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.
Laertes gets real colorful when he’s freaked out. I mean – brains…heat…it’s evocative!
I understand the impulse – like – the pain is extreme and your head is aching. I had a migraine recently and I was ready for someone to put a bullet my head, it was so agonizing. Some heat drying up a brain might do the trick just as well – especially in a time before bullets.
This is a very good question. What noise IS Laertes responding to? What is happening outside? Is Ophelia making crazy noises? Is someone fighting her? Is there someone who is preventing her from coming in loudly?
The Danes are clearly advocating for her entrance but she’s not in yet. Is she singing already? Are others trying to shush her? These are the questions that a lot of productions fail to ask and then end up bloodless and dry.
This is a good question. A good production will have a good answer.
I’m imagining a performance piece in which we see each character who says “How now” and the circumstances that inspire the How now. It’s only dialogue would be “how now.” The other lines would have to be observed somehow, with gibberish maybe or a speech reverser.
Actually this might work better as a film project. To edit together all the different characters in multiple settings with extremely different costumes and contexts and it’s just one How Now after another.