It’s sort of like a text book case, adapted with all the thought and remembrance fitting, Like….there’s a document – a list of all the symptoms of madness and there are little empty slots to individualize the diagnosis. Like “patient is obsessed with_____” and then here we could fill in “flowers” and “songs about death.”
What is Laertes responding to? There are bits of things that Ophelia says that make sense – the stuff about a funeral, a father, etc – but the last few lines are some of the nonsensical as far as I (and most notes) can tell. This made me think that there would be some requirement to create a shared story between Laertes and Ophelia that one of these lines might reference. If I were directing this play, I’d want to figure out what bell Ophelia is ringing for Laertes here that is not obvious to the rest of us. It would also make for an interesting and poignant tenderness between them to develop a secret shared history.
There are so many times wherein a woman’s wits and persuasion are not nearly as moving as she would like. Here’s Ophelia. If she tried to explain her position rationally, if she asked for support, if she attempted to persuade – anyone to anything – I suspect she would not be successful. Ophelia can only persuade with her body – once her will has been trampled. And then, of course, she’s not persuading anyone of anything she wants. She’s just become a symbol…a trigger on the gun.
I can’t help feeling that if a character like Ophelia had learned to use her wits – to become a little more like Beatrice or Imogen or even Lady Macbeth, she wouldn’t end up dead. It’s almost as though, because she had no persuasive power as a conscious creature, she becomes more of a projection machine. It becomes more possible for Laertes to read what he wants to read in her. I think it would be incredibly unlikely that Ophelia would use her wits to plead for revenge. I don’t think that is what she’d use them for.
She gets a box down off the shelf in the closet. There are old things in it that no one cares about anymore so she dumps them on the floor.
She sits in front of the box and lovingly places a memory into it. She takes another and places it side by side with the other. Seeing them there makes her smile so she keeps going – memory after memory, thought after thought.
She feels she will not be satisfied until the box is full. The more she places in the box, the emptier she feels and she finds she likes the emptiness.
With just an inch left of space left, she tosses in her wits, as well, as she feels she no longer needs them. She closes up the box, seals it shut and delivers it to the body of her father in the chapel. She slips it in to the coffin and then slips away.
I suppose it IS possible – but it always seems like there’s got to be more to it than a simple death. Not that the death of a parent is ever simple – but there really must be other factors to push a grown woman over the edge. A break-up plus death will start to add it up- but for me, the real reason Ophelia loses her wits is that her whole world had been so tightly controlled, so wrapped up in being obedient to the men in her life – and when they abandon her, she’s without a rudder, without a compass. That’s what I think pushes her off the edge – not the old man’s death – but the control he wielded while he lived.
Oh ho. Interesting, interesting.
You know who else says this very same line earlier in the play?
Hamlet. Hamlet says it. And now here is Laertes, saying exactly the same line.
It’s almost as if Shakespeare wants us to see these characters in a similar light. He places them near one another again and again.
I’ve read so much about Hamlet over the years that I often can’t remember the source of my knowledge. This line, for example, reminds me of a point made, in some book or other, that lists like this suggest a kind of build – that the character is trying one thing and then the next and then the next because the first words don’t work. For example, – Laertes starts by calling Ophelia “fair maid” but she doesn’t respond to him. He tries “kind sister” – no dice. He finally uses her name and calls her “sweet Ophelia!” Which is his last hope.
She clearly does not respond to this one either and this is what convinces Laertes of her loss of wits.
I’ve seen a lot of Laertes speed through this line – as if the three titles were all her name – as if she were Dear Maid Kind Sister Sweet Ophelia Jones. There’s no punch that way, though. It’s just a list. But if each part of it is meant to do something – it’s so much more.
The thing about using roses as metaphors for young ladies is that it’s never just the beauty of the flower. It’s the death, the passing, the falling or even the rotting. The roses are almost always as tied to the fall as they are to the beauty. The other way roses are often used as metaphors for young ladies is the getting plucked bit. Ladies are beautiful roses, waiting to be picked and then either way they die. Either on the vine, rotting or wilting in the hand of the plucker. There’s almost always some darker metaphor hiding in the beautiful bud of the flower.
Tying this one to the month of May connects it all the more directly to its temporary status. A rose in May is beautiful in bloom. A rose in December is dead.
How does Laertes already know she’s mad? She hasn’t SAID anything yet. She must have a look about her or she must be doing something that shouts “I’m mad!” I don’t think anyone would have had time to tell him before – the madness is relatively new and he’s only just arrived. Whatever she’s doing, however she’s looking, she must look obviously crazy otherwise this would be an odd assumption to make.
It’s a heavy madness, too, it would seem – one that it will take a lot of weight to even out on the scale of his inauguration/revenge.
I wonder – scientifically – how many times salt it would really take to do this? At what multiplication of salt would one be blinded? And could the body misfire in this way? Like, when you cry, it causes agony – like pouring table salt in your eye? Like that amazing Kids in the Hall sketch wherein the guy puts salt in his eye over and over.