your own life. And the culprit of this dispute? Your lover himself–Hamlet. Although, we both know you had also played your part in the matter at hand.
Yet, it was Hamlet who pleaded insanity in order to create a diversion, in the hopes that his plans to avenge his father’s death by assassinating Claudius would not be uncovered. He attempted to establish certainty through his “madness” because it was his “madness” that concealed his true intents. However, in an act of feigned madness, he had told you, my dear Ophelia, that he had never truly loved you. This tarnished your pride, and with the loss of your pride also came the loss of your honour.
Then came the death of Polonius at the hands of Hamlet. An innocent man was killed, his murderer’s virtue overthrown; a most dishonourable act! For Hamlet was certain that it had been Claudius hidden behind the arras. He had believed he finally restored certainty to his life; that his father’s murderer was surely dead and sufficiently punished, that the honour that was wrenched from King Hamlet himself was surely–and at last!– redeemed. But it was because of this, Ophelia, that you surely lost a father. And, so, we arrive at the point in which you, yourself, go mad.
But Perhaps your sanity wouldn’t have deteriorated so if it were a different man who had killed your father. A stranger, a man who, unlike Hamlet, was never a constant presence in your life. A man with whom you were not so fatally in love with. Perhaps then you could have found closure. But, like your Hamlet, there was always a sort of truth –a sort of certainty–you seemed to express in your fits of madness. And it are these truths that perhaps lend themselves to establishing a greater picture in regards to your sorrow; after all, it was in a fit of crazed delirium that you provided us with the insight that your relationship with Hamlet was perhaps more than just a trifling courtship.
Dazed, you sang a song about a maiden who visits her lover’s bedchamber one night where she proceeds to lose her virginity. What other motive would you have for telling such a story, if it did not somehow hold some importance to you? If you had not found yourself in a similar situation with your own lover? Of course, there is always the excuse that you were mad–and mad people just do not make sense, right? But you must remember that you are the product of a writer’s imagination. And a writer–especially as brilliant a writer as William Shakespeare–always chooses his words very carefully. He does not string together a myriad of phrases just for the hell of it; there is always meaning behind what may, to us, appear to be nonsensical.
So you, Ophelia, an unmarried maiden, slept with Hamlet, an act that was considered to be a sin–an act that was considered to be dishonourable. Certain of your love for him–and certain of his love for you–you forfeited a precious, honourable part of yourself you would never be able to get back, something you would never be able to restore. But with what you have forfeited, perhaps you have also gained something: a baby.
After all, it was Hamlet, who, in his own state of “madness” told you to get yourself to a covenant, for “why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” A breeder of a child whose bloodline is plagued with dishonour, a bloodline connected to Claudius, who killed his own brother in the hopes that he would certainly take over the royal title. A bloodline connected to Gertrude who failed to honour the death of her late husband appropriately before wedding his murderer. A bloodline connected to both you and Hamlet, who conceived a child out of wedlock. A child that, as Hamlet ascertained, would be as much of a sinner as his mother and father, as well as the rest of the members of his lineage.
It was, therefore, the unprovoked murder of Polonius combined with your love for Hamlet–the very man who slew your father and rejected you only after impregnating you–that caused you to descend into a state of mental incompetency. Your burdens were great, for you, yourself, were stripped of the only senses of consistency–of certainty–you had ever known; that associated with a nurturing father and a doting lover.
Although your suicide was not premeditated, part of you had screamed out from the maddening haze that consumed your psyche. It was this part of you that chose to die. Because part of you still realized that, while death is ambiguous–for no one can possibly know what it entails unless they, themselves, have died–it is, at the same time, definite; for these reasons, you believed death to be the only medium by which you could vanquish your agonies, the only medium by which you could restore certainty to your life. But, as it was also a sin to take your own life, you surrendered what remained of your honour in an attempt to restore this certainty. And so it became clear that certainty was something you could only possess in the absence of honour, or should I say, in the presence of dishonour.
Perhaps it was certain that you were fated to live a life in which you would constantly struggle under the tormenting opposition of honour and certainty. How, at the hands of certainty, dishonour, like a deluge, would seep its way into your life, and the lives of all you cared about, scattering droplets of malign disunity in the wake of its rolling floods.
It is this disunity–that which was so futilely fettered to your destiny– that is to guide the focal point of my own words, through which I mean to explore how you, Ophelia, struggled to restore a cohesive balance between honour and certainty in your own life. It is through the compilation of my own analysis and creative imaginings that I, as well as my own audience, will better understand the lamentations and madness these struggles have, in turn, contrived.
I. The Funeral
Take the rosemary
they have pressed between my toes
and use it to garnish
your next glass of wine.
As you drink
make a toast,
not to merriment,
but to lamentation–
to the remembrance
of thy maiden’s death.
Cheers! to the unity
of our most unwavering
Cheers to what
has been broken.
In a fit of maddening remorse–
for this time the madness shall be tangible–
tear away the silk
lining of this
damned funeral bed
like you did tear
away the arras and what
hid behind it.
Tear it away!
Tear it away like you did
tear the rat,
like you did tear and discard
the honour that did lie
between thy maiden’s legs,
like the river’s rapids
did tear away her life.
And once you have
sheathed your sword–
I entreat you–
kneel and bow your head
in surrender to the lilies
that lie before her grave;
you will caress their stems
and kiss their petals
in the hopes that
your love–the love
you did deny her–
will breathe life back
into these water-logged lungs.
But just as it is certain
that the flowers,
in their cyclical phases
it is also certain that the dead
must remain dead.
For there is nothing so definite
as the blooming
just as there is nothing so definite
as the dying.
II. The Drowning
My gown billows around
me like the slick
ripple of a mermaid’s fin.
I can hear the Lady Siren’s Song
and all it guarantees:
liberation of this life’s
betrayals and heartbreaks,
by the certainty of death.
I suck the nectar of her voice,
drinking in every crescendo–
every last staccato–
of what the water has
I suck the nectar of her voice
as I had so foolishly
suckt at the honey of his
the same way
his own babe would
have suckt the milk
from the swell of my breast–
my babe to be
that shall never be
drowned by my sodden womb,
my babe whose mother–
certain in what proved to be
of her lord’s love–
in a bed of sin,
a bed of dishonour.
So now, my sweet child,
I do not object
to the deluge that
threatens to drag us
beneath the current,
this is the only way
to put the dishonour
to restore to our
hearts the unity of peace.
So float with me,
my sweet nymph,
and let us both dissolve
into spirits of the river.
–The Pinnacle of Madness
III. The Heartbreak
I, A maid at your window,
mouth glittering in anticipation
for your sweet, valentined kiss.
To the celestial and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia…
And so up you rose
to unlatch the chamber door–
to meet the nestle of
soft, petaled lips.
Doubt thou the stars are fire,
and to this, My Lord, I
so willingly followed.
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Corset loosened and
with you, I did lay down.
Doubt truth be a liar,
So certain I was of your love,
that sin no longer daunted me.
But never doubt I love.
And certainly I was proven wrong,
for in the escapade of our passion
we did touch so dishonourably.
–Pre-Madness (The Inciting Incident)
In my opening paragraph, while I did portray Ophelia as a victim of sorts, I also felt as though I tore her apart in my analysis. That being said, I often find it incredibly difficult to empathize with a character that is scrutinized under the lens of critical writing. When you are reading about a character from a third person point of view, it can be hard, as a reader, to establish a genuine, personal connection with that character. It is, therefore, easier to empathize with a character when they are the one to tell their story opposed to someone else–typically a biased analyst–doing it for them. I can easily sit at my computer and rant on about Ophelia’s downfall, about how she was destroyed because honour and certainty could not coexist harmoniously in her life. I can give my audience the facts and offer my own interpretation of Ophelia as a character in regards to the prompt at hand. And, assuming I do a decent job, I can use evidence to convince my audience that these interpretations are correct. I can appeal to the logos of my readers without necessarily encouraging them to feel a certain way, without necessarily encouraging them to have empathy for Ophelia, her struggles, and, most importantly, her laments.
As a writer, the best way I can personally empathize with Ophelia is not to scrutinize her, but to try and understand her as a person, as well as her experiences, and, most importantly her emotions. If I, as the writer, can do this, then I can do my best to inspire my readers to follow suit. That is why for my first creative piece–a poetry series–I have chosen to narrate from Ophelia’s perspective. After all, no one truly knows Ophelia as well as Ophelia knows Ophelia. Except maybe for Shakespeare, of course, but he hasn’t been around for a quite a while now, so that isn’t really an option.
The poetry series itself is divided into three parts:
I. The Funeral
II. The Drowning
III. The Heartbreak
Each poem is representative of a specific time in Ophelia’s life in which she was dishonoured usually because either she or Hamlet chose to pursue–or better yet, to restore— certainty. The poems themselves are not arranged in chronological order either, which automatically makes the piece seem disordered. This was intentional on my part; the discordance of the chronology parallels the discordance of Ophelia’s own madness, which is a direct outcome of her inability to establish a peaceful, symbiotic relationship between honour and certainty in her own life. However, Ophelia, in her madness, is still able to express wisdom; for it is in her madness that she offers secretive insights into her own affairs by, for instance, alluding to the fact that she had slept with Hamlet, which further validates the theory that she became pregnant with his child. Similarly, I have also attempted to integrate my own wisdoms regarding Ophelia’s character into the chaos of this piece.
The reason why Ophelia’s narration is implied to have begun right after she is buried in The Funeral is because I wanted her to actively look back upon the events led up to her death; I wanted to begin her narration after she supposedly restored certainty through death. If she had narrated the events as they had occurred, her voice and perspective would have been heavily inflicted by her oblivion and her madness–she would have not yet realized the true extent of the dishonour that wormed its way into her life due to her own ignorant faith, as well as the actions Hamlet carried out in the name of certainty.
In The Funeral, Ophelia, dominated by anger and unburdened by her previous madness, addresses Hamlet from the afterlife–an ode to Hamlet’s previous encounters with his father’s ghost–and confronts him for his actions. The very actions that did “tear away” Ophelia’s honour, and, at one point, her certainty as well. As a matter of a fact, the persistence of the phrase “tear it away” acts as a recurring motif within the poem, tethering each of Hamlet’s actions to Ophelia’s own struggles. She tells him to tear away the silk lining of her coffin in the same way he tore away Polonius’s life even though Hamlet was certain that Claudius would have been the victim of his sword’s fatal stab. In a like manner, Ophelia, certain that Hamlet’s intentions for her were unadulterated in their loyalty, allowed him to” tear away” her virginity after which he proceeded to tell her had never loved her. Hamlet’s dismissal of Ophelia and his feelings for her, of course, was merely a facade, one Hamlet established in order to ensure his greater plans for revenge would not make themselves obvious–so that it was certain he could properly and honourably avenge his father’s death without getting caught. However, this, coupled with the murder of Polonius, left Ophelia in a state grief-stricken madness nevertheless. This grief is what ultimately motivated Ophelia to, in an attempt to restore the certainty she lost due to the death of her father and, in a more figurative sense, the death of Hamlet’s love for her,” tear away” her own life.
The poem itself is signed Post-madness; this is because, at this point, Ophelia is liberated from the sorrows of her previous life, and therefore her madness, which is why she chose to die in the first place. Although her anger is prominent, she accepts her fate in The Funeral and encourages Hamlet to do the same; she explains that her death is definite, that she chose to dissolve into its impenetrable state in order to escape the dishonour present within her own life as well as well as the certainty she was deprived of–the certainty associated with the paternal love of her father as well as the romantic admirations of Hamlet. Thus, this reiterates the fact that honour and certainty are opposite entities whose repulsive and destructive forces did bring about Ophelia’s ruin.
In The Drowning, Ophelia further elaborates on the nature of her death and the certainty it promised. It is here that she also expresses the certainty of a greater truth that was implied by both her and Hamlet in their passions of madness–the truth that Ophelia was pregnant, which in itself is, again, dishonourable, since the child would have been bred outside of marriage. The Drowning is then followed by The Heartbreak, in which Ophelia recounts the night that she and Hamlet would have slept together, and, therefore, conceived their child. Ophelia, certain that Hamlet’s love was steadfast and unfaltering, compromised the honour that is often related to preserving one’s virginity. This, again, proves the premise for Ophelia’s demise–the fact that certainty and honour could not coincide peacefully within her reality.
It is through Ophelia’s poetic introspections that she so rawly describes this premise–the casualties that resulted from living a dishonourable life, as well as the repercussions caused by the incapability of honour to align with certainty in her own reality. It is this rawness, this sublime catharsis of emotion, that then allows us to establish more meaningful and empathetic connections with Ophelia as a character; it allows us to better connect with both the callousness and vulnerability of the human condition–traits that Ophelia expressed in response to the disunity between honour and certainty in her own life.
In Hamlet, Ophelia, during one of her crazed episodes, offers the king a bundle of withered violets. From a symbolic perspective, the violets represent faithfulness. Thus, since these particular violets are withered, Ophelia’s offering no doubt alludes to Claudius’ killing King Hamlet, a crime that proves that he was incapable of being faithful to his brother. However, the violet is not necessarily only relevant to Claudius’ life, but to Ophelia’s life as well. After all, being certain of something is no different than having faith in something, even if that faith ultimately proves itself to be blind.
The mayhem that sought its way into Ophelia’s life occurred due to the consequences reaped by blind faith—the ignorant certainty—of Hamlet’s, and, consequently, Ophelia’s own endeavours, which, led to the complete dissipation of honour in Ophelia’s own life; it was, in turn, this blind oblivion that made it seemingly impossible for both certainty and honour to exist in a synchronized state of unison with one another. And this, of course, was an assured catalyst of disorder and chaos—two forces that afflicted the life of Ophelia.
It was the consideration of this thematic premise, as well as the symbol of the violet, that inspired my second creative piece—a collage. I have taken a classic portrait of Ophelia’s drowning (John Everett Millais, 1852) and used photoshop to blend the image of a violet into the background. The overlay of the violet itself envelops–or, as dictated by the title, binds— Ophelia’s frame as she drowns in the river. This image serves the purpose of emphasizing the misguided faith—the misguided certainty— prevalent in Ophelia’s life, which ultimately led to her death. On that note, I have also whited-out Ophelia’s eyes to represent the blindness associated with her certainty and the actions she made in the name of certainty. Notably, the centre of the violet lies over Ophelia’s heart, which lends itself to the fact that the actions Ophelia made in relation to her blind faith were often inspired, not by logic or morality, but by emotion; this also stands true for Hamlet, whose actions directly impacted Ophelia.
For Hamlet was sure that it was Claudius behind the curtains–he had faith that he had finally avenged his father’s death, reclaiming both the honour and the certainty that was lost when he was murdered. It was also faith that motivated Hamlet to denounce his love for Ophelia, in the hopes that his rejections would become a focal point of attention instead of his plans for revenge. And, just as Hamlet had so blindly put faith into his actions–had hoped, perhaps that they would not reap any true harm–Ophelia had, too, put blind faith into Hamlet’s love as something that would never falter, something she could always rely on. Even so, while Hamlet may have weighed the repercussions of his rejections with the same unimportance of a grain of salt, Ophelia might have very well–and rightfully so–weighed the heartbreak these rejections caused with the significance of something far grander. This heartbreak, in addition to the death of her father, caused Ophelia to perhaps lose faith in life itself, as it suddenly became a foreign to her, something lacking in both certainty and honour. And so Ophelia’s mind, which, at one time, was a vessel for faith, began to wither just as her violets had. Although, at this point, it had not been entirely vanquished; the violets may have withered but they were not yet dead, for Ophelia hoped there was still a way to restore what was lost–a certainty that was, this time, not misdirected as it had been previously. That certainty was death—a fate Ophelia pursued due to the havoc dishonour, the result of blind faith, inflicted upon her life. This collage serves to provide a visual representation of this fate.
While my first creative piece described Ophelia’s destiny from her own perspective, and while I perhaps gave my readers the opportunity to envision for themselves the tragic end of Ophelia, nothing can be quite so impactful than seeing something for oneself, something that exists beyond the images conjured by one’s own mind. This collage allows us to be onlookers of Ophelia’s death, of the disturbed contortion of her mouth, her blank, hazed eyes, and the way she so furiously grips the bouquet of flowers in her right hand. It is disturbing. However, it is the macabre nature of the portrait itself that accentuates the tragedy, and therefore, appeals to our pathos. Thus, this allows us to further establish an empathetic relationship with Ophelia.
Now, I have personally always empathized with Ophelia; it has never been necessary for someone to condition me to do so. In order to empathize with someone, you must first put yourself “in that person’s shoes.” The way I see it, there are two ways you can do that. You, can, for one, attempt to understand the nature of that person’s experiences, which include both their successes and their hardships—specifically their hardships—and imagine what it would feel if you, too, had experienced something similar. Or you can find it within yourself to emphasize with a person because you actually share a common experience with them. It is for this reason, that I am able to empathize with Ophelia.
And, exactly what experience do Ophelia and I share? The answer to this question–at least the generalized one–is heartbreak.
Heartbreak. A merciless and untameable entity whose existence is satiated only by the suffering and degradation of its victims. A con artist dealing in illusion, one who forces us to direct our certainty into what is, in actuality, uncertain–into fickle, fleeting matters. It feasts on the romantic notions of our minds and the tender, wistful beatings of our heart, confiscating our souls of any softness they did once possess. It is a cultivator of sorrow and burden, a breeder of madness and dishonour.
I thought your reciprocation was certain. That everything you did– the small, subtle acts–meant something. Like the way your hand would cradle the back of my head when I was upset. Or the soft cottoned caress of your shirt sleeve against my cheek. Or the way you did blush when you had read my poetry–the poetry I did write just for you. I had faith in that blush, just as Ophelia had faith that Hamlet’s own love was steadfast. This, of course, was true–at least in Hamlet’s eyes. For how was Ophelia to know that his rejections were not genuine, that the apparent cruelty of his actions were merely part of a larger plan for revenge? But heartbreak is heartbreak. While the circumstances by which it is instigated may differ depending on the person, the outcomes are all the same.
Ophelia was heartbroken because she believed Hamlet had stopped loving her, or, to be more accurate, had only pretended to love her. I was heartbroken because I realized my own love had never intended on loving me in the first place. It’s quite funny really, how a word with as amiable a connotation as “friend” can be so destructive. How, like Hamlet’s own acts of rejection, it can strip you of your pride–or your honour–in an instance, faster than he can say, “I just don’t like you like that.”
I was certain of love, of something that is supposed delicate and nurturing in nature. But heartbreak was its own type of dreadful certainty. I became certain that I was less than. That I was not deserving of love and that perhaps I never would be. I learned to hate myself. This further accentuated the dishonour that was first initiated by heartbreak, the heartbreak that perhaps would not exist if it weren’t for the discrepancies that existed between my own blind certainty and the truth of my reality; I learned to degrade myself with self-loathing the same way Ophelia chose to degrade herself with dying–a self-inflicted act which was considered to be an act of dishonour– something she was sure would alleviate her of her pain and restore certainty to her own life.
The imprudent certainty both Ophelia and I put into love is what resulted in the heartbreak we both experienced, and therefore the dishonour that afflicted us so. Chaos then ensued, bringing disarray into both of our lives.