The Art of Obedience

“I shall obey, my lord.”

         Ophelia (I.iii.623)


Ophelia. The lovely and virtuous maiden, wearing innocence and obedience like flowers in her hair—that’s you, is it not? You, sweet beauty, were named after the flower gypsophelia, a flower known for its innocence and purity, a flower that represents self-discipline in the face of love – honour and chastity in the face of temptation. You, whose name means ‘help’, you, who have suffered silently and quietly in the wake of masculine forces, you, a little white flower weathered by storms and bent by winds, forever destined to be a receptacle to the will of the men around you. Did you know that you say ‘my lord’ almost every time you speak? Allowing yourself to be dominated by the men around you is an art you have become quite skilled in. The Art of Obedience—yes—that is the only art you know. 

Chaste Ophelia, passive Ophelia, innocent Ophelia. Uncertain Ophelia, honourable Ophelia, Ophelia – the pawn in her father’s game. Your reputation precedes you. You, Ophelia, were never more than a flower destined to die. You are the victim of a patriarchal society, the victim of expectations to be virtuous, objectified and dominated by the men around you, rendered passive and obedient as a way to uphold the honour of these men. You are just a pretty little girl lacking any sense of certainty or identity without the instruction of a dominating male. Sad, isn’t it?

So, allow this to be a mirror for you, darling, obedient, Ophelia. A lens through which you are to see yourself, you lovely creature. Let us see how your value is totally dependent upon your honour. Let us see what happens to an individual with an uncertain identity and a reliance upon others attempts to safeguard this honour.

Let us look beyond this loveliness, this obedience, dear girl – let us look at who you really are.


The Loveliness of Being

I am not delicate.

I’ve always been a little too much of something

and not enough of everything else.

A little too quiet

(and far too loud),


(but not too pretty),


(but not smart enough).

See, the problem with me

is I have always been too




like the sunlight in your eyes during a hangover;

something that should have been soft

but wasn’t soft at all.

Perhaps that’s why

I’ve taken to standing

on the roof of my house

when it rains,

because I hope that

the storm will blow me


and then I’ll just feel

this weightlessness,

this incredible lightness of being,

that comes with being


Can you imagine that?

My eyes will be cool and pale,

pearly like daisy petals,

and my bones–

oh, how they will

rise to the surface of my skin,

shyly at first,

like a bashful virgin

gazing up through her eyelashes

at her lover,

and then with growing confidence;

they will ripple within me,

blades of grass breathing in the wind,

and for the first time,

I will believe that these bones of mine exist,

because I wasn’t sure before.

But now, I can see them,

and what lovely bones they are!

I will float

from the lightness

in my stomach,

and my heartbeat will

grow faint with time,

until eventually, I find

that it ceases altogether,

because lately,

I’ve been feeling less

with my heart

and more with my eyes;

my heart never felt

what my eyes chose not to see–

I have taught those eyes

of mine

to only see the beauty

because the ugly

reminds me too much

of what I was like before.

How divine I will be–

a dwindling woman–

with these dainty wrists

and exquisite collarbones,

swaying to the low hum

of dead poet’s voices

singing love songs

on the record player.

And I will be thin as smoke,

and white as snow,

like Ophelia,

with flowers

in my hair

and water in my lungs,

because sometimes

I think I might drown myself

when I don’t feel lovely enough.

And I will only wear light colours;

periwinkles and lilacs,

silvers and greys–

the colour of cobwebs.

And when they all see me,

they will gasp,

because they will think

that I look astonishingly similar

to a butterfly.

And I will be graceful,

and elegant,

and some man will be able

to sweep me up into his arms

as if I were a feather,

and he will be able to look deep

into my hollow eyes without flinching,

because they always say

everything feels so much better

when you are thin–

and how right they are!

I will be delighted

at how little I have become,

because he will be able

to fit his hands all the way around

my waist,

and when he spins me

as we dance,

he will admire how fragile

I am,

because ‘they don’t make

women like that these days.’

I will be simply dizzy

from how slender I’ll be,

for I will never have felt so

significant before,

in all my years

of existing.

I’ll be like

the fluffy white seeds

of dying dandelions–

the ones you make wishes on

when you’re just a kid,

and I will hang,


in the breeze,

waiting to be planted and grow roots

that stretch down past the ashes

from the parade of lost souls

that are buried beneath the ground.

I’ll be so soft,

and light.

And I’ll be top-filled

to the brim

with the most

remarkable loveliness of being

that only comes

with being


Isn’t that a wonderful thought?


The narrator of this piece is someone who is, by nature, harsh and strong, though she wishes to be delicate and soft, much like Ophelia naturally is. She knows with certainty who she is but does not believe herself to be honourable. The narrator of this piece desperately wants to be delicate. Lovely. And she’s not. I think women in this day and age are expected to be soft, (in speech, opinion, and nature), gentle, and lovely. This is a standard that Ophelia meets without trying, and it can be seen that Ophelia, therefore, possesses the traits that are thought to make a woman honourable. From this outside perspective, Ophelia is seen as someone who is certain in her sense of honour. She is someone who is naturally passive and agreeable–everything that a ‘natural’ woman should be. She does not speak out against her male counterparts, nor does she attempt to ‘break the mould’ because she fits it flawlessly and because it is the only mould she has ever known.  Yet the perspective of the narrator does not consider how Ophelia’s honourability becomes the trait that her value is defined by, more precious even that her life, and how her sense of certainty is dependant upon instruction from those around her; rather the narrator romanticises the qualities possessed by Ophelia, glorifying passivity and obedience because of the societal expectations for women to be these things.

The piece is written in poem form because poetry is so much rawer than prose–it is raw and true and real–and this is a story that needed to be told as rawly as possible. The narrator of this piece is unsatisfied with who she is because she is strong. There is no doubt about whether or not she is able to recognize her own identity, but despite this certainty surrounding who she is, she is struggling to restore honour to herself after being viewed as ‘displeasing’ in the eyes of both her and society because of her strength and ‘harshness’. Women are supposed to be soft, and delicate, and lovely, and therefore women who are not these things are seen as unfeminine and disagreeable.

Softness, delicacy, loveliness – these are the things that make a woman honourable and respectable. These are the qualities that Ophelia has been taught to embody, the qualities she tries to safeguard, the qualities that give her value as a human being. These are the qualities that the narrator of the poem wishes she could embody so she, too, might think of herself as honourable.

The role of women in society was established by men long ago, and – as expressed by the narrator – this takes its toll on women who simply do not fit into the role they are expected to play.




be Sweet (they say)

be Sweet and smart,
(they say)
but not so smart that your mouth
learns to make music
and your tongue
learns to dance to it:
it is better to be kind than to be right.

be Sweet and submissive,
(they say)
but not so submissive that your petals
shiver under his touch
and fall to the ground,
your passivity should be selective:
only obey certain kinds of men.

be Sweet and silent,
(they say)
don’t worry,
your lips are well trained
in the art of sitting still,
your mouth is a flower
that will never bloom,
swallow bouquets of baby’s breath,
inhale handfuls of daisy petals
your words will be strung
like pretty pearls on
a chain around your throat:
after all, they and
you are better seen and not heard.

be Sweet and saintly,
(they say)
wear a crown of wildflowers and
never let anyone touch it –
you see, they will try gathering
posies of your virtue
but remember:
you are nothing without your flowers.

be Sweet and suffer,
(they say)
just pretend that pain is pretty,
these bloodstains swelling
between your thighs
look a little like blooming roses
so we’ll just let them bleed,
and even if it hurts
at least the hurting looks lovely:
and your job is to make yourself beautiful.

be Sweet and smart,
(they say)
but be Sweeter than you are smart
only be as smart as
your Sweetness permits you;
there is no use for a flower
whose petals have all been


This poem expresses how the contradictory expectations placed upon a woman can make it difficult to develop an identity independent from these pressures. Ophelia, for example, is duty-bound to the men in her family and having been raised with their inflexible ideas regarding the role of a woman is left with little room for her own beliefs to develop. The rigidity of the poem’s structure and the repetition emphasize how Ophelia is continually manipulated by the men around her, victim to their control, coerced into relying upon them for strict direction. As the narrator implies, she has no desire to break this pattern as it is the only pattern she has ever known; how can she rebel against something when she doesn’t know there to be an alternative?

In the poem, the narrator herself is given no opportunity to express herself; instead, she acts as an instrument to express the will of the men around her. Her voice breaks through only in one recurring line, and even this is censored by the brackets. Similarly, Ophelia is limited in her ability to express her own desires and opinions because she has learned to rely on her father and brother for instruction, only ever speaking when she is spoken to first and even then she is often disregarded, as if her words too have brackets closing in on them. Just as the poem illustrates, Ophelia is defined – by her father, her brother, and her lover – by her sexuality. Her value is decided by her virginity and her ability to obey her father. Therefore, she attempts to uphold her honour and prove her worth by allowing herself to be used by Polonius. Her sense of self is entirely dependent upon the constant direction she receives from him – just as the narrator of the poem is totally controlled by the instructions given to her at the end of each stanza – which makes for a fragile nature and an uncertain identity. The narrator, too, is so used to being controlled and told to be quiet that her own identity is underdeveloped so as to make room for the swollen influence of those who would prefer her to be an object. Polonius himself shows himself to have a need to control his daughter in this way, making her sweet rather than smart and obedient rather than independent, and does not appear to recognize her as a human being with her own complex thoughts and emotions.

Ultimately, the poem reflects Ophelia’s own circumstance and her inability to exist without the structure provided for her by Polonius.


Ophelia, you have been raised to be lovely. You grew up under the influence of your father, who disregarded your autonomy and discredited your beliefs, a father whose controlling presence contributed to your mental deterioration long before his death. He taught you that your honour was synonymous with your virginity, he taught you that the only way to be certain was to let your identity be crafted by the direction of men. He taught you to be Sweet. Be smart. Be submissive. Be silent. Be saintly. Be defined by your sexuality.

You, Ophelia, are a slave to your gender – the rigid constructs of your culture and your circumstance tell you that you are a woman, and nothing more.

It’s funny, though, don’t you think? Your purity, the one quality that makes you the most desirable would be the same quality that would destroy you if they succeeded. Your virgin eyes and ears, your virgin lips and tongue – yes, that is what they all love about you, but is also what they all want to take from you. Interesting, don’t you think?

You had no choice but to be defined by qualities decided by men, because this is a man’s world and you are only living in it. Did you even notice how Sweet you were? Did you not realize that you had what every other girl wanted? Your innocence, your purity, your obedience–not everyone is born with that, Ophelia. But you were.

And now, Sweet Ophelia, you are the candle to which everyone else pales in comparison. You are the standard that every other girl is held to, but no one can truly have what you did. No one. Perhaps that’s why you left this earth so young. Don’t you think? Not to mention that your death was a lovely one. So I supposed you played your perfect little role right to the very end. Didn’t you?

Don’t you see how you influence people? In the poetry we write for you, in the portraits we paint of you, in the songs that we sing for you. We, Ophelia, want to be you.

The poetry we wrote for you, Ophelia, was a tribute of sorts; the first expressing how you have something that we don’t, that you are someone we want to be, because you are gentle and delicate and soft, and they don’t make women like that these days, do they? And the second, a cautionary tale for those who model themselves after you–a tale that warns to be both Sweet and smart, though we both know that’s not possible, don’t we?


Sometimes I think I am like you. Perhaps not in the most obvious way, and perhaps not in the eyes of others–people these days have been too intent on creating a version of myself that is easier for them to see; a version of myself that is arrogant and antagonized, harsh and hated. They want to see a monster in me, Ophelia. And so they do.

They would not compare me to you in terms of a likeness–they would compare me to you in terms of everything that I should have been, but wasn’t. I don’t know why they hate me so much, my dear friend. I don’t understand.

Because, you, Ophelia, you are soft, and passive, and lovely, and obedient. Those are the things they want me to be, I think. I would be easier to control that way, wouldn’t I?

You have it easy, Ophelia.  Had it easy. And sometimes, I wish I was you. Because you were suppressed, yes, but didn’t even realize it. You didn’t see what was wrong with the world you were living in, but I do. You didn’t know anything different. You couldn’t have. You were born lovely. You were born soft. Delicate. You were born into everything that a woman is supposed to be and you were loved for it. Revered. Your innocence charmed people, your beauty enchanted them. You never had to be anything more than you.

But I–I have to be everything I’m not. Day after day, another skin, another voice, a new set of bones–I have made myself again and again, and it is never good enough. Never good enough for them and never good enough for me.

Because, Ophelia, they say I am unlike you. They say that I am frigid, and rude, and pretentious–they say that I am rough, and arrogant, and entitled. I cannot tell you how much it hurts me to know that I am not truly liked. Not really. And perhaps if they saw me to be more like you, I would be.

But the thing is, Ophelia, despite what they say about me, I am. I am you.

I have been used like you, abused like you, trodden on like you.

Because you are lovely, and soft, and gentle, and when I am just me, I am too. Despite what they say. Despite how they go out of their way to smear me–I know I am like you.

I know I am like you.

Because, I am not cruel, and neither are you, though they would have you believe I was–I think it makes it easier for them to look me in the eye; breaking me down brick by brick, stone by stone, rock by rock. It makes me less human and gives me animal qualities, and I think they like that. I think it makes them feel better about themselves. I think it gives them their own deluded sense of honour.

But it’s not honourable, Ophelia–they have no regard for how it makes me feel dead when I am alone at night. Because they strip me of my honour to try and regain theirs.

I nearly drowned once, you know. Nearly drowned myself, like you did. Sometimes, I think that would be the best way to go–I would put on a pretty dress, and wear flowers in my hair, and breathe in the icy water, and for once I would not be empty. And I would float down the river half-alive, and maybe then they would not hate me so much because they would think I was so beautiful with the flowers in my hair and water in my lungs that they would not be able to think about anything else.

Because that’s all anyone remembers about you, isn’t it? How you were beautiful in life and in death. A beautiful, virginal, obedient girl. That’s what you are.

And that’s what I should have been.


Do you see it, now, Ophelia?

You, having been coerced into surrendering your independence, suffer from a smothered and uncertain identity, so inextricably reliant upon direction from your father that when you are forced to confront freedom, you lose all sense of self. You are nothing without a controlling male presence to give you a purpose. Ophelia, it is through you that we see how when an individual with an uncertain identity and a limited ability to function independently attempts to safeguard their honour, their sense of self will only deteriorate further.

You, who only ever knew obedience, never had the opportunity to develop any sort of sophisticated identity. All you ever knew to do was listen and obey. How could you have known what would happen to you when this was taken away? You lost all sense of yourself, dear girl, because your father is dead and your brother is gone and your lover has rejected you. You simply weren’t made to endure that kind of abandonment, were you? It shocked you into madness.

You live in a world where honour is tied to your virginity and your ability to be silent and obedient, where your honour is all you have, where certainty is hard to come by. To have your purity blemished, your reputation tainted would cause you an impossible amount of shame. And the pressure to safeguard your honour when limited by an uncertain identity and dependent on external direction lead you to your downfall.

Your sense of certainty is dependant on the men around you and without them you are only a broken little girl, struggling to restore your honour. Your honour, your virginity, defines you, and your own sense of self, removed from others, is so fragile, so underdeveloped.

You were reliant on others to build an identity for you so you didn’t have to be uncertain. This is what killed you.

It is through you that we understand all of this, Ophelia. We understand how your obedience leads others to take advantage of you, that it made you easy to control. Conformity does that to one, you know. Obedience and conformity are the least honourable paths one can walk, for blind trust will only lead to betrayal. Hurt, and lies, and betrayal.

From you we learned the dangers of becoming what others want you to be; your own father’s pursuit of honour and certainty is what influenced yours, and you became a vessel for the achievement of his pursuit.

You taught us that when an individual’s value is tied to an uncertain sense of honour and this honour is diminished, one will go to extreme lengths to pursue its restoration. Your father and your society taught you that honour was more important than anything else, even your life. And so, a lost little girl whose sense of certainty died along with her father, you went to extreme lengths in order to protect this honour – you let yourself drown to protect yourself from your own voice, a voice that was surfacing in the wake of your madness, a voice that would have tarnished your reputation and tainted your honour.

From you, darling Ophelia, we learned that when an individual with an uncertain identity, reliant upon the instruction of others to provide them with certainty, is forced to forgo the direction they have depended upon their whole life, the individual will attempt to exchange their identity for a restored sense of certainty. That is what you did, isn’t it? Your whole life, you didn’t have to know who you were because the men around you told you who to be. You identity never represented value to you because you were never free to imbue it with any, and so when the freedom to do so was forced upon you, you were uncertain. You floundered like a waterlogged dress and in the end, you decided drowning – going to a place where you would find some certainty, a place ruled by a divine director – was better than remaining in a place where nothing was definite anymore.

In the end, poor Ophelia, this is all you ever were: a flower plucked from the earth for its beauty and cast aside after it began to wither and die.


Ophelia. Obedient, sweet, passive Ophelia.

The lovely and virtuous maiden, wearing innocence and obedience like flowers in her hair—that’s you, is it not?
Only it isn’t. Your loveliness is forced upon you, your virtue defines your worth, innocent by habit and obedient by practice. And now, Ophelia, after having been used by the men in your life, you have been left with no certainty to call your own, for you never truly had any in the first place. Did you? No certainty about yourself, your love, your identity. There was nothing left for you, Ophelia, and you were not taught how to make your own.

And your honour – dare we even speak of that? Death, for you, was the ultimate way to safeguard and restore your honour; you can’t tarnish your own reputation if you’re dead, can you? And who dares speak ill of a dead girl? In death, the wolves can’t take your honour away from you anymore, and you don’t have to restrain yourself from temptation any longer. Right?

Perhaps death was the only way for you to be certain about something, the only way for you to protect your honour.

Perhaps that’s why you drowned yourself – after living with constant pressure to be honourable, after living a life of uncertainty, it must have felt nice to do the dishonourable thing for once, to do something that you were finally sure about.


Guiding Prompt: The ways in which individuals struggle to restore honour and certainty.


Hope–Introduction, Creative Piece 1 and Explanation, Transition, Personal Connection, Conclusion

Ziyana–Quotation, Introduction, Creative piece 2 and Explanation, Transition, Insight, Conclusion


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3 thoughts on “The Art of Obedience

  1. Dear Zi and Hope,

    I was hooked from the first line. “Ophelia. The lovely and virtuous maiden, wearing innocence and obedience like flowers in her hair—that’s you, is it not?” This is an example of a great essay hook–something we have all been taught to incorporate into our own critical writing. It is both analytical and creative; it is both relevant and pretty, yet it doesn’t not sound too flowery. LOVE it.

    Beautiful, BEAUTIFUL creative pieces. But really that isn’t surprising; when you have Hope and Ziyana working on something together, you know it is going to be absolutely brilliant.

    Hope–Loved the imagery in “Loveliness of Being” especially the lines “My eyes will be cool and pale,/pearly like daisy petals” I appreciate the contrast here, an almost juxtaposition between the eyes which are faded and dull in comparison to something as bright as a daisy, or as cherished as a pearl. You are such a remarkable writer!

    Ziyana–Clever usage of grammar in your own poem. I liked how the only word you ever capitalized was Sweet, which conveys the burden of the woman Ophelia was expected to be: Sweet but not Sweet enough that her own reputation and esteem were tainted. After all, “there is no use for a flower whose petals have all been plucked.”

    That being said the whole piece as a whole read very poetically, which I appreciated since I am also a poet. Your style of writing was very engaging. So bravo!

    In terms of improvements, I do have a few suggestions I would offer:

    – For both Hope and Zi: While reading, I felt as though the prompt, while acknowledged, was explored implicitly, not explicitly–like the prompt was only being danced around but not fully analyzed if that makes sense. For example, and correct me if I am wrong, while there were mentions of the struggles instigated by both honour and certainty in Ophelia’s life, I feel as though the part of the prompt relating to the restoration of both honour and certainty was neglected. So just maybe some more in-depth analysis. This is something even I needed to work on for my own Character Perspective

    – For Hope: I recognized your poem from your personal blog (because I like to stalk you MUHAHAHAH). What I would offer is that instead of using the entire poem, I would have used specific excerpts from the poem; I felt as though there were some ideas that were relevant to Ophelia, but some that were not. For example, in your explanatory paragraph, you said, “The narrator of this piece is someone who is, by nature, harsh and strong, though she wishes to be delicate and soft, much like Ophelia naturally is.” This, of course, coincides with the beginning of your poem:

    I am not delicate.

    I’ve always been a little too much of something

    and not enough of everything else.

    A little too quiet

    (and far too loud),


    (but not too pretty),


    (but not smart enough).

    See, the problem with me

    is I have always been too




    like the sunlight in your eyes during a hangover;

    something that should have been soft

    but wasn’t soft at all.

    I would personally argue that Ophelia is not harsh, but is, on the contrary, soft by nature. I also feel like this statement, and this particular part of the poem, contradict the fact that this assignment particularly explores Ophelia’s own submission and obedience to the men in her life. Because of this, I felt as though there were a few times where the different components of the assignment seemed to lack cohesion in relation to each other. That being said, perhaps I simply did not understand what you meant. So what I would offer in this case is maybe give a few more sentences explaining this apparent harshness of Ophelia’s in such a way that it coincides with her submission. That being said, however, there were some stanzas that absolutely blew me away and were almost eerily relevant to Ophelia’s own life. Specifically the lines from “I’ve taken to standing/on the roof of my house” to “I will float/from the lightness/in my stomach,/and my heartbeat will/grow faint with time,/until eventually, I find/that it ceases altogether,” I think, if you were to choose an excerpt, this would be a good choice.

    Other than that, I don’t have anything else to suggest in terms of things ya’ll could work on. Also appreciated the quote you chose. Most people chose very lengthy quotes. However, while this quote is short, it holds both relevance and depth to the arguments you have made. Also, there was one line–forgive me for I can’t seem to find the direct quote at the moment– but it was something about how Ophelia was nothing without her flowers, aka she was nothing without her obedience and innocence. LOVE.

    It’s been a pleasure to read this piece!

    Jadey Bear

    1. hey jade!

      thank you so much for your comment. just to speak to your constructive criticism–the assignment said to write creatively from the perspective of someone other than oneself in response to the character who we picked to analyze (at least from what i understand), so the poem was not about ophelia but rather about someone who wanted to be like ophelia–deliacte and soft. ophelia is not at all harsh or severe, so it was meant to be a contrast between my character and ophelia, for the character i created naturally was harsh and longed to be delicate in both appearance and nature like ophelia.

      hope this cleared up some of the confusion and thank you again for your comment!!



  2. Hope and Ziyana,

    congratulations. This piece is incredible. It showcases a grasp of language and style that is baffling for a writer of any age. The subtly of arguments and metaphor conveyed through structure and grammar, using style to convey theme and thought is…wow. Congrats you guys. I’ll be reading this piece many times so I can learn to write.

    Before I leave, I also want to say thank you. There are few pieces that I feel convey the sense of womanhood and its struggles to me in a powerful way that force me to shut up and listen. I felt like I was being told to commanded by this piece and it conveys a strength of character and confidence in sexuality that is powerful. I feel many times that writings of women get lost to male ears because of how earnest any soft they can sound, revelations of struggles and a nee to break free. This piece was a welcome and abrupt change that I am very very happy I read.


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