In Shakespeare's Hamlet, please analyze Queen Gertrude's explanation of Ophelia's death in Act IV, Scene 7.

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tinicraw's profile pic

tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Queen Gertrude starts announcing Ophelia's death to her brother Laertes on line 134 by saying that "One woe doth tread upon another's heel."  This introduction prepares her listeners that she is amazed that so many horrible things are happening one right after another. After announcing Ophelia's death by drowning, Laertes asks where it happened.  Gertrude reveals that it was near a willow that grows "aslant a brook," which means "next to." Then she says that the tree "shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream" (138). This means that the under-sides of the leaves are reflected by the stream. This description not only paints the tragic picture of the setting, but the willow tree also symbolizes mourning and forsaken love that makes the scene of Ophelia's death more appropriate. Then Gertrude describes the different flowers that surround the area which also reminds us of the flowers that Ophelia played with during her madness. Gertrude goes on to beautify the scene of death as appropriate to the beautiful young girl who suffered it. She explains that at first, Ophelia's dress flowered out in the water like a mermaid, but once the clothing was saturated and heavy, it pulled her down to a "muddy death." Whether she was trying to break the news in a beautiful way or soften the blow, she certainly glorifies the death as well.

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gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Gertrude begins to explain Ophelia's death by telling Laertes that bad news continues to come. She then explains the setting of Ophelia's death by telling Laertes about the willow tree that hangs over the "glassy stream." Gertrude goes on to mention that Ophelia was carrying a wreath of flowers with her, which she tried to hang on the protruding willow branch before she fell into the water. Upon hitting the water, Ophelia's flowers fell around her as her clothes spread out wide, giving her a "mermaid-like" appearance. Gertrude then says that Ophelia began singing "old lauds" as she carelessly floated in the water, unaware of her dangerous situation. She even describes Ophelia as a "creature native and indued unto that element." Gertrude concludes her story by telling Laertes that Ophelia's clothes became too heavy and she was pulled from her "melodious lay to muddy death."

Overall, Gertrude's explanation of Ophelia's death glorifies her passing by depicting a rather serene, yet tragic scene. Ophelia's aquatic death also correlates with her nebulous character. Similar to water, Ophelia takes many forms throughout the play and is difficult to analyze. Gertrude's explanation also reveals that Ophelia seemed at home in the water and did not suffer when she died.

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