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Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Discussion, Part V (Act 4)

The link between Hamlet and Ophelia is central to understanding the play. Beginning, with his letters to her while studying at Wittenberg University, everything revolves around her. As he slowly looses his mind, Ophelia is the barometer of Hamlet’s mental health. At the end of his soliloquy in Act Four, Hamlet is training all his thoughts on blood to act blood. In the very next scene, Ophelia has gone mad, just as Hamlet has gone mad. Her innocence is affected by those around her, and she in turn, affects them. Even through Ophelia’s madness Gertrude confesses her own guilt. Hamlet is the one play where Shakespeare is in danger of loosing his balance. He has so much uncertainty he himself could have toppled. If he had not written anything past Hamlet, that would be it. What saved Shakespeare (and Hamlet) from loosing it completely? Shakespeare can still comprehend the balance of innocence, virtuousness, something slightly sacrificial that restores a glimmer of the good in Denmark. It is the creation of Ophelia that saves him, the innocent heroine. In Othello, the innocent heroine takes a more active role in the form of Desdemona. Shakespeare further explores this saving grace in his next play.

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