Hamlet – Polished Critical Essay

Dependent, Demented, Demise

“… the role emotional courage plays when an individual experiences separation.”


When an individual finds the need to be dependent on another person, once separation occurs from that person, one’s emotional courage shatters. Ophelia struggled with her emotional courage throughout the entire play, Hamlet, and wouldn’t face her emotional adversities. She lacked the courage to step out of her comfort-zone and proceeded to be a very male-dependent female. She did not know how to react to the separation from the prominent male-figures when the time came. Aside from her character being very passive initially, her lack of emotional courage and knowledge of self-worth made her submissive to said males, thus lacking the ability to think and act for herself. When the people she depended on separated from her, she went to the only action she had complete control over, suicide. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare proves that when an individual experiences dependence on another being, separation wrecks the individual’s emotional courage, resulting in their demise.
Ophelia’s dependence on males is immediately evident at the very beginning of the play. Although she lacks emotional courage with her father, she is still seen to have control with her brother, Laertes. In Act One, Scene Three, while Laertes is separating from her and their father, Ophelia and him are seen talking. While Laertes completes his role as a protective brother and says his opinion on Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship, Ophelia has the courage to teasingly talk back to her brother. She says, “but, good my brother, do not, as some ungracious pastors do, show me the steep and thorny way to heaven whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine, himself the primrose path of dalliance treads and recks not his own rede.” Although she is passive, she knows with whom she is able to show her courage to. On the other hand, her courage with her brother cannot be reflected with her father. Polonius is a very dominant male in her life, and she is willing to be as obedient as he requests. His controlling nature does not allow Ophelia to express her emotional courage to him for he has control of his daughter’s thoughts, causing her not to have an opinion of her own. This is evident in Act one, Scene three, right after Laertes leaves. Polonius tells Ophelia his opinion on her relationship with Hamlet and does not allow her to express her opinion. This causes her to feel so subdued, that she said, “I do not know, my lord, what to think.” Polonius then states, “think yourself a baby,” which immediately puts into perspective what rank she is at in this play. When she tried to voice her opinion to her father earlier in this scene, her self-courage was immediately dismissed when Polonius’ authority came into play. Her courage was damaged since she was immediately repressed from voicing her opinions and feelings to Polonius.
When an individual is dependent on another person to make decisions for them, they will easily fulfill any requests from that person. The men in Ophelia’s life are seen to take advantage of her passiveness and are able to manipulate her actions and opinions. That is seen when Polonius took advantage of Ophelia’s obedience and used her as a pon to see what would happen if she were to break up with Hamlet; this order was of course fulfilled by Ophelia. In Act three, Scene one, at the beginning of the scene, you could see Polonius telling Ophelia what to do, and it is assumed that he was telling her what to say right before that. He says, “Ophelia, walk you there. (to Claudius) Gracious, so please you, we will bestow ourselves. (to Ophelia) Read on this book that show of such an exercise may color your loneliness.” Ophelia then proceeds to find the courage to complete her father’s will and break up with Hamlet. But at the same time, she lacks the courage to voice her truth about why she is doing this with Hamlet; which is parallel to Act one, Scene three where she did not have the courage to speak her opinions to Polonius. Then, while she was separating with Hamlet, she had to courage to subtly talk back to Hamlet (as she did with Laertes). But, she started to lose that self-courage when he tried to manipulate the situation to seem as if he never loved her in the first place, “I loved you not … Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” As soon as Ophelia gains the courage to speak up to Hamlet and separate from him – even if it is at her father’s will – she still is put back in her ‘place.’ Once again, one of the most important men in her life diminished her and didn’t allow her to fully voice her opinions and feelings. Polonius told her to think of herself as a baby earlier in the play, and Hamlet told her to go to the nunnery, both of which are very deprecating things to hear in one’s direction. Hence, the men who have power over Ophelia, silence her, with the exception of Laertes.
When one is incredibly dependent upon another being who then separates from them, they lose control over themselves and act impulsively for that is the only thing they know how to do independently. Finally, Ophelia, after her father is murdered by the man she loves and separating from said man, doesn’t know what to do with herself which provokes her to go mad. This separation from her father caused her to feel guilty for her father’s murder and for Hamlet’s madness. In Act Four, Scene five, Ophelia goes to Gertrude’s room to speak with her. There, she starts saying and singing nonsense with meaning. It is clear at that point that her lack of emotional courage to speak honestly with Hamlet or against her father, makes her feel responsible and guilty for Polonius’ murder. This shame fuels her madness, and within this madness, she says to Gertrude, along the lines of, “I would have given you violets, but they have withered when my father died.” Violets represent faithfulness in this context, and she is essentially saying that she has lost her devotion to her father – and men – when Polonius has died. Only in her madness does she find the courage to voice her opinions and how she feels. When, finally, Ophelia gains some emotional courage after she separates from the men in her life, she proceeds to drown herself. The only reason why she commits suicide is because she has never been exposed to the freedom of speaking her truth so freely. This overwhelmed her for when one is constantly doing other’s bidding, they had no time to work on their self courage to fulfill their own wants. Ophelia’s extreme attachment to the males in her life, lead to her demise after she separated from those men. This concludes Ophelia’s life for she did not learn to gain courage on her own but merely depended on others to gain it for her.
In the play, Hamlet, Ophelia is a prime example of the importance of independence. She is extremely dependent and obedient to the male figures in her life who all were, in the end, responsible for her demise. She also should be held accountable for not finding the courage to voice her opinions as hard as that might’ve been at that time. Whether it be the courage to speak her truth to her father, the courage to voice her truth to Hamlet or gain control of the newfound courage after they have separated from her. Her dependence on men caused her to create her own tragedy, many could write about.
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