Opehlia critical character in hamlet essay

Prevailing wisdom is that one of two things is at work here: Either an inconsistency in Shakespeare 's writing, which is not uncommon — his other works are fraught with them, though Hamlet far less than most. Or Shakespeare decided to up the ante on Hamlet's guilt.

Opehlia critical character in hamlet essay

Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic, Elisabeth Bronfen elucidates Western culture's fascination with depictions of dead, beautiful women in literature and the visual arts respectively, concluding that because such images are so omnipresent we are scarcely aware of their status as a resolute cultural tradition.

Likening portraits of dead women to Poe's famous purloined letter—so numerous as to be invisible to the viewer's eye—Bronfen elaborates the aesthetic association between women and death, quoting Poe's notorious statement, "the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.

Insofar as Ophelia is arguably Shakespeare's most recognizable female character, with a long and significant history of "purloining" in both verbal and visual media, she would seem to be an excellent focus for discussions of this kind. My purpose in this essay is to bring together these previously disparate methodologies that split Ophelia's body up between disciplines.

In addressing Shakespeare's character in this manner, however, I do not seek to establish an unequivocal "body" of work in which we can locate the "true" Ophelia, for my direction here will point out the reverse, that Ophelia is always elusive despite the fact that she is so "present" in artworks.

She is an elusive figure because Opehlia critical character in hamlet essay artworks regularly take as their subject a literary fragment from Hamlet reporting Ophelia's death, a fragment in which it is doubly impossible for Ophelia's body to be present. The method I adopt is partially paradoxical, for I wish to unearth the "literary" body of Ophelia present in different visual representations at the same time that I want to utilize these same media to suggest the degree to which they have formed our understanding of the dramatic textual character.

In order to position Ophelia's dual representational history more precisely within both art-historical and dramatic-critical frameworks, I start by tracing the history of painted Ophelias as they first appear typically in the 18th century.

My discussion of Gertrude's narrative of Ophelia's drowning next establishes the crucial context for understanding the important innovations of Arthur Hughes's 19th-century painting which I examine at length before returning to complete my catalogue of other important but more general examples of visual media from the 19th and 20th centuries; thus, I locate my literary investigation into Ophelia's origins in Shakespeare between visual arts contexts purposefully, hoping to elucidate Ophelia's extraordinary connection to both genres.

In the final sections, I consider the broader implications of Ophelia's dual representational life for aspects of popular culture.

Prior to the midth century, painted depictions of Shakespeare's Ophelia differ significantly from the image of the drowning, pathos-inspiring figure that typically haunts our imaginations today.

When 18th-century illustrators of Shakespeare—e. For example, as John Harvey has discussed with respect to two midth-century plates of Hayman's Mousetrap scene, in these works other characters are the primary focus West's Ophelia from the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery exhibition features her prominently in the mad scene, but with Laertes shown dismayed by her distributing flowers to the other characters.

Pressly notes with respect to his collection of plates of paintings held by the Folger Library, "depictions of Ophelia did not become popular until the late eighteenth century" The earliest exception to the presentation of Ophelia in a group context would seem to be Richard Westall's Boydell Gallery engraving c.

Westall's engraving rapidly begins to look as though it could be the model for all future works, for as Pressly notes: Ophelia is typically shown adorned with flowers. However, rarely is she presented alone until the next century, when "character criticism" is on the rise in literary circles and when, more generally, Shakespeare reigns supreme in Romantic-era imaginations, as Jonathan Bate has noted.

Opehlia critical character in hamlet essay

It is to the midth century that we must look for a substantial increase in the number of Ophelia-specific depictions: Here the focus is regularly centered upon Ophelia, presented as a single subject, and usually in her drowning scene.

As though we have been trained precisely by Poe to regard the death of a beautiful woman as a primarily aesthetic experience, we have come to expect seeing this scene if a painting bears the title "Ophelia. So where are we first persuaded that we "see" her drown? There is a willow grows askant the brook That shows his hoary leaves in the glassy stream.

Therewith fantastic garlands did she make Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.

There on the pendent boughs her crownet weeds Clamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver broke, When down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide, And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up, Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds, As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued Unto that element.

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. While it is not new to observe that Gertrude cannot have been present during the drowning and thus reports what she has been told by someone else, it is significant to note that with the exception of Martha C.

Ronk and Bridget Geliert Lyons, critics have neglected the import of this basic observation and glossed over the oddity of the aestheticized tone of the recital, choosing largely instead to fall in line with Harold Jenkins's opinion that Gertrude's "account of it, reaching chorus-like beyond the dialogue, the play expects us to accept" I would argue, however, that rather than "expecting us to accept" the evidence, Shakespeare highlights its aestheticized quality.

This passage is similar to the treatment of Lavinia in Titus Andronicuswhere Shakespeare has Marcus use incongruous Petrarchan love poetry when he paradoxically and grotesquely praises her mutilated body. Clearly, Shakespeare is not afraid to show his audience the on-stage spectacle of feminine death or suffering, as is amply illustrated by Cleopatra, Juliet, Desdemona, and by Gertrude herself.

Thus, as Lyons has noted, "to accept" Gertrude's speech as if its discomfiting quality were merely accidental deserving to be swept under the carpet is to ignore an important issue in the characterization of Ophelia. Throughout the play, Ophelia has her opinions and statements recast for her by other characters—namely, Laertes, Hamlet, and Polonius—who wish her to behave in a manner they deem appropriate.

Gertrude's speech is the epitome of such reconfigurings of Ophelia's realities, and it also should make us think twice about why her death need be so prettily recorded, and recorded unmistakably as an accident. It is worthwhile to point out that the controversy within and without the play over whether Ophelia commits suicide or is drowned accidentally depends largely upon the discrepancy between what Gertrude says in this speech and the discussion that the gravediggers have in the subsequent scene.

Although as Michael MacDonald has explained, Renaissance law was confusing and rather arbitrary about what determined whether one was "guilty of one's own murder," felo de se, or innocent by reason of insanity, the conversation of the gravediggers seems to indicate that Ophelia has committed suicide but is nevertheless being given some of the proper rites of a customary burial because she is of high social standing.

Perhaps Gertrude is socially motivated to "portray"—hence the aesthetic inventory—Ophelia's suspicious death as an innocuous fall. While I will not solve the mystery of Gertrude's incongruous recital in the space of this essay, the incongruity is the relevant issue writ large.

Unless we want to accuse him of extreme carelessness, Shakespeare intends to leave the circumstances of Ophelia's death—suicide or accident—inconclusive:Hamlet: A Sane Character Essay - The story Hamlet was composed by the playwright William Shakespeare, and is regarded as a timeless piece in both literature and theatre.

Now, over four hundred years after Hamlet was written, society still continues to analyze its complex characterization (Reiss ). Character analysis of Hamlet, Ghost, Horatio: Act 1, Scenes The story of Hamlet is so famous, it is easy to forget that at the beginning of the play, Hamlet is .

I. Thesis Statement: Many of the characters in Hamlet are involved in duplicity designed to deceive, betray, or destroy others.

Opehlia critical character in hamlet essay

The recurring motif of acting, seeming, illusion, and deceit as opposed to sincerity, being, reality, and honesty illustrates this underlying duplicity throughout the play. II. The critical essay on Hamlet, therefore, tries to illustrate how the theme has been put to use to fit the plot of the play.

Death starts all the way from Hamlet’s father which gives Hamlet have a . Opehlia: Critical Character in Hamlet - Ophelia: Critical Character in Hamlet The character of Ophelia plays many important roles in the play of Hamlet. Although many critics believe that she has only a minor function in the entirety .

Get free homework help on William Shakespeare's Hamlet: play summary, scene summary and analysis and original text, quotes, essays, character analysis, and filmography courtesy of CliffsNotes. William Shakespeare's Hamlet follows the young prince Hamlet home to Denmark to attend his father's funeral.

Hamlet: Ophelias Dilemma | Critical Essays | CliffsNotes