Ophelia's Death: Accident or Suicide?

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Everyone is always arguing over whether Ophelia took her own life or if it was an accident. And also, if Gertrude was a witness to Ophelia's drowning, why didn't she help her or get help? If you have any links to sites about Ophelia and her character please send them to me(ASAP). I would be eternally grateful! THANX


-- Veronica Tar (wonkygirl@worldmailer.com), March 09, 2000


I dont think Gertrude had anything to do with ophelias death for one Gertrude couldnt be capable of such a thing!- How could someone who wanst able to deal with old hamlet's death kill or whatch someone get killed without doing all she could to help. -when layertes rushes at the king when he returns from france. Gertrude in every versoions i've seen blocks Claudious with her body. -It's just unlogical that she would just stand there and whatch Ophelia drownd. Rather, I belive she heard it though the grapevine and thought that she was the best person to tell them.

there are plenty of sights about art based around Ophelia I'm tring to think of the name of one... i'll get back to you on that. farewell -Kelly

-- Kelly Tatum (mtatum@cstone.net), April 14, 2000.

Hello again, Some sites on Ophelia, www.bag.com/~melissab/ophelia_crackedmirror.html -thats not the main page. It has a lot of cool stuff.



-- Kelly Tatum (mtatum@cstone.net), April 17, 2000.

V.i seems to make it fairly clear that it should be considered suicide, but that Claudius as king has made the authorities declare it an accident, and that even then the Church is only allowing the bare minimum with regard to funeral rites.

However, the judgement can be suicide simply because, once fallen in, she didn't try to save herself. But then, that might be because she was insane and therefore, as Gertrude suggests, "incapable (uncomprehending) of her own distress (predicament)".

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), December 05, 2001.

The confusion of whether or not Ophelia's death was an accident stems from the fact that Gertrude gives a narrative of what seems to be the exact circumstances of Ophelia’s death. In fact the detail of her narrative is what makes it so suspicious. Gertrude seems to have been informed of Ophelia’s death by someone who was watching exactly what Ophelia was doing before, and while, she drowned; someone who knew that she had been “there on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds / Clambr’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke, / When down her weedy trophies and herself / Fell in the weeping brook” (Hamlet IV.vii.197- 200). But it would seem that had Gertrude heard of Ophelia’s death second hand, surely the person who had passed the word onto her would not have thought it neccessary to inform Gertrude that “she chanted snatches of old lauds”(IV.vii.202) as she sank, further more, it would seem that someone who was close enough to hear the songs Ophelia sang as she drowned would have been in a position to try and save her. For these reasons, Gertrude’s narrative does much to cause suspision as to the details of Ophelia’s death. The amount of detail within Gertrude’s narrative suggests foul play, rather than suicide OR an accident, as the cause of Ophelia’s death. The detail suggests that someone, perhaps even Gertrude herself, was present when Ophelia died and either caused or did nothing to prevent it. Perhaps Gertrude’s story is so well constructed and detailed because it is completely false in order to cover up the true cause of Ophelia’s demise. Even the doctor at Ophelia’s funeral admits “her death was doubtful” (Hamlet V.i.234). However, it should also be said that perhaps Shakespeare had no intention of creating suspision regarding Ophelia’s death and was merely trying to explain the event in the quickest and most thourough way while attempting to deal with the difficulties of presenting a scene involving a brook on stage.

-- Ben Johnson (bigbenny@hotmail.com), April 07, 2002.

In the 16th century even most sailors could not swim. Anyone who jumped in to save Ophelia would just drown themself.

As usual in this play, the detail is there because it is symbolically loaded, and I mean stuffed full, and not to suggest who might have been responsible for the girl's death. Gertrude is basically functioning as a Chorus.

On the practical side, a branch broke while she was up in the willow tree hanging a wreath, she fell in the stream and drowned because she was too mad to realize she was drowning. Admittedly she might in her sad bouts have felt happy to go, but on the other hand there are more sure ways of settin about killing oneself. The doubts that are expressed after the death would arise from the fact that she did not try to save herself.

On the symbolic side, the real reason for this speech:

The willow, or weeping willow, is emblematic of foresaken love and those who have died for love. Compare Othello IV.iii.25-57, and Elizabethan lyrics such as, “All a green willow, willow, willow, All a green willow is my garland”.

The meaning of crow-flowers is no longer certain. Nettles are a poisonous weed, painful to grasp, and bitter. Daisies, as in IV.v, mean unhappy love, or dissembling, or seduction, and are also the flowers with which girls commnly played the game of ‘He loves me - he loves me not’, the last petal indicating the answer. Long purples clearly have a sexual connotation.

As for the actual manner drowning, the images, and 'mermaid-like', and 'a creature native and indued/ Unto that element' bring to mind the water sprites of Germanic mythology, who 'people springs and rivers. In the eyes of the German peoples water-sprites usually took on human appearance. The best known of these were called "nixies". ... The water-sprites were apt to appear to men, though frequently to men's undoing. The nixie women were supposed to be dazzlingly beautiful. They loved to sit in the sun on the river bank and comb their long golden hair. They sometimes fell in love with handsome young men whom they dragged down to the bottom of the water and who were never seen again. Some who had seen them, or heard their melodious songs, lost their wits ..." ( NEW LAROUSSE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTHOLOGY).

The description also brings to mind the Willis of Germanic mythology, the spirits of women who had died from being forsaken by their loves, who dwellt in forests and by lakes - these are depicted in the ballet GISELLE). Both of these types of spirits 'delighted in doing harm to men.' Of course, Ophelia didn't, and neither is she really one of them, so she drowns.

Compare Hamlet's calling Ophelia 'Nymph' in III.i.

In IV.v she goes out with a reference to a passage on salvation, 1 John 3, and finally with prayer on her lips (as Hamlet dies with psalm 115:16-18 on his). As she dies she sings 'snatches of lauds' (Quarto 2), which are specifically pious. We are thus encouraged to think she has probably departed to Heaven.

In my own mind, though I've no idea if Shakespeare knew it, it reminds me of the 16th century French sonnet by Olivier de Magny, where de Magny converses with Charon, the Ferryman who in ancient Greek mythology carried the souls of the dead across the River Styx to Hades. Magny, explaining he is dying of love, begs Charon to take him across. Charon refuses, saying that to take a (still live) victim of unhappy love across in his boat would be challenging the mastery of the gods. Magny replies (my translation), "I will go, in spite of you, because I have in my soul such strokes of love, and such tears from my eyes, that I shall be the river, and the boat, and the oar."

It is a fitting end for a girl whose soul is probably too beautiful to survive 'in this harsh world'.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), April 08, 2002.

Alright let's clear up somethings about the "suspicious" Gertrude. For a moment try to imagine someone enacting a drowning scene on an Elizabethian stage sucessfully. This would be almost impossible. I like to think, that for a moment Gertrude steps out of her character to become an all knowing voice in the play. Shakspeare knew that this would be the only effective way of showing such a mysterious death without actually showing it. Many controversies and suspicions arise because many tend to think that this information is subjective and often combine other character's interpretations of what happend with Gertrude's account. The answer in plain, leave it for what it is.

-- kate langford (gritskl@aol.com), November 24, 2002.

It has been suggested by critics that the nunnery scene is indicative of a sexual victimization of Ophelia by Claudius and that the flowers scene is a list of abortofacients (a list of herbs used in Middle Aged Midwivery to induce an abortion. This suggestes that Ophelia has aborted Claudius' baby because of her love of Hamlet. If such is the case, Gertrude had excellent motivation to see to the death of the girl. Not only is Ophelia a rival for her husband's love and a possible replacment of her on the throne, but also Ophelia is a rival for her son's affections and serves as an inspiration for her son to see his revenge through and claim the throne as his own. In such a case, Gertrude is not only disposed, but could be put to death as a willing accomplice to Claudius treasonous behavior. Also, Gertrude was surely convinced of her eventual destination of hell because of her incestous marriage, so she would wish to live a long life as the Queen of Denmark. Therefore I believe that Ophelia's death was either orchestrated by Gertrude or at least witnessed by her. Even if Ophelia accidentlally fell out of the tree, Gertrude would not have called for help or tried to assist her in that her death was the answer to her prayers.

-- Rebecca DeLaTorre (jedifett4@attbi.com), March 06, 2003.

I believe that Ophelia could not have commited suicide because she had gone completely insane. Suicide is a knowing act of killing yourself. Since Ophelia had lost her mind, she did not know that she was dying and that she was in peril, so she could not have commited suicide. She did not willing jump in or willing drown because she did not know what she was doing. As for Gertrude having anything to do with Ophelia's death, I agree with some of these people, in that I beleive Shakespeare was just using Gertrude to tell the passing of Ophelia's death to avoid having a complicated scene of someone falling into a river and being carried away to her death, while slowing sinking. Such a scene would have been purely impossible in Shakespeare's time, and it would proove to be difficult even now. Not to mention that such a scene would probably ruin the whole effect of such a simple but powerful death. Ophelia's death seems more msterious when told by someone else.

-- Stephanie Elgersma (selgersma13@hotmail.com), June 05, 2003.

whenever pondering over this indeed puzzling, and most depressing subject, i always turn to imagery. i do not believe gertrude to be the murderess in this affair, even though she may have good cause to be- i believe this because gertrude has always come across to myself as, though passionate, slightly cowardice. i dont feel that she would have the strength,espeacially after experiancing so much death in the period of time leading up 2 ophelias demise, 2 actually commit her murder. i believe that yes, gertrude was a witness to the drowning, as she gives an account of the affair so detailed, that it could not be possible for her 2 hav been elsewhere at the time. however i feel that gertrude did not rush 2 ophelias aid, due 2 her own pathetic meekness and paralisation caused by shock. i started off thinkin that ophelia drowned herself, but now i have come to believe that, being insane, the whole drowning affair must have seemed amusing to her, and as with all amusement, the natural reaction is to sit back and enjoy it, therefore ophelia did nothing to save herself and acted in a very calm manner about the situation.

-- Harriette Hume Kinnill-Walker (robinkinnill@aol.com), June 25, 2003.

Of course Ophelia commited suicied. Gertrude says herself that Ophelia made no effort to help herself and just sang happyly to her wet death. Ophelia went crazy becuase she did not the maturity to deal with the happenings around her.

I think that Gertrude was there. How else would she have known that Ophelia was wearing a flower garland or sang until her cloth became so wet that they pulled in the water. And she did not help Ophelia because she did not the common sense enough to know what to do. She did exactly show alot of intelligence through out the play. She simply did what she was told.

-- Julie f-w (juliefw@hotmail.com), December 01, 2003.

i believe ophelia took her own life. It seemed as though right before she died she went completely insane. Also, we saw a complete change in her character after Hamlet found out that she was spying on him for Claudius. Everything around her in Denmark was going crazy. She probably didn't want to be part of the corrupt empirer that existed in Denmark. It is strange, however, that Gertrude didn't do anything about it after she saw the dead Ophelia. However, Gertrude loved hamlet and wouldn't kill the girl he loved so very much. Ophelia killed herself.

-- Steven Parinello (xxuntuchablxx@aol.com), December 17, 2003.

It can, and should with all truth, be said that Ophelia's death was a suicide. Whether she was in right mind or in madness, the act of killing oneself intentionally was considered on all terms as suicide.

Let's put ourselves into Ophelia's slippers. Now, this may be a bit difficult, for Ophelia, it seems, is just a shell. She has no real personality, ambition, or drive for herself: she is used by the men that always surround her, and it is they who give her her identity.

First, let's look at Ophelia and Hamlet. Hamlet loves Ophelia, or so it seems at the beginning of the play; yet then he comes to her and scares her, after she is forbidden by her father to see Hamlet (this being done so that her father would have greater worth in the King's eyes, and so Laertes can keep his view of his pure baby sister). Later, when Ophelia is used by both the King and Polonius to get reason for Hamlet's madness, Hamlet denies having loved her, calling her vile and worthless and not wanted: "Get thee to a nunnery!"

Both Ophelia's father and brother think that they are the only ones necessary for Ophelia's social and moral development, as if she cannot choose her doings for herself. Laertes forces her to live as the pure being that he wants to see her as, to feel worth as her protective big brother. Thus, he commands her to fear male advances, and being that she has always been taught to obey, Ophelia breaks communication with Hamlet. Polonius, however, is far worse to Ophelia: She is an item, and merely that, to be used for Polonius' greatest profit. She must be obedient to his every command, and like an infant, dependant on him, so that he can assume a larger role in the importance of the Kingdom.

Hamlet's attacks on Ophelia must have gravely harmed her. And yet, the being that Hamlet accuses Ophelia of being is not what she is; instead, Hamlet is using Ophelia as an outlet for the anger he has with his mother. Ophelia is obedient and chaste, and yet Hamlet accuses her of being not so, which is, of course, the case concerning his mother (which he had very early on in the play displayed his displeasure about).

Ophelia, then, has no identity. She does what she is told to do. She IS what she is told to BE. Once those that controlled her identity leave her, she is without one: this causes her apparent madness.

Therefore, madness is Ophelia's first glimpse at freedom.

Her final goodbye is the mad ramblings of 'Good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night'... etc. She hands out flowers, such as is done when one is at a funeral. Her apparent jollity-even when speaking of her father's death-is because she is finally free of the shell that was cast upon her. However, without that shell, Ophelia is nothing: she never has been anything else.

Therefore, Ophelia's death is her final freedom. There is no doubt that it was a suicide, psychologically. Frankly, to be, Ophelia had to stop being.

--Sarah Bradburn

-- Sarah Bradburn (HeroLink27@hotmail.com), March 10, 2004.

Great answer Catherine England. You are one smart woman. Helped me quite a bit.

-- Thomas Ip (thefriendlymechanic@hotmail.com), March 11, 2004.

I tend to think that Ophelia is more aware of her circumstance that is sometimes implied (woe is me). Her madness, much like Hamlet's questionalbly false/real? insanity, is reflected to other characters in action and extroverted speech. We are not given the internal thoughts of Ophelia like we are Hamlet, making it difficult to understand the reason and truth in her apparent distrubance. I largely reject the notion that she is a weak person. Even if she let herself die, not intentionally killing herself, it takes a determination on her part. I also dismiss the notion of Gertrued killing Ophelia, Gertrued is too inactive to do much of anything untill the final scenes of the play. Ophelia was most likely, aware of what she was doing. Much like she was aware of her crafty song or her intelligently symbolic flowers.

-- Carl Hill (vertigodfens@aol.com), April 05, 2004.

It is obvious that Ophelia has gone mad and killed herself. Men have had complete control over her throughout her entire life and she now is at the point where she has no identity and does not know how to continue living. I do not believe that Gertrude has had anything to do with Ophelia's death. She is purely serving as a narrator to describe what has happened to Ophelia. I do believe that the flowers Ophelia gives out represent something specific for each person. For example the fennel represents marital infidelity and cuckoldry. I believe she gave the columbines to Hamlet, representing flatery and insincerity culminating in dissembling and pretense ingratitude, aka thanklessness.

-- Michael Stromile Gilgee (starfish87@aol.com), November 27, 2004.

OK. READ THIS> http://www.english.ufl.edu/exemplaria/gdane.htm The most elaborate and professional study done on Ophelia i have ever seen. By the time you finish that you should know that ophelia wasnt ever really "mad" but she did comit suercide and Gertrude was there. Its very simple please read the above link.

-- John North (cadillachigh@gmail.com), January 30, 2005.

I think you're all a little crazy yourselves. who sits here and thinks of this stuff?? but thank you all for your imput on my research paper, it's really helpful. even though my teacher thinks i made everything up that you all say.

-- Harry Johnson (Harryjohnson@yourmom.com), February 01, 2005.

I say that Ophelia is crazy because why would she even climb a tree. Back then, women were not to be opening their legs. They were supposed to be closing their legs and just act like a real woman. This is my answer of saying that Ophelia is crazy.

-- Soua Lor (soua_online@yahoo.com), February 14, 2005.

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