The Maidenhead Of Ophelia Essay, Research Paper
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character of Ophelia is masqueraded as a demure, innocent, adolescent girl. However, the behavior disguised by this fa?ade is much more interesting than we are led to believe. Throughout Hamlet, Ophelia is the target of numerous sexual innuendoes and later the confessor of her own sexual experience. When these occurrences become apparent, Ophelia no longer holds the virginal qualities we were once led to believe she possessed.
Ophelia is first portrayed as an innocent, or as her father, Polonius, describes, “a green girl” (1.3.101). The concern lies not with Ophelia’s behavior, but with Hamlet’s lustful desires for her–she is told to see him no more. Polonius then confronts Gertrude and Claudius, Hamlet’s mother and uncle/father, with Hamlet’s attempts to seduce his daughter. As evidence, he has confiscated a love letter written to Ophelia by Hamlet. Claudius challenges Polonius’s accusations by asking, “But how hath she received his love?” (2.2.127-28). This response is the first implication of the possible absence of Ophelia’s chastity.
The strongest suggestions toward Ophelia are made by Hamlet, himself. These seem to be the most significant of any, because if anyone were to know of her purity, or lack of, it would most likely be Hamlet. He questions Ophelia’s honesty and her fairness. He tells her that “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd…” (3.1.111-12). A bawd is a reference to a brothel-keeper. Hamlet declares that he loved Ophelia once. He warns her that she should not have believed him, because virtue is not something that can be replaced and they are now tainted. He informs her that he never loved her. Perhaps the harshest line with a reference to Ophelia’s state of virginity is when Hamlet announces, “Get thee to a nunnery — why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (3.1.119-20). He clearly states that Ophelia is a sinner and any offspring would be sinners. Hamlet tells her she should “marry a fool” (3.1.134), and that instead of being honest, she pretends her immorality comes from innocence, rather than experience. These declarations promptly dissolve the fa?ade surrounding Ophelia, leaving no questions concerning her maidenhead.
Hamlet continues with the insults, becoming more crude with each. He asks Ophelia if he should lie his head in her lap. When she declines, he remarks, “That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs” (3.2.105). In reference to the play Hamlet has written, Ophelia asks about the meaning. Hamlet responds, “Ay, or any show that you’ll show him. Be not you ashamed to show, he’ll not shame to tell you what it means” (3.2.127). One of the last innuendoes he has a chance to make was in telling Ophelia that “It would cost you a groaning to take off mine edge” (3.2.226). Shortly afterwards, Ophelia was driven to madness.
Ophelia’s own confession that she has lost her virginity comes in her state of madness. She sings, “Then up he rose and donned his clothes / And dupped the chamber door; / Let in the maid that out a maid / Never departed more” (4.5.52-55). However, the most evident passage comes shortly after when Ophelia sings, “Young men will do’t if they come to’t – / By Cock they are to blame. / Quoth she, ‘Before you tumbled me, / You promised me to wed.’ / He answers — / So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun, / And thou hadst not come to my bed.” Ophelia is talking about the promises Hamlet made to her before she had sex with him. Since he has told her that he no longer loves her, there is no reason for her to protect their activities any more. Although in a state of madness, Ophelia has finally spoken the truth about her relationship with Hamlet. She no longer carries the personae of an innocent, chaste young girl.
Upon the first reading of Hamlet, several of these accounts can easily be overlooked. Yet, when we look at the attitudes of other characters concerning Ophelia, we begin to notice that there are questions about her actions. Her father, Polonius, seems to think it is Hamlet’s fault. Claudius and Gertrude question Ophelia’s character. Hamlet knows the truth, and speaks of it rather bluntly. Ophelia finally reveals the truth to everyone. We no longer have a reason to question whether she is virginal or not; she tells us quite distinctly in her song.