This is a 2 part short (250-500 word) discussion post. Due 09 AUG. Must pass TurnItIn.
It is with Hamlet Acts IV and V that the play comes to a conclusion and, with it, our study of drama. In many ways, Hamlet departs from the conventions of Elizabethan drama as defined within Aristotle’s Poetics. In Poetics, Aristotle emphasized that action should be the focus of drama, rather than character. In Hamlet, Shakespeare changes this focus entirely. The play hinges on Hamlet’s decision whether or not to act. The result is that the thoughts, motives, and beliefs of the characters literally take center stage.
During this week, we discuss Hamlet’s themes as seen through the characters of Ophelia and Gertrude. As the only two women in a play rife with misogynistic declarations, their choices potentially shed light on many of these comments, including Hamlet’s famous statement: “Frality, thy name is woman” (Act 1, scene ii, 146). Given the roles that women play and the play’s misogynistic overtones, we have to ask ourselves whether women have the freedom of choice allowed to Hamlet and the other male characters of the play. Last week, we discussed whether Hamlet could be considered a tragic hero. Although history has painted Ophelia and, to a lesser extent, Gertrude, as tragic heroines, it is debatable as to whether they can actually be considered as such because they cannot control their own actions.
***Please see below for the Discussion 1 & 2 questions.
Thanks in advance.
Act III ends with the sudden and startling death of Polonius at Hamlet’s hands. In many ways, this can be seen as an important turning point. Not only does Hamlet appear to be unrepentant of this murder, his later sighting of the ghost questions his sanity. In previous acts, Bernardo, Marcellus, and Horatio had all witnessed the ghost’s appearance; however, the ghost of Act IV appears to Hamlet alone. Observing Hamlet conversing with thin air, Gertrude wonders: “ Alas, how is’t with you,/ That you do bend your eye on vacancy,/ And with th’ incorporal air do hold discourse?” (Hamlet III. iv. 177-119). She wonders if Hamlet has indeed gone mad and we must wonder it with her.
Against the question of whether Hamlet has actually been driven to insanity or not, we have the well-accepted madness of Ophelia. In some respects, it is no wonder that Ophelia finally goes mad. Her father and brother precisely calibrate her actions. It is difficult for us to determine how Ophelia actually feels about Hamlet because everything she does has been dictated. Her words and actions are all observed and judged. The death of Polonius leaves an enormous vacancy in her world and will. Madness is the result.
However, some have argued that there is a method to Ophelia’s madness and that her speeches betray a keen commentary on the play’s misogynistic themes. Please read her madness scenes carefully, as you will view an actor’s interpretation of them and study them further in the discussion forum.
As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the Folger Shakespeare library offers insightful materials for students and teachers alike. Ophelia’s descent into madness and subsequent suicide prove to be of little exception. In preparation for the first discussion activity, please view the video entitled Ophelia and Madness [Video File] [04 min 03 sec]. (
In the video, Lindsey Wochley (Ophelia) offers some insights into Ophelia’s madness as depicted in Hamlet IV, scene v. The actress states “decisions are made for her [Ophelia] all the way up until when she goes mad. She makes her own decisions, then.” This statement offers an interesting perspective on madness in Hamlet in general and Ophelia’s madness, in particular.
King Claudius offers perspectives on why Ophelia goes mad, but he is hardly a dependable character. Based on the form that her madness takes, in a post of at least 250 words, why do you think that Ophelia has gone mad? Please give evidence for your thoughts from throughout the play, and Act IV, scene v, in particular.

Ophelia has gone mad because of exactly as how she puts it. The court, fashion, the constraints of being a woman, losing Hamlet’s love, everyone meddling into her life and her relationship, as well as not having the experience of making decisions for herself have all brought Ophelia to madness, as well as to her deathbed. Committing suicide was the one choice that Ophelia could make independently and up until the point where she commits suicide which was preceded by going mad, not even when she was singing through song through her madness where all the men around her even listening to her – they kept interrupting her. Ophelia was voiceless and without choice which is particularly personified by her taking to song through her madness. The death of Polonius also brought Ophelia to madness and Ophelia was affected by his death. When Polonius died, her world died as well. A woman that does not make choices for her is weakened by society. When Ophelia went mad she was crying out for help and still no one was listening to her. When Ophelia decided to commit suicide, she decided to be with God, as she said herself: “may God be with you,” she wanted God to be with her knowing that the Creator would listen to her. This is why she ultimately decided to commit suicide. Ophelia is a tragic heroine, but she was intelligent. A true pioneer of Shakespeare’s dramatic plays who needed to put herself in her own deathbed in order to be recognized by a society that tried to control her completely and did control her completely – and why? – because she is a woman.
In a post of at least 250 words, analyze Gertrude’s role in the play more carefully through a close analysis of Shakespeare. Based on the first initial of your last name, you have been assigned to analyze one of Gertrude’s speeches.
In your analysis, you might want to examine where Gertrude’s loyalties lie: to her son, husband, former husband, or herself? Your discussion forum entry should cite at least ONCE from your assigned group of lines.
Group A :
Begin with Queen's "I will not speak with her." (4.5.1)
End with Queen's "Let her come in." (4.5.21)

Act 4, Scene 5: Gertrude’s loyalties lie with her son. During this entire speech Gertrude asks one question and speaks three lines. The Gentlemen and Horatio basically dominate this scene and Gertrude shows her true devotion to her son Hamlet. The Gentlemen speak of Ophelia and the madness that she is undergoing. Gertrude listens silently and takes the counsel. When Horatio speaks, she decides to summon Ophelia in and despite this action, Ophelia still ends up committing suicide – Gertrude was absolutely of no help at all. Horatio does help to change Gertrude’s mind, particularly since Gertrude begins this scene by stating that “I will not speak with her.” (4.5.1). This shows right from that start that Gertrude’s allegiance is with Hamlet and that her interfering ways have accomplished exactly what she wanted, which is to break up the relationship of Ophelia and Hamlet. Although Gertrude does decide to speak with Ophelia, it does not use and Ophelia still decides to kill herself. Juxtaposing both Gertrude and Ophelia in the play of Hamlet, it does show how misogynist the play is because even the men ensure that the women of the play are not unified and fight against each other and do not help one another. This part of the play also shows how Gertrude does not really even hold any true power at all. She does not make a decision to speak to Ophelia until Horatio indicates that perhaps Gertrude should speak to Ophelia, when Horatio already knew from the beginning of the conversation that Gertrude would not be of any help, it was truly just to see the spectacle of Ophelia. Gertrude who is a Queen you would think would have more power, but she is just more like a pawn than a Queen, which truly shows how inferior women were seen during those times. It would be interesting to discover if Shakespeare’s intent was to reveal how misogynistic British culture was in those times, or if this was a sentiment of he himself truly felt.