Ophelia demonstrated that women were not able to express their opinions or make their own decisions as she acted outside of her normal self which alienated herself from society after her father’s death. Due to her instability, Ophelia’s words were described as “ nothing, yet the unshaped use of it doth move the hearers to collection. They aim at it, and botch the words up fit to their own thoughts, which, as her winks and nods and gestures yield them” (4. 5. 8-11). Ophelia’s madness allows her to ramble on about topics that are considered to be “ nonsense” that held no significance in society yet people were still interested in her words since they were out of the ordinary and were what the people wanted to hear.
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Her newfound freedom of speech brought up thoughts in others’ minds that were deemed “ dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds” (4. 5. 16).
Ophelia’s insanity allowed her to freely bring up topics that were not socially acceptable to be brought up in public which demonstrates how it was unacceptable for women to discuss their opinions openly. Due to her insanity, she freely insulted the queen and king for adultery with flowers. “ There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “ herb of grace” o’ Sundays.
—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.—There’s a daisy” (4. 5. 179-182). The flowers that Ophelia handed to gertrude and Claudius symbolized adultery, guilt, and unhappy love. Her madness have her the freedom of expression and allowed her to talk about what she knew and her feelings on topics such as the marriage between Gertrude and Claudius. Under normal circumstances, she would have been punished for speaking against royalty. However, since she was driven mad and they did not know how to deal with her, Ophelia was left unpunished.
Her madness was an excuse for her sudden outbursts which meant she was able to speak her mind and say what she wanted to. Her alienation from society comes from her madness since she has strayed from social norms which allowed her to have the opportunity of free speech that was not given to other women during this time. Although Ophelia committed suicide, she was able to have a proper burial despite how suicide was considered a sin. Due to her insanity, her death was deemed an accident and her death by her own hand was overlooked. Even without her insanity as an excuse, her burial was due to her gender and class. Class enabled her to have the luxuries that the poor could not afford and provided her a burial she did not deserve. Her gender and madness worked together and gave her the opportunity to express herself which proved different with males seen in Hamlet.
While Ophelia got locked up and remained unpunished for her outbursts, Hamlet’s madness was deemed dangerous and he was sent to England where death awaited him. The differences in how each gender were treated showed how society treated genders in that men held more power, therefore were more dangerous while women were seen as frail and harmless.