Ophelia, left alone on stage, grieves the loss of Hamlet’s mind and her own misfortune.
Prior to this moment, the king Claudius and Ophelia’s father, Polonius order Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet as they hide nearby to view his reaction. What follows is one of the most explosive scenes of the play.
As Ophelia follows the wishes of her father and the king, Hamlet suspects that he is being watched and all hell breaks loose. In what is essentially a public break up scene, Hamlet dramatically and aggressively shames Ophelia by telling her to “get thee to a nunnery” or, in the other sense of the phrase, ‘get yourself to a whorehouse’ before leaving her.
Ophelia is left alone to come to terms with what has just occurred.
Learn more about the Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Language and Thought Breakdown
Three language points stuck out to me on first reading of this monologue.
First was the vowel sounds. This monologue begins with an ‘O’. The use of this sound is very prominent in the monologue, and repeated many times. An ‘O’ can be an expression of grief and loss. In language, emotion lies in the vowel sounds. Sense and clarity is more often found in the consonants. In “O woe is me” you can hear the repetition and it is haunting. The ‘O’ sound comes from deep in the body and is a very vulnerable place to explore. Lean into that. Invest in the vowels to find the emotion of the language.
Secondly, the first line with a feminine ending – “And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,”. A feminine ending can sometimes be an indication of where Shakespeare is asking the actor to focus their energy. By adding an extra beat to the meter, Shakespeare lets the actor know that the idea is of great emotion or importance. If you pronounce the ed at the end of wretched, placing emphasis on this word, it not only finishes the line and thought strongly but completes the feminine ending, indicating exactly how Ophelia is feeling.
Third and last, I noticed that while this is certainly a deeply emotional monologue, Shakespeare wrote it with a very steady meter. Ophelia doesn’t break out of iambic pentameter. She is still so clear and intelligent with her thought process, it is quite remarkable. I suppose the clue here is that, despite the emotion, do not let it override the clarity of the story. Ophelia is in grief, certainly, but she is still able to articulate exactly how she’s feeling.
Let’s break down the piece into thought and beat changes to see what else is revealed about the character.
Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
Feminine Ending: (F)
[FULL TEXT]: Ophelia: O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!…
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown! /
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword, /
Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state, /
The glass of fashion and the mould of form, /
Th’ observ’d of all observers, quite, quite down! /
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched, / (F)
That suck’d the honey of his music vows, /
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason (F)
Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh, /
That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. / O, woe is me
T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see. /
Oh, what an incredible mind, overcome by madness!
The perceptiveness of a courtier, courage of a soldier and wisdom of a scholar,
The hope and rose and of Denmark,
The mirror on whose image people mould themselves on,
The most looked up to of all those looked up to, fallen so, so far.
And me, of all women are most depressed and grief-stricken,
Who drank the sweet words of his poetic vows,
Now see that brilliant and most logical mind,
Once like beautiful music now playing chaotically and harsh,
His epitome of a perfect young man in bloom,
Destroyed by insanity. Oh, god pity me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Courtier: One who attends court.
Deject: Depressed, dispirited.
Wretched: Miserable, unhappy, grieved.
Blown: Blooming, in other words; Hamlet is in the prime of his life.
Ecstasy: Madness, insanity.
What a character. What a monologue.
Ophelia is a much overlooked character due to the fact that she hasn’t the same amount of lines and scenes as some of the other ‘larger’ characters. I would argue, however, that she as large and crucial a role as any in this play, integral to the story and tragedy. She may die half way through but her presence is felt for the entire play.
Shakespeare didn’t write an unequal role for Hamlet’s partner. From the language alone you can decipher how incredibly intelligent Ophelia is. In terms of dialogue, Ophelia is one of the few characters, perhaps the only, that can match Hamlet for wit and smarts. She keeps pace with Hamlet language throughout the entire ‘nunnery scene’ until Hamlet, when out of argument, resorts to inferences that she is a whore, dismissing her and all women in an incredibly demeaning and humiliating way.
At the centre of the story of Hamlet and Ophelia, is a woman and her incredibly troubled boyfriend who are, or were once, deeply in love. Ophelia is a true victim in this tragedy. Her father is murdered by the man she loves, the same man that she was forced to break up with, and her brother will also eventually be killed… Despite all this, the role of the actor is not to play the victim! Remember that even after the ‘nunnery scene’, her first thought is Hamlet; “O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”. She truly loved him and grieves the the loss, of him and his once great mind. Her strength is in her loyalty to both her father and Hamlet, and for that she loses all. I would argue that her drowning was not an accident but her final choice. A choice borne out of loss.
More Hamlet Monologues