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In Act 3, scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Ophelia laments, in the following ways, the deterioration of the prince:
- She laments that his “noble mind” has been “o’erthrown.” This phrasing is significant for a number or reasons. First, there is a pun on the word “noble,” which can refer to the goodness of Hamlet’s mind and also to the fact that Hamlet is a noble (a member of the aristocracy). In the Renaissance, the mind was considered the most important part of any person; it was often associated with the person’s reason and even with his soul. The fact that Hamlet’s mind seems overthrown, then, is dangerous for him, dangerous for Denmark, and dangerous for Ophelia herself.
- The next line is very effectively balanced:
The courtier's , scholar's , soldier's , eye , tongue , sword  . . .
This line emphasizes all the different facets of Hamlet’s personality and social identity. He is a courtier who uses his eyes, a scholar who uses his tongue, and a soldier who uses his sword. All three of these different aspects of his identity are threatened and undermined if his mind has indeed been “o’rethrown.” Denmark risks losing the service not only of a good prince but of a fine courtier, a talented scholar, and a brave soldier. Hamlet is (or was) multitalented and multidimension. He is a true “Renaissance man” – or at least he was until madness descended upon him.
By the way, the fact that Ophelia herself speaks such well-ordered, well-polished phrases suggests that she herself is perfectly in control of her mind – a fact that will later seem ironic when she is mad and Hamlet is only pretending to be crazy.
- The next line describes Hamlet as “Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,” suggesting the great expectations people have of him, particularly as a prince, and also suggesting how he has the potential to make Denmark seem a beautiful place in which to live.
- The next two lines imply that Hamlet has been a model human being in many different ways: in the ways he dressed, in the ways he acted, and in the patterns he set for others to follow. He has been the object of everyone’s attention, which means that his decline is also likely to have a negative effect on others.
- In the next two lines, Ophelia moves from discussing Hamlet as a pattern for all the people of Denmark to discussing his relationship with her specifically. She loved listening to what he told her, but now she feels depressed and pitiful in light of his evident mental decay. She compares the loss of the once-beautiful music of the words he used to speak to her with “sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh.” In other words, Hamlet seems to have lost any sense of harmony and concord. His words now seem completely disordered and unpleasant to the ears. Ophelia laments Hamlet’s evident mental breakdown. He seems literally out of his mind (“Blasted with ecstasy”). She regrets what she has seen, but she cannot deny that she has in fact seen it. Hamlet seems, to her, to have lost many of the qualities of mind and character that once made him so attractive and admirable.
Something extra: This speech invites attention from the point of view of feminist criticism. In this speech, Ophelia shows that she is a very reasonable person who is committed to the ideal of reason. She is thus a living refutation of the stereotype (in Shakespeare's day and later) than women are mostly emotional creatures.
Ophelia is remarking about how low Hamlet seems to have fallen. He had a noble mind but his mind is "crazy." He used to be the best of the best. The best gentleman, the best soldier, and the best student. He was the epitome of all that a man should be and he was the hope of Denmark, but now Hamlet has fallen. Of all the women that Hamlet paid attention to, she is the worst because she has had to witness this transformation of Hamlet. She is miserable because she has seen Hamlet now and knew him before.
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