Hamlet's Othelia

In: English and Literature

Submitted By akonkina
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Hamlet’s Ophelia: Muted Autonomy Through Madness
The issue of whether or not Hamlet’s Ophelia is able to achieve a public voice rests largely on how we are to define the characteristics of which a public voice is composed. It is first pertinent to consider the distinction between public and private. The internal thoughts, musings, and expressions of a human, unbeknownst to the external world, may be thought of as characteristics of the private – and thusly, of the private voice. The public voice, on the other hand, is expressed to a public audience – large, or small. A defining characteristic of the public voice may be thought of as the necessity of the voice to affect its audience in some way – on a continuum of possible, emotional interpretation. The successful public voice must then consider the nature of the interpreters themselves, and whether or not they register what is being said to them (even if they misinterpret it completely!) rather than simply dismissing what they hear. If the concept of public voice is to be largely dependent on this feature, this paper then seeks to examine and prove Ophelia’s inability to completely achieve a successful form of public voice throughout the play with the characters that surround her – the majority of whom are male!
As mentioned, a public voice may be thought of as necessitating some affect on its audience. Even from Ophelia’s entrance in the play, her various audiences go largely unaffected by the things she voices. When we are introduced to Ophelia in Act I Scene III, her brother Laertes affirms his (negative) stance on Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet, and tells her almost explicitly how she should behave regarding this relationship with her lover. Appointing himself a rather aggressive role in his sister’s love life, Laertes instructs his sister to “fear” (1.III.32) the advances and desires of Hamlet in hopes…...

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