Discuss the ideas developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the ways in which individuals struggle to restore honour and certainty to their lives.
Honour is the infrastructure of an individual’s character; it is the bedrock of both virtue and morality. Its presence is capable of elevating an individual to the praise associated with high esteem just as its absence is capable of inciting the destruction of one’s reputation. That being acknowledged, one may even surrender their honour, and at times, perhaps even the honour of others, in an attempt to attain their longings. In addition to this, sometimes it is certainty itself that convinces an individual that their actions will surely provide them with what it is they truly desire. However, sometimes certainty, influenced only by the passion and emotion one expresses as they seek to obtain a goal, can be blinding and can, consequently, cause an individual to carry out a course of action that is considered to be morally wrong–a course of action considered to be dishonourable. This, in turn, proves it is not possible for honour and certainty to coincide within an individual’s life—that honour and certainty are, in fact, opposing forces whose repulsion often instigates disunity. This premise is explored in William Shakespeare’s chaotic and convoluted tragedy Hamlet. In the play, Shakespeare uses the character Ophelia to present to his audience the idea that honour and certainty are opposite entities whose contradicting and destructive forces are capable of reaping significant discordance—and with this discordance, an irremediable misery—within an individual’s life. Ophelia’s life, for instance, was plagued by mayhem which was spawned by the lack of harmony that inevitably existed between honour and certainty. While Ophelia undoubtedly played a role in the fatal catalyzation of this disunity, Hamlet’s own actions—the denouncement of his love for Ophelia and his murder of Polonius—were also irrevocably tethered to the life and actions of Ophelia herself; it was Hamlet’s attempt to restore honour and certainty that stripped Ophelia’s own life of honour and certainty, thus inciting her struggle with madness, and ultimately, her death.
Humans, of course, are significantly flawed beings and are limited in their power; no man or woman is capable of foreseeing the future. Without this ability, one cannot possibly predict the consequences of the decisions they make and the mayhem these consequences can initiate. Similarly, one cannot possibly foreshadow the ways in which honour and certainty–in a state of seemingly escapable disunity–may impact their lives. If Hamlet had possessed the authority and insight to look into the future, for example, he most likely would not have dismissed his love for Ophelia in the first place—an act that resulted from his wish to restore honour. After all, it was through his plans to carry out revenge against Claudius that he sought to honour his father’s death by assassinating his father’s murderer. As part of his scheme, he had also pleaded insanity for it was his “madness” that concealed his true intents. As a matter of a fact, it was during an episode of feigned madness that he had also feigned his “indifference” towards Ophelia and the love he had at one time expressed for her, by stating, “I loved you not.” (3.1.119) This, without a doubt, contributed to the tarnishing of Ophelia’s pride, which is obvious from her response to the malice of Hamlet’s words: “And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,/That suckt the honey of his music vows…” (3.1, 157-158) Here, Ophelia had chastised herself, for she had believed Hamlet’s romantic intentions for her were honest and unadulterated in their nature only so he could eventually reject her. One might even argue that Hamlet’s attempts to restore honour not only cost Ophelia her own sense honour but her sense of certainty of as well. Ophelia, upon being rejected by Hamlet, began to question whether or not he had ever cared for her; she was forced to become sceptical—uncertain—of her worth and value. This serves to further reiterate the idea that there is an undeniable discordance between honour and certainty. More specifically, it is evident that with the presence of honour comes the absence of certainty, or, to look at it from a different perspective, with the absence of honour comes the presence of uncertainty. Furthermore, Hamlet’s cruel behaviour is also indicative of the fact that there are times in which one may compromise the honour of another in order to maintain their own sense of honour. In this case, Hamlet’s attempt to restore honour imposed uncertainty onto Ophelia and degraded her since his rejections seemed to have taken a significant toll on her self-esteem. Moreover, it is this discrepancy—that which acts as a seemingly impassible barrier between honour and certainty— that seems to be, in itself, a procreator of misery; after all, heartbreak is a natural breeder of sorrow, and, as is eventually demonstrated by Ophelia herself, madness.
The lack of cohesion that exists between honour and certainty often results in significant ramifications; for rarely, does anything positive come from disorder. That is, with disunity comes insatiable chaos and with insatiable chaos comes madness. This recognized, heartbreak was not the only casualty Ophelia had experienced due to the conflicting relationship between honour and certainty. Indeed, it was the chaos associated with disunity that initially spurred the mental deterioration of Ophelia. Ophelia’s madness, of course, was initiated by the death of her father, Polonius. This, again, ties back to Hamlet’s own actions, his own aspirations to restore honour; Hamlet would not have killed Polonius if he had not wished to avenge, and therefore honour, his father’s death. Polonius had just, unfortunately, found himself ensnared by Hamlet’s wrath simply because he had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was, as a result, the murder of Polonius at the hands of the man Ophelia had been in love with, combined with Hamlet’s rejections towards Ophelia, that stripped her life of any sense of consistency she may have once known—that which was related to a nurturing father and a doting lover. In other words, and as mentioned previously, Ophelia was deprived of certainty because of Hamlet’s endeavours to restore honour. The chaos that ensued due to the disharmony existing between honour and certainty was precisely what infected the mind of Ophelia, causing her to descend into a seemingly incurable madness. In this madness, as witnessed and reported upon by Horatio, Ophelia claimed “she hears /There’s tricks i’ th’ world, and hems, and beats her heart,/ Spurns enviously at straws, speaks things in doubt, That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing…” (4.5.5-9) Interestingly enough, as was made obvious by Horatio’s observations, Ophelia’s madness itself was also composed of a certain discordance, one that seems to mirror the discordance that exists between honour and certainty. Again, this proves that disunity—something which inevitably exists between honour and certainty—breeds chaos. In this case, it was disunity that denied Ophelia’s life of certainty in the midst of Hamlet’s restoration for honour. This, then, resulted in the chaos of Ophelia’s madness which is a misery of its own—something that is especially highlighted by Ophelia’s own death.
Within the power dynamic between honour and certainty, one thing is made very clear: honour is more powerful than certainty is. It is honour—as well as its malign counterpart, dishonour—that appears to exert dominance over its submissive inferior, certainty. Even when Ophelia attempted to restore certainty—the certainty she was denied of after Hamlet had broken her heart and murdered her father—dishonour, in the end, still prevailed. For instance, in an attempt to restore the certainty she felt she had lost, Ophelia had chosen to die, for, while death, to a certain extent, may be cryptic and ambiguous, she had also realized it would surely liberate her of her sorrowful burdens, those which were inevitably evoked by the discrepancies between honour and certainty. However, while she was able to rid herself of her agonies through death, and although her suicide was not necessarily premeditated, her death was still considered to be suspicious. Technically, she had still taken her own life, which according to the common law of Medieval times, was a sin, and was, therefore, considered to be dishonourable. That is why when Laertes had, at Ophelia’s funeral, asked what other burial rites his sister was entitled to, the priest had responded, “Her obsequies have been as afar enlarged/ As we have warrantise: her death was doubtful;/And, but that great command o’ersways the order,/She should in groups unsanctified have lodged/Till the last trumpet; for charitable prayers,/Shards, flints, and pebbles should have been thrown on her.” (5.1.233-239) Here, the priest tells Laertes that, since Ophelia’s death had been an apparently sinful one, she should not even have been permitted to be buried in the palace churchyard and that her corpse should have been pelted with stones. It is this lack of dignity by which Ophelia’s death was regarded that further accentuates the tyrannical nature of honour, and, more specifically, its complement dishonour. For it is honour that is capable of either justifying or penalizing the choices an individual makes. It is honour that decides whether or not an individual’s actions are commendable or deplorable— whether they are dishonourable—despite the certainty by which an individual may have been encouraged to carry out a particular course of action in the first place. This is obviously something that holds true for Ophelia; she was certain of her actions just as she was certain of the peaceful freedom death had supposedly promised. For this, however, she was dishonoured due to the unbalanced power dynamic that exists between both honour and certainty, the former holding considerably more authority.
Indeed Ophelia was a poor wretch of a girl who was victimized by the casualties of discrepancy. She was forced to struggle under the tormenting opposition of honour and certainty, and the fact that dishonour, consequently, had invaded her life. Although it was Hamlet’s own actions that had first first instigated the dispute between honour and certainty—the very actions that were inadvertently fettered to Ophelia—the choices Ophelia made in response to Hamlet’s actions also lended themselves to the establishment of the discordance and, therefore, the agonies that afflicted her life. As is implied in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this demonstrates that honour and certainty are repelling forces, honour obviously holding more power than certainty within what is considered to be a very skewed power dynamic. It is, as a result, this disunity that appears to be a catalyst for both adversity and sorrow in an individual’s life.