Explain Ophelia's death in Hamlet?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ophelia's death is one of the great Shakespearean mysteries that is never fully explained in Hamlet. Shakespeare probably meant to keep his readers wondering: Did she commit suicide? Did she drown? Did Hamlet have her killed? We know that her body was found in the brook with

Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress…

However, Ophelia's innate weakness probably assured that she would not have had the courage to kill herself. Hamlet was in a distant land, so he could not have done it himself. More than likely, she fell into the brook or was swept downstream by the current. And there is some textual evidence to suggest this since

When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. An envious sliver broke,

meaning that a tree branch was found near the body. Could Ophelia have broken it off while trying to hang on against the current? Only Shakespeare knew for sure.