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What are the differences between Ophelia's real madness and Hamlet's feigned madness?...

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kayla-jane | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 13, 2008 at 7:15 PM via web

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What are the differences between Ophelia's real madness and Hamlet's feigned madness?

This is another of the questions we were asked to research for homework. Im thinking along the lines of Hamlet's "madness" was more vicious/violent, whereas Ophelia's madness was more placid/childish/inocent (cant think of the exact word). Yet thats where my thinking stops, maybe Im not thinking hard enough but i just cant seem to get past those particular thoughts onto another aspect. any help at all would be deeply appreciated.


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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted February 13, 2008 at 8:29 PM (Answer #1)

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In simplest terms, Hamlet's madness comes and goes; Ophelia's does not.  Hamlet tells Horatio in Act 1, sc. 5 that he is going "...To put an antic disposition on)".  In other words, he is going to pretend madness.  In Act 2, sc. 2, Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is mad only on occasion, "I am but mad north-north-west...".  Later, in Act 3, sc. 4, Hamlet tells his mother that he "...essentially am not in madness / But mad in craft."  Ophelia, on the other hand, tells no one that she is "mad"; she comes to see the queen in Act 4, sc. 5, and her gentlewoman tells Gertrude that Ophelia is "...Indeed distract.  Her mood will needs be pitied."  The gentlewoman is saying that Ophelia is crazed and it's sad.  When Ophelia comes into the room then, she is singing bits of songs.  Later, she comes back into the room when Laertes is there and sings some more song snippets and hands out imaginary or real flowers and herbs.  In Act 4, sc. 7, Laertes says to Claudius that he's lost his father to death and his sister to madness. Finally, toward the end of that scene, Gertrude tells Laertes of Ophelia's death: how she fell into the water while trying to get some flowers and seemed incapable of saving herself.  Ophelia's madness seems complete while Hamlet's is questionable throughout the play.


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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 13, 2008 at 10:13 PM (Answer #2)

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You could ask yourself if Shakespeare was insinuating that women are weak (Frailty, thy name is woman!) by allowing Ophelia to dip into madness which eventually takes her life.

Ophelia can not handle the loss of Hamlet's love, her brother's absence, and her father's death.  It is all too much for her and she snaps.

Hamlet, on the other hand, turns his madness on and off depending on the company he keeps.  With Horatio, he is never "crazy-mad" but "angry-mad."  He always makes sense, though...even in his madness.  Polonius comments, "There is method in it".

Hamlet's madness has a purpose.  He chooses when and where and what to say in order to get to the meat of Claudius' purpose as well as his mother's. 

Ophelia's madness is permanent...not something she willed on herself, but a true result of the stress she suffers in her life.

Hamlet's madness does take him to his death, although he does not plan this.  Ophelia's takes her to her unplanned death as well, but she does not fight the inevitability of it as she allows herself to drown.


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d2leaperd | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 21, 2008 at 7:47 AM (Answer #3)

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i think that shakespeare was a bit sexist as ophelias madness is too exaggerated and over-the-top with her actions and childish singing. Even Claudius says to hamlet at the beginning of the play "everyone loses a father" Why does Shakespeare single ophelia out when everyone goes through these emotions and stressful times?  

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