Yesterday in class, I asked a couple of groups to analyze Ophelia’s madness. I was hoping some people would get to the idea that perhaps she goes crazy due to guilt, ashamed that she had actually wished for her father’s death. Instead, a group in 3rd hour suggested that she was pregnant. My first response was that they were crazy. Despite my reaction, I couldn’t shake the thought.
While I’m not prepared to say Ophelia was pregnant, I think a reasonable case can be made that she was. The first objection I had to the claim was that Hamlet asks her if she is honest in act 3, scene 1. We are told in our notes that “honest” means chaste, but as a pun, it’s possible that she takes the question to mean to mean truthful. Hamlet later tells her to go to a nunnery, slang for a brothel.
One of the songs Ophelia sings in act 4, scene 5 is about Valentine’s day and a maid becoming a maid no more. The other songs all refer to her father’s death, an actual event. Perhaps this song refers to an actual event as well. Moreover, she hands out flowers and herbs to different people in the scene. The flowers themselves are symbolic. She gives rue to Gertrude and keeps some for herself. Rue, according to our text, is a symbol of sorrow. It also an herb that was used to cause abortions, giving it the symbolic meaning of adultery. One could make the argument that Gertrude gets it to accuse her of adultery, and Ophelia keeps it to deal with her pregnancy.
Is her death a suicide in response to pregnancy and the loss of love of the baby’s father (which is what Polonius warned Ophelia of)? If so, we should look at Hamlet’s misogyny as Hamlet’s misogyny.