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What is the significance of this quote from Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet? "My lord,...

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juno60 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted June 11, 2012 at 10:41 PM via web

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What is the significance of this quote from Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet? "My lord, as I was sewing in my closet..."

My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;
No hat upon his head; his stockings foul'd,
Ungarter'd, and down-gyved to his ancle;
Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors,--he comes before me.

He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so;
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being: that done, he lets me go:
And, with his head over his shoulder turn'd,
He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;
For out o' doors he went without their helps,
And, to the last, bended their light on me.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 12, 2012 at 1:34 AM (Answer #1)

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In Act Two, scene one, of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia describes her recent meeting with Hamlet. It is easy to see that (based on what Ophelia experiences) Hamlet is putting on "an antic disposition" (pretending to be insane). Ophelia takes his unusual behavior to heart and is greatly distressed. 

Polonius (Ophelia's father) is interested to getting to the bottom of Hamlet's crazy behavior. He believes that if he can explain it to the King and Queen, it will prove his value to them. While Ophelia is worried about Hamlet, Polonius is interested in how this will benefit him.

Ophelia explains that she was in her sewing closet, a small room for women to do mending, embroidery and other kinds of needlework. Hamlet entered, and his appearance (generally organized and neat) is terrible: his clothes are a mess; his shirt is unlaced; he has no hat; his stockings are dirty and falling down; his knees are knocking; and, he has a look that is pitiful and horror-stricken. His appearance would be extremely unsettling to a young woman, especially from a man who has never appeared this way before. In her mind, it seems as if he is losing his mind.

OPHELIA:

My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,

Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced,

No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,

Ungartered, and down-gyved to his ankle;

Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,

And with a look so piteous in purport

As if he had been loosed out of hell

To speak of horrors, he comes before me. (87-94)

Polonius questions his daughter closely. He asks if she thinks his unlikely behavior might be the result of love (of her, he means), but Ophelia has no idea. She then describes how Hamlet acts. He takes Ophelia's wrist tightly in his hand. His other arm is draped over his forehead, and he searches her face closely—like he would draw it. Then he shook her arm and finally released a pitiful sigh that seemed to physically shatter him, like he would die from it. Finally, without looking where he was going, following Ophelia with his eyes, he left the room—never taking his eyes from her.

OPHELIA:

He took me by the wrist and held me hard;

Then...

...with his other hand thus o'er his brow,

He falls to such perusal of my face

As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so.

At last, a little shaking of mine arm... (99-104)

He raised a sigh so piteous and profound 

As it did seem to shatter all his bulk

And end his being....he lets me go,

And with his head over his shoulder turn'd

He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;

For out o' doors he went without their help,

And to the last bended their light on me. (106-112)

It might seem that Hamlet is deeply in love with Ophelia, but this is also the man who rejects her and their love—telling her the love was never real. Later he will be truly rude when they attend the play, Mousetrap. It is safe to say that Hamlet is taking Ophelia on a ride that confuses not only her, but also the King, Gertrude and Polonius. They don't know what to make of Hamlet's behavior, and in this sense, Hamlet is being successful in keeping everyone at arm's length. No one seems certain about how to explain Hamlet's craziness.

The unfortunate thing is that Ophelia would probably have supported Hamlet if he had shared his secret with her. He uses her to trick the King, knowing she will share their experiences with Polonius, who will talk with the King. Above all, Ophelia is the obedient daughter and subject, though this dismays Hamlet.

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