I like when I have questions about a particular scene in Shakespeare, and it turns out that there is no answer. That means I didn’t miss something :). In this case the question was, “Does Ophelia hand out real flowers corresponding to what she says, does she hand out something like sticks or other generic thing that she’s only imagining are flowers, or is she holding nothing at all?”
I posted on the question and got two answers – “I’ve seen both” and “It depends on the director.” The second came from … ahem … Stanley Wells. Why he’s following me on Twitter I have no idea, but it gave me a thrill.
So, let’s talk about it, since it’s not a simple answer. I think that most folks agree that the flowers she describes are not a random assortment. Each has a meaning, and thus a message. If it is staged that she gives out the actual flowers, I personally think that would ruin it. She still had enough wits about her to find the flowers and then deliver them like secret messages to their targets, like some sort of fish wrapped in newspaper ala the Godfather? I don’t think so.
At the other end is the idea that she’s got nothing – that she’s delusional, and imagining that she’s holding the flowers. This makes far more sense. She wants to speak her mind to the queen and king, but she’s unable to do that. So she imagines herself picking these flowers and being bold enough to walk up and hand them out. She’s not, of course. That’s the point. Hamlet can handle it, she can’t.
Know what I just noticed? Maybe I’m stupid for never seeing this before, but …
- Hamlet’s dad? Dead. Killed by someone he would have thought to be a trusted friend/family member. The person he’d naturally turn to, his girlfriend, has basically dumped him.
- Ophelia’s dad? Dead. Killed by someone she would have thought to be a trusted friend/family member. The person she’d naturally turn to, her boyfriend, is essentially stolen from her given that he’s the one that killed her dad.
- Hamlet probably had no strong relationship with his uncle Claudius before this. So while it is a shock to be sure, as any murder would be, it’s not that “my whole world has been shattered by this news” order of magnitude that, say, Ophelia experiences.
- Hamlet has at least one friend, Horatio. Ophelia has nobody.
- Hamlet, the prince, has got the whole castle wondering what’s wrong with him and how they can fix it. Ophelia’s own father thinks he knows everything about his daughter, and thus pays attention to nothing.
Is it really any wonder that she lost it?