Polished Hamlet Critical

Honour is seen as an abstract concept of where an individual obtains recognition of their actions. For instance, a man who brings honour to his family name is recognized. With honour comes the absolute assurance of one’s own recognition; in other words, certainty. Honour and certainty are interlocked in the sense that one quality will lead to the other based off of an individual’s decisions. In the restoration of honour and the desire to fulfill them, one can find certainty in life, and perhaps develop as an individual. However, in the medieval times, how could a woman, who had no will of her own, balance between honour and certainty? When honour is dependent on another individual, one lacks the ability to find certainty in life. This is explored in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, through the character of Ophelia. As a woman, the conventional concept that the father’s word in undeniable, results in contradictory roles Ophelia must play. Ophelia is the epitome of innocence in her family’s eyes, and she must grow to be the dutiful wife and abiding mother. However, her Renaissance sense of love for Hamlet distorts her purpose to fulfil the honour her father expects of her, along with the uncertainty that comes with a relationship with Hamlet. Through the character of Ophelia, Shakespeare demonstrates that with the inability of an individual to make their own decisions, one will be crushed under the strain of expectations, and will therefore take desperate measures to deal with both honour and certainty. The consequence of an unstable purpose is shown through Ophelia’s dependence on others, her reaction to independence, and the shift in her sense of self that follows.



As a woman in the medieval era, Ophelia is a character whose fate lies in the hands of the men around her, and whose only purpose is to bring honour to her family. In her father’s and brother’s eyes, she is the eternal virgin, the vessel whose purpose is to be a dutiful wife and abiding mother. She is a shell of a human being where her own will is nonexistent and the absoluteness of her father’s words rules her entirely. Shakespeare uses the characters of Polonius and Laertes as a way to suggest Ophelia’s dependence on others. She is dependent in the sense that options are merely a false illusion; they were never presented before her, as she needs only to obey the men around her. She knows nothing about the world, and that suggests the idea that a dependent individual is easily swayed because of the lack of control one has over making decisions. This is demonstrated in the quote,  “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” (1.3. 591) Ophelia says this in reply to Polonius’s warning about Hamlet. The quote suggests her struggle with restoring her honour, as she formally addresses her father, not wanting to become a disgrace to her family. Because of her social standing as a woman, Ophelia would not be allowed to voice her opinion, much less reject the warning offered by Polonius. The societal concept that a father’s word is undeniable haunts Ophelia, and she therefore can offer no resistance to her father’s words. For an individual, their family is often a defining part of their identity, and Ophelia is no different. Because of Ophelia’s constant desire to  please and certify the honour her father and brother hold over her (as it was her only purpose that was expected of her), Polonius instructs Ophelia to distance herself from Hamlet. At the same time, Laertes uses her honour and her trust in him as leverage to control her loyalties. It is at this point in the story when Ophelia’s dependence is most apparent and begins to define her. Every action she takes is to fulfil the purpose Polonius provides her; illustrating how dependence, when taken to the extreme, can quickly consume and dominates one’s mind. Essentially, the possibility of obtaining the honour expected of her justifies Ophelia’s existence, causing her purpose to be defined only by the people around her. The author employs this idea to express how the restoration of honour can become the only way for an individual to recognize themselves. Her brother’s immediate warnings against Hamlet’s love also contributed to the formation of Ophelia’s dependence, since she could not reflect on her own state of being without the reliant on their opinions. As a result of the dependence they inspired, Ophelia’s honour is flawed. Ophelia allowed herself to accept their warnings and stays the choice-less existence she was expected to be. That is to say, the idea that an individual may lose the ability to make decisions for themselves is reliant on a family’s expectations that clouds an individual’s will.  


All of Ophelia’s certainty is shattered when Hamlet kills Polonius behind the tapestry. The certainty of which relies on the security of her father, Polonius. With the death of Polonius, Ophelia is left with the uncertainty of her being, as she no longer has the familiar purpose of obeying her father. This is demonstrated by the quote,  “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts.” (4.5. 3053)  The passing of Polonius collapses the certainty Ophelia had built through the reliance on others.  The insanity Ophelia displays stems from her lack of experience with independence, which leaves her vulnerable to the uncertainty of her future. Her father was once the epitome of her honour; the concept where a father’s word is absolute no longer governs her. The disappearance of her purpose hurt her severely, so she began to cultivate an insane behaviour due to the lack of authority, or rather, certainty over her life. From here, Ophelia has lost her previous existence. Before, she was a choiceless, dependent being, but now she is left with the uncertainty of choice. She no longer has someone to make a decision for her, and the appearance of options prove too much for her to handle. Her inability to make decisions is demonstrated by Ophelia’s lack of characterization of herself; she never admits to wanting anything – she only follows other people’s decisions. This means that she has no sort of personal identity or independence that she develops for herself. She is a character who lacks development and depth beyond that which is provided by other characters. She is merely a body painted by the influence of others with no will of her own. By using this element, Shakespeare depicts how a dependent individual may choose to indulge in insane behaviour in an attempt to reconcile the relation between their honour and certainty. If it were not for Polonius’s death, Ophelia’s pursuit of honour would have remained stagnant, and continued to rely heavily on other people’s words.  


In Ophelia’s desperation to restore honour and certainty, the author demonstrates the negative impacts of the lack of independence an individual may possess. With the uncertainty of her future, Ophelia has no means with which to restore balance and sanity within herself. In the line where Gertrude tells Laertes that Ophelia has drowned, “There with fantastic garlands did she come/Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,”  (4.7. 3317) the flowers she has holds much significance. She drowns covered in crow flowers, which represents her childishness at not being able to make decisions. Perhaps her childishness also led her to escape the uncertainty of her world through death. Her inability to make decisions means she is unable to bring a sense of certainty in her life, and as a result, reconciling honour and certainty is impossible. Consequently, she drowns in a brook with the too heavy burdens of uncertainty.  It is also significant that Ophelia drowns near a weeping willow, a tree that symbolizes forsaken love. Her love for Hamlet was to never be reciprocated, and with the death of her father, she can no longer fulfil her previous purpose to obtain honour for her family name. Independence is needed for an individual to develop. However, her reliance on those around her proves that she is unable to grow, and she therefore remains stagnant in her pursuit of honour and certainty. In other words, Ophelia, who was unable to restore certainty and honour in her life, chose to easily end her suffering, symbolized by the nettles, through death, which exemplifies the weakness that come with dependence. Through Ophelia’s decision to end her pain, Shakespeare demonstrates that when a dependent individual no longer has someone to rely on, it leaves them to struggle with restoring certainty in their lives, and therefore leads them to take desperate measures to deal with the lack of security over their future.



An individual whose purpose was to only follow the expectations presented to them is unable to deal with the uncertainty that comes with making decisions. This is demonstrated in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, through the character of Ophelia. As a dependent existence, she is caught between her father’s and brother’s restrictive instructions and Hamlet’s crushing demands. With the sudden appearance of choice, Ophelia is unable to reconcile both honour and certainty, and thus, has no alternative but to throw herself into the river to drown. The idea that a choiceless individual with crushing expectations will take desperate measures to restore honour and certainty is explored through Ophelia’s dependence on others, the appearance of choice, and the inability to reconcile honour and certainty.


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4 thoughts on “Polished Hamlet Critical

  1. Kelley,

    Great job with this critical–honestly, they are the devil incarnate to me because I just never know what to do with them, so props to you!!

    -Like the idea you are exploring–about a medieval woman’s role in society and her responsibility, or lack there of, for herself.
    -The quotes that you have chosen support your ideas excellently–it is something that I often struggle with, for texts I don’t know so well–I never know what to use as evidence to back up what I am saying, and I found that I have trouble with that, in particular, with Hamlet. It is something, however, that you have done very well.

    To work ons:
    -Sometimes, the clarity of your words gets lost in translation: “Honour is seen as an abstract concept of where an individual obtains recognition of their actions.” I think this is a combination of small grammatical and syntactical mistakes–try reading over your work before you submit, or reading your work backwards. This can give you the fresh set of eyes you need to ensure that everything is flowing coherently.
    -A title is not necessary, I don’t think, but it is always something I find that brings a piece together. That’s just my opinion, though.
    -Again, really make sure that everything is clear and makes sense. An example of this would be in your thesis, or in a sentence like: ” This is demonstrated in the quote, “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” (1.3. 591) Ophelia says this in reply to Polonius’s warning about Hamlet.” If you go over the grammar, it should fix this up right away.

    Overall, great job with this essay!!


  2. Kelley,

    The majority of writing that I’ve seen from you tends to be on the creative side, and I was curious to see how you would handle a critical essay, and I was surprised to see that you handle both the critical and creative sides of writing incredibly well! You clearly have the structure of a critical essay well learned, as you defined all of the necessary terms in the introduction paragraph and clearly established your stance on the prompt. One interesting theme that you added to this essay was the idea of femininity and how it ties into Ophelia’s uncertainty. Throughout the essay, you wove this theme into your arguments, showing how the topic was relevant to your thesis. I was also impressed on how you managed to prove your thesis with a minor character such as Ophelia. Maybe it was because I personally didn’t study her character that much, but I would have struggled to make an essay with a full initially-then-finally structure, but you managed to create a well-written essay with relevant examples and quotes to back up your arguments.

    The one thing that I would offer to improve this essay is to double check your grammar. There were a few lines that had minor punctuation errors in them, but they weren’t noticeable enough to disturb the flow of the essay, but all in all, I would say that you did an excellent job on this essay.

    Keep up the good work!

    – Genevieve

  3. Dear Kelley,

    Ooooh, you gave me lots to think about when it comes to Ophelia. At this point, I feel like I know Ophelia really well, but in reading this critical I got to know her even better. You had some great insights throughout and there were some beautiful lines that I’m definitely going to pocket, like, “…Laertes uses her honour and her trust in him as leverage to control her loyalties.” Wow.
    This was a great critical – really, criticals seem to be something that you’re quite good at. It felt controlled and sophisticated, and it was clear to me that you knew exactly what you wanted to say. I thought you addressed the prompt really well and you were consistent with your thesis throughout. You made really great Meaning and Matter in your body paragraphs, and I was interested in what you had to say the whole time that I was reading. I’m really impressed by this critical and I think it might be my favourite thing you’ve written this year (and I’ve read every single thing you’ve written this year.)
    As for constructive criticisms, I think you needed to be clearer in your writing – the way you word things tends to be confusing and sometimes doesn’t make sense. I know this just happens because your brain is moving faster than your fingers and you’re trying to say too much at once, but fixing these issues is what the editing stage is for. It might help to get a second set of eyes on your essay after you finish writing it – sometimes, other people are better at catching lines that don’t make sense and flaws in the clarity of our writing than we are ourselves.
    With your quotes – which were well selected, by the way – something you might want to consider doing is weaving them into your sentences rather than declaring them saying ‘this is shown in the following quote: …’ This just makes the presentation of the quote a bit more natural, because as it is, it interrupts the flow a bit to just drop a quote into the essay.
    Another suggestion I have for you is to make sure that you are addressing honour and certainty – the keywords of the prompt – throughout the essay. It’s okay to weave in other concepts as long as they do not become the focus at the expense of the topics you’ve been asked to explore. You were usually pretty good about this, but when your “Initially” paragraph barely mentioned honour or certainty until you were about halfway through it, I figured this was something I could bring up with you so you remember this for the exam on Friday.
    Really great job, Kelley! Good luck on your critical exam!


  4. Kelleyyyyyyyyy!

    I’m so happy I finally got around to reading this essay- I really needed the focus you provided through this piece, especially with exams coming up! Below are some things I really loved in your essay:

    – You tied in the definitions in your introductory paragraph really well, especially for certainty.
    – I liked the use of a question in your introductory paragraph to prove your point. Your ideas flow naturally and with sophistication- it provided a very smooth, suave transition to the next part of your paragraph.
    – “Renaissance sense of love”- I LOVE THAT PHRASE, especially if you think of its implications. The Renaissance was a time of self-discovery, changing worldviews and raging disease, much like Ophelia’s quest for honour and certainty- and her almost poisonous love for Hamlet.
    – “Obtaining honour justifies Ophelia’s existence”- Beautifully put. You really have a thing for swoon-worthy phrases, you know :)?
    – Good job with your quotes! You have a good sense of what goes where, and your clarity carries through to the rest of the critical. You also had very well developed Says and Means, displaying your excellent understanding of both the text and the character.
    – On a more personal note, I really like that you were able to deal with Ophelia in a clear-cut, concise manner; I sometimes get too invested in the character and then sympathize with them instead of pulling back and analyzing them. You quite obviously understand Ophelia from a more sensitive point of view, but I appreciate the fact that you didn’t let said empathy cloud your analysis- rather, you were able to use it to draw in the reader and manipulate their sense of empathy in turn. Good job Kelley!

    Constructive Criticism:

    – I feel as though a bit more explanation was necessary regarding your introductory paragraph- I felt as though some of your sentences were a little abrupt and they sounded almost as though they’d been cut off.
    – The Introduction portion of TIQA in Paragraph 1 was a bit lengthy. I think you could move it down certain pieces of it to come after your quote, because it would work as an amazing Say.
    – The “desperate measures” portion of your thesis could have been linked more heavily to your first two paragraphs through discussion of her betrayal of Hamlet. I think utilizing Hamlet and his treatment of Ophelia would provide you with more material to work with, especially since Ophelia isn’t exactly a major character and is thereby defined by her interactions with others. You addressed Laertes and Polonius very nicely, and I think drawing in Hamlet as well would provide more depth to both the essay and the evidence.
    – I feel as though Paragraphs 1 and 2 could have been a bit longer in order to incorporate more Matter and relate back to the human condition.
    – As the other lovely people have mentioned, there were some small GUMPS scattered throughout the piece.

    You’re honestly such an amazing writer, Kelley! I’m honoured that I got to work on the Ophelia assignment with you, and thanks for helping me feel welcome in AP! Good luck on Chemistry and Reading Comp- know that I’m always rooting for you!


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