On Ophelia’s Madness

1 January 2017

Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively” (Volataire). In the article “On Ophelia’s Madness,” Caroll Camden talks about the reasoning behind the mysterious shift in the mentality of Ophelia which eventually leads to death. The thesis stated by Camden is that Ophelia was drawn to madness due to the series of events leading to Hamlets rejection of Ophelia’s love rather than the death of Polonius.

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Camden uses very specific examples to back up his thesis along with many references to other famous works and critiques. Camden can be considered a reputable critique and his work on Shakespeare can be considered creditable. This is due to the fact that Camden “served as a visiting professor at numerous leading universities and was a research fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He wrote nine books and numerous articles, greatly enhancing the scholarly research on Shakespeare, Marlowe, Chaucer and other writers” (Centre College).

Camden is a trusted source on this work dealing with Ophelia, because of his contributions that enhanced the knowledge on Shakespeare. I believe that Camden is a trusted source when it comes to Ophelia and I would use him as a source when dealing with anything Shakespeare. When it comes to using Camden as a source, he does a well job of organizing his article but there are a few minor things that bother me. I believed that the author was on base with the way he presented his argument with a plethora of support to his thesis.

This is because Camden did a fine job with the way he arranged his paragraphs. I like how he built onto his argument with first presenting us with his thesis, then going against some counter arguments by others, and finally validated his thesis by using examples from both Hamlet and other sources. I found that this structuring of the paragraphs made the article easy to follow along to. What I found to be a minor inconvenience was his occasional use of literary jargon, but they were almost always followed by their definitions.

The vocabulary was not a major issue, and it was kept at a level which most readers would understand. Camden argues for the fact that Ophelia is drawn towards madness due to Hamlet rejecting love for her. Camden supports his argument with a wide array of examples. Camden states that “Ophelia speaks of herself as being ‘of ladies most deject and wretched’. That she returned the love is clearly indicated as she lets the audience know in a soliloquy what is running through her mind, characterizing herself as one ‘that sucked the honey of his music vows.

Vows and words of love are music only in the ears of those who return the feelings of love. ” The author shares how Ophelia had feelings for Hamlet, and lead him on only to get rejected herself. This furthers his argument that Ophelia was pushed to madness because of rejection. One more push that drove her to madness was the play scene when “Hamlet asks whether the actor is speaking a true prologue or giving a ‘posy’ for a ring, she agreeably replies that it certainly is brief, only to hear Hamlet’s ‘As woman’s love. His remark is usually glossed as being his comment on the conduct of his mother…but Ophelia must think that Hamlet is speaking of her own conduct toward him. ”

The author gives ample evidence to support his argument that Ophelia was being rejected and driven closer to madness, and when she finally cracks she still shows affection towards Hamlet. This can be seen when Ophelia meets with the king and queen and says “where is the beauteous majesty of Denmark? This reference was directed toward Hamlet and not Polonius, because this does not fit in with the personality of Polonius and the relationship between him and his daughter. In the beginning of the article, the author goes about refuting the arguments of others and establishing his own argument by saying “She is not just the “poor wispy Ophelia” which Katherine Mansfield would make her…experiencing what is apparently her first introduction to bittersweet delights of love.

And yet her tragedy seems to me to have been misinterpreted by a long array of critics, who have emphasized that her madness is due chiefly to the death of her father. ” This goes along with the argument that it was Hamlets rejection of love towards Ophelia that caused the tragic decline of her mental health. Camden does a good job of presenting his agreement in contrast with others. In order to do this he first presents us with the arguments supported by others, and in doing so he can follow that up with his own idea.

According to John Draper, “Ophelia’s madness ‘comes about…because that father, whom she loved so dearly, came to a sudden and shocking end. ” And L. L. Schucking says “Grief at her father’s sudden and unexplained death has unbalanced her mind. ” Rebecca West says “No line in the play suggests that she felt either passion or affection for Hamlet. ” By presenting the readers with all of the opposing points of view first, Camden can now slowly shift the scene and start to present his own argument.

He does this by introducing Roderick Benedix who says “Polonius’ death as serving a dramatic purpose, ‘inasmuch as it is the cause of Ophelia’s madness”, but at the same time he perceives that ‘No girl becomes insane because her father dies, least of all Ophelia…” and with this Camden can now start to counter the opposing views by talking about Hamlet and Ophelia’s love. Camden says “I believe it can be shown that the overriding cause of Ophelia’s madness is clearly spelled out in the play; it is more “the pangs of despiz’d love” which cause her tragic fate than the death of Polonius.

I found the article about Ophelia to be very informational largely due to the specific examples used by Camden to argue for his thesis. Camden is a very well reputed author that has spent many years on the research of Shakespeare. The argument for Ophelia driven to insanity largely due to love for Hamlet and not Polonius is strikingly convincing. The opposing arguments to Camden’s thesis were respectfully refuted. Ophelia is guilty of being love sick for Hamlet and this is what caused her demise.

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