…the role emotional courage plays when an individual experiences separation.
Under the scrutiny of men, a woman’s voice is lost. Their manipulative, controlling ways inhibit her ability to find emotional courage, or her ability to overcome a series of struggles and discover the true power of her voice. Upon their departure from her life, she is left feeling utterly dejected and isolated, as their dominant presence had forced a sense of comfort and confidence upon her which disappeared along with them. Yet, over time, she can gain emotional courage when, in the midst of her brokenness, she discovers that the strength has been within her the whole time. Oppression can enforce a sense of obedience, but when that power dynamic is removed, an individual can can obtain courage through the spark of defiance that emerges with freedom from oppression. In the tragic play Hamlet, William Shakespeare explores Ophelia’s transition from obedience and silence to courage and madness through the separation from guidance, love, and oppression. Ophelia remained a devoted daughter, sister and lover throughout the play. Her courage slowly grows as her heart slowly crumbles. At first, she demonstrated undying loyalty and obedience to her father and brother, respecting their desires to not engage in a relationship with Hamlet. Laertes leaves for France, separating himself from his sister, a woman who relied on his affection and guidance. Then, she becomes a pawn in the King’s plan to discover the root of Hamlet’s madness; filled with angry betrayal, Hamlet insults Ophelia’s honour, thus separating himself from the woman who desperately sought out a future with him. Finally, with the death of Polonius, he unintentionally separates himself from Ophelia; at which point, her grief erupts into madness and her voice, which was simmering at the surface, comes out through songs and riddles. When an individual experiences loss, the emotional and physical separation from another, they recognize their freedom from oppression and are able to obtain courage through the defiance they had developed.
Courage slowly develops over time and under duress. As an individual succumbs to oppression and acts in obedience, the part of an individual, which desires to rebel against the demands of others, begins to accumulate. Their need for defiance remains hidden under their obligation to obey. Laertes and Polonius did not approve of Ophelia with Hamlet and demand her to break from him, to which she responds, “I shall obey, my lord.” (1.3) Ophelia’s obedience is conveyed through her acceptance of the command to not engage in a relationship with Hamlet, despite her love for him. Her true feelings for him and her opinion on the subject are never heard as her brother and father drown her out through their demands. Laertes departs for France, leaving behind his sister, who is trying to maintain her innocence. Ophelia first experiences separation through losing one of the men whom she honours and obeys. To tell an individual “no” is to plant an even deeper desire in one’s head to follow through with what they have been denied, creating defiance within their spirit. A woman in love can not stop herself from loving another; therefore the defiance she has gained strengthens her resolve to love, but it can also cause her to become more susceptible to manipulation.
Toying with an individual’s thoughts and feelings can create hatred in one individual and leave another feeling damaged and used. Ophelia, in an act of obedience, agreed to assist her father and the King with their desire to discover the truth behind Hamlet’s madness and answer the question: was he merely lovesick? “Get thee to a nunnery.” (3.1) Once Hamlet realizes the scheme to manipulate him using Ophelia, the prince becomes hostile towards her, insulting her dignity and virtue. Through his sudden hatred for her, Hamlet betrays her ideals of love and marriage, the desires she had clung on to despite her family’s refusal. Ophelia begins to comprehend how she was not only betrayed and used by Hamlet, but also by her father. Her heart was manipulated for a purpose that could not even be fulfilled, and her voice was still lost. Out of respect for her father, Ophelia could not tell Hamlet of the plot, nor could she fight against the vile comments he hurled upon her as she still lacked the necessary emotional courage to defend herself. Hamlet intentionally separates himself from Ophelia, in an act of spite, with no regard for the heartbreak he caused through his betrayal. Despite the pain inflicted upon her, Ophelia remains steadfast in her obedient ways, and remains unaware of the impact losing the men in her life has; this impact eventually pushes her to obtain emotional courage.
By being separated from the manipulative influence in one’s life, an individual can be left even more distraught than they have been whilst on their journey, but then they discover a new sense of courage within themselves. The death of Polonius, at the hands of Hamlet, is the moment Ophelia’s heart and mind shatter completely. “Pray you, mark.” (4.5) At the peak of her madness during their journey, Ophelia begs for Queen Gertrude to listen to her words, songs and riddles, which speak of the truths she has discovered and the lessons she has learned. Her courage, even if derived in her madness, is evident through her brazen action to offer symbolic flowers to the royal party- columbines for infidelity and rosemaries for remembrance. With the loss of support of her brother, the respect of Hamlet, and now, the wisdom of her father, Ophelia no longer feels forced to remain obedient, to remain silent. Although grief and despair have tormented her mind, the courage she exemplifies is her remaining knowing, which she openly says in public; an act of defiance against the men who simply left her behind. She has the appearance of an individual driven mad, but her voice portrays her understanding of the circumstances and her lack of fear of saying them; thus, it is in this way that courage in itself is rather deceitful. One may believe there is an absence of emotional courage in an individual, when in reality, there is an abundance of it. Through the final separation from her father, Ophelia becomes free of oppression, and therefore, obtains the emotional courage she had been denied her entire life. It exists through her madness, but she is able to reveal that she knows more than she has ever let on before by offering up the flowers- offering up her voice.
Emotional courage is obtained when an individual finds their voice once becoming free of oppression, after being separated from others who had enforced their silence through manipulation, control, and betrayal. Ophelia never had a voice while under the influence of her brother and father, but as she blossomed into a young woman over the years, the inevitable need to obtain her desires remained rooted deep within her. Time and time again, Ophelia was mistreated by men, slowly building her spirit of rebellion. She lost her brother to his taste for freedom. She lost Hamlet to his insatiable need for revenge. She lost her father to the sword wielded by the hands of the man she once loved. Madness overcame her, yet through a loss of sanity, she found courage. She found her voice.