Advanced Literature and Composition Hamlet benchmark paper

“…Poor Ophelia, divided from herself and her fair judgment….” King Claudius of William Shakespeare’s widely renowned and controversial play Hamlet is greatly disturbed by the sudden and dramatic change he observes in Ophelia’s disposition. In the play Ophelia is the only daughter of Polonius, the king’s most trusted advisor. She is also the love interest of Prince Hamlet, Claudius’s stepson. After the death of her father, Ophelia’s personality unexpectedly transforms from gentle and submissive to distant and disillusioned. For years Shakespearean scholars have analyzed Hamlet, trying to gain literary insight into possible reasons for Ophelia’s apparent madness. The possibility of Ophelia having the mental disorder Schizophrenia may answer the long-debated questions of critics. Schizophrenia is a disease of the mind, characterized by a distant difficulty determining real experiences from unreal experiences. Scientific research suggests a link between this disease and chemical imbalances in the brain, however most medical researchers believe that Schizophrenia is most profoundly influenced by heredity. Schizophrenia most frequently presents itself during young adulthood, thus alluding to the possibility that Ophelia, being a young woman, could have in fact been born with the disorder. However, because symptoms do not usually appear until later in life, she would have no knowledge of her predisposition to this mental disorder until the initial onset. Readers are first introduced to Ophelia in Act I, scene iii. It is important to note that at the present time, Prince Hamlet and Ophelia are madly in love. Polonius and Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, are expressing great concern for the young lovers’

relationship. They believe that Hamlet is seducing Ophelia in an attempt to gain physical pleasure without later commitment. Polonius, trying to protect his daughter from inevitable shame and heartache, forbids her to pursue her relationship with the prince. Ophelia tries to defend her dignity by stating that in all circumstances Hamlet has been completely honest with her, and that his love is sincere. In line 110 of Act I scene iii, Ophelia says, “My lord [Hamlet] hath importuned me with love in honorable fashion,” and later in line 115, “And [Hamlet] hath given countenance to his speech my lord, with almost all the holy vows of heaven.” However, Polonius remains steadfast in his belief the relationship will cause her harm. A distraught Ophelia is forced to succumb to her father’s command. In line 126, Ophelia surrenders by saying, “I will obey, my lord.” Hamlet immediately notices Ophelia’s intentional attempts to avoid him, and he is enraged. Throughout the following acts, Hamlet and Ophelia argue often, thus intensifying Ophelia’s stress. The combination of her painful breakup with Hamlet and the guilt she feels for intentionally ignoring him, mark the beginning of her awkward, socially withdrawn behavior. From this point forward, Ophelia gradually loses her vitality. She shows decreased interest in her family, becomes less emotionally expressive, and, in general, lacks joy and satisfaction. Some scholars argue that Ophelia’s bizarre and withdrawn behavior is prompted solely by her desire to cope with her pain and stress in private. However, these behaviors demonstrate promising links to a more complex resolution: Ophelia was schizophrenic. According to Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, symptoms of this disorder include loss of contact with reality, unusual behavior, disorganized thoughts and speech, and social withdrawal. Researchers have determined that stressors in one’s environment

affect the onset and intensity of the symptoms. Such stressors include the death of a loved one, a change in jobs or relationships, and hostility at home. In Act III, scene iv, Ophelia is devastated when she is informed that Hamlet has accidentally stabbed Polonius to death. With the death of her father continually pervading her thoughts, Ophelia undergoes another series of personality changes. In line 2 of act IV, scene v, a gentleman describes Ophelia’s distraught condition saying, “She is importunate, indeed distract: Her mood will needs be pitied.” Ophelia always appears to be lost in her own thoughts, singing incoherent poetry and speaking absentmindedly of her father’s death as if she has no inclination of what she is saying. She wanders the castle with a blank expression on her face, talking to herself about irrelevant subjects, sometimes even laughing as if delirious. Oftentimes schizophrenics are referred to as “insane” or “made.” This “insanity” may encourage schizophrenics to act or speak in unusual ways usually in response to supposed “voices” they hear. Ophelia’s disillusionment frightens both King Claudius and Queen Gertrude as they try to sympathize with the poor girl. The king expresses his overwhelming grief in lines 76-85 saying, “O! this is the poison of deep grief; it springs all from her father’s death. O Gertrude, Gertrude! When sorrow come, they come not in singles spies, but in battalions…poor Ophelia divided from herself and her fair judgment….” According to Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, ten percent of all schizophrenics commit suicide, and two percent of these suicides are the result of obedience to “voices.” In Act IV, scene ii the queen announces that fair Ophelia has drowned in a nearby brook. From Gertrude’s account, the reader is led to believe that Ophelia’s death was suicide “…

but long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death” (line 180). Ophelia’s drowning suicide could be explained by her obedience to “voices.” Perhaps in following “voices.” She wandered into the brook and drowned. Through time, many scholars have sought to acquire a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of Ophelia, in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet. Many have tried to dissect the complexity of her character in an effort to explain her unusual behavior. Their results convey that Ophelia used isolation as a coping mechanism. However, it is frequently overlooked that Ophelia’s “madness” closely resembles the disillusionment experienced by those suffering from the mental disorder, schizophrenia.

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