I have struggled an incredible amount with my personal direction and how I wished to attack act five of Hamlet given the “endless possibilities” I have previously mentioned in blog posts, that Voyeur offers. That being said, it is surprisingly difficult to come to any concrete resolution about the fifth act of Hamlet because of Shakespeare’s wide vernacular and thus hard to draw comparisons with my tool. What I’ve decided to focus on for this blog post, lest I go insane with “endless possibilities,” is the questionable ambiguity surrounding Ophelia’s so-called suicide. I would also like to lead into the relationship of Ophelia’s death to Hamlet’s and how Ophelia’s death laid the groundwork for Hamlet’s final speech.
The rhetoric surrounding Ophelia’s death is very passive. Heavy usage of words that give way to her surrender to death, such as “incapable of her own distress” and “creature native…unto that element,” (4.7.2) suggest a far more unintentional death rather than suicide. The proceeding line “heavy with their drink” allude to act five when heavy is used only once more in the rest of the play when addressing the duel between Laertes and Hamlet.
Although this hypothesis is highly subjective, the intentional use of “heavy” in conjunction to “drink” when a multiplicity of words could have been used, can be regarded as an element of foreshadowing as “drink” is mentioned 10 times so closely to “heavy” and envelopes the death of the cast. Shakespeare may have intentionally threaded these words together so the connotation when the words presented themselves again would provide the same feeling of inescapable fate when they are each “pull’d…to muddy death.” (4.7.2)
Although Laertes and Hamlet exchange forgiveness and understanding and meet one another’s demise by poison tipped sword, Claudius’ intention of getting Hamlet to drink the poison as a backup plan is evidence once more of the inescapable design of his demise for even if he survived the duel he would be forced to be swallowed up by the drink. So too, does Gertrude meet her demise by said poison-filled cup and Hamlet’s insistence for Claudius to drink. Although each of these deaths can be viewed as murder, it is due to the play’s progression that it may just as well be viewed as each a suicide because of each character’s inability to move passed their pursuit of revenge. As a result, the deaths of surrounding characters that have no desire to revenge are mere casualties in male driven inertia to a damned fate. Ophelia’s death, although similar in vernacular to Hamlet’s death scene, is unjust and unintentional due to her secondary status and distance from the play’s central theme.
However, Hamlet cannot just be viewed as strictly evil in his blind rage towards revenge of his father’s death. He too, in many ways, surrenders himself to death just as Ophelia does as both are complacent in light of potential knowledge of their fate. Hamlet knows he will die if he were to but look at the circumstance in which he falls, much like Ophelia when she “fell in the weeping brook.” It is evident, however, that their misery was more inescapable than their death and so death is sweet because of it’s “silence.” The connection here becomes clearer in the table below.
“The rest is silence” finishes Hamlet’s life. King Hamlet dies with poison dropped into his ear. Ophelia continues to sing while she is drowning right up until she reaches her death…
In the image presented above, one can see that the final point in which Ophelia is mentioned in the play is also at the precise point in which “silence” is mentioned in conjunction to her name as well as with “good,” but not with “bad” nor with “music” or “sound.” Although this may seem loosely connected, the few times “silence” is mentioned throughout the play (5 times) it is mentioned always within the larger circle of “good.” This could prove the importance of Hamlet’s final speech as his life (from the start of the play) is filled with the ghost and the overwhelming flow of Hamlet’s contemplation being constant “noise” in his mind. Although he claims his madness is feigned, his contemplative nature suggests his mind is never quiet especially in times of distress, which would play heavily on even the most sound of mind. When Hamlet says “the rest is silence,” (5.2.370) there is a peace that he seems to embrace – King Claudius is dead, the man who poisoned the ear’s of men in more ways than one. In connection with his significant last words, Ophelia’s death is harolded with her singing melodious tunes and is finally silenced by death. Her singing, especially at a point when she is drowning and singing is clearly inappropriate, is perhaps metaphorical of her innocence which is in essence who she is and what she represents to each character in their affiliation with her. In hanging on to singing right up until the bitter end, she is defined mad. much the same as Hamlet’s defining characteristic is easily his contemplative nature which in displaying throughout the play has played a key in revealing to others his madness. He too, is contemplative right up until his death: until silence. the silence of death after so many words used to describe the chaos of noise is perhaps what makes this a comedy in the end term because everyone ironically is put to peace with silence. “Silence” although a selectively used word, is the key in this play.