What does the Queen's speech about Ophelia's drowning suggest about her madness and the reasons for her death?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Queen's speech in act 4, scene 7 suggests that Ophelia's madness probably drove the young woman to her death.

In the speech, the Queen notes that Ophelia made a strange wreath to hang on the branches of a tree before she drowned. These particular combination of flowers are said to have a decidedly raunchy name. However, young women with good morals usually call them "dead men's fingers."

There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do “dead men’s fingers” call them.
The nickname for the flowers is particularly ominous: the water literally encloses Ophelia, just like "dead men's fingers." The Queen also describes Ophelia singing old hymns after she falls into the water, seemingly oblivious to the danger she is in. Ophelia's behavior demonstrates that her mental health has been greatly affected by the tragedies that have befallen her.
Before her drowning, Ophelia is summarily and cruelly rejected by Hamlet. He subjects her to insults and calls into question her purity as a woman. Ophelia's misery is further compounded by Polonius' death (at Hamlet's hands). The twin tragedies result in Ophelia's nervous breakdown. Her mental degradation is demonstrated in the Queen's speech about her drowning. Thus, the Queen's speech suggests that Ophelia's state of mind (her madness) very likely led to her drowning (and death).
gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, rather than suggesting these things, some of what the speech says is quite direct: the queen says that Ophelia drowned because she could not bear her own "distress"—that she killed herself because she was too sad, and too upset.

The madness, though, is a more complicated question. This the queen links to a kind of transformation, as if by turning mad Ophelia was partially mythological and partially animal, like she's stuck between worlds. Like the ghost, in other words.