Ophelia accidently falls and passively drowns. Discuss her death as a symbol of her life, her honour and her relationship with Hamlet.
I'm finding it hard to come up with ideas for a symbol of her honour and her relationship with Hamlet. Any suggestions would be great!
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I'm pretty sure the prevailing interpretation is that Ophelia committed suicide. On the other hand, I'm always one who is open to different interpretations in literature, especially if it goes against what the author may or may not have intended.
If she dies accidentally, it is symbolic of her life because she was the victim of circumstance; being in the Danish court, amidst all these high profile people, she comes across as introspective, but naive and trusting - trusting enough to be hurt repeatedly by Hamlet and manipulated by her father. So an accidental death would be fitting as it was not her fault for being born into this situation.
If she commits suicide, I think she retains her honor (despite that argument about the Christian burial) in that her suicide is a revolt against that situation she was born into and the people who mistreated her. Had Hamlet's father never been murdered, he would likely not have this brooding sense of doom associated with marriage. For Hamlet, his mother's hasty marriage to Claudius clouds his mind into thinking that either marriage is too risky or a generalization that all women cheat or that all men are power hungry. Hamlet takes out his frustrations on Ophelia; she is the victim of the circumstances of his father's murder and Hamlet's twisted dramatic plot of revenge.
By committing suicide, Ophelia may be seen, not as a victim, but as taking control of her own fate, albeit a tragic one. If she did die accidentally, she remains an victim; not necessarily passive, and certainly one of, if not the, most innocent person in the play.
Laertes says of Ophelia after being informed of her death: "Too much of water hast thou." At one level Ophelia is a flower of Denmark: a universal character that shows the lack of health in the metaphorical garden. A well tended garden indicates sound stewardship. But, stewardship isn't the sole province of the king. All the men in the play have a roll in the health of the state.
With Ophelia we see that she has no mind of her own, she reflects the minds of the men in the play. As her care is abandoned by Claudius, Polonius, Hamlet and finally Laertes we see that her rational mind leaves her. This becomes clearly marked after Polonius' death and Hamlet's departure. Finally, as her brother is turned to the dark side by Claudius -a turn sealing his fate- we see Ophlia also as one incapable of her own distress. Having fallen into the brook there is no one to save her.
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