How Does Ophelia Die in Hamlet

Ophelia is one of the two female characters in William Shakespeare’s’ play Hamlet. She is portrayed as a young noblewoman of Denmark, and potential wife of Prince Hamlet. She is also the daughter of Polonius and sister of Laertes.

The death of Ophelia is questioned due to different accounts regarding the circumstances of her death. Her death could be either interpreted as an accident or suicide. In this article, we’ll answer to the question ‘how does Ophelia die in Hamlet’ by looking at these varying accounts and analyzing the circumstances regarding her death.

How Does Ophelia Die in Hamlet

Ophelia’s death is first announced in the play by Queen Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother) in Act IV, scene vii. This death announcement is considered to be one of the most poetic death announcements in literature. According to Gertrude, Ophelia had climbed into a willow tree, and then a branch had broken and dropped her into the water, where she drowned.

“There is a willow grows aslant a brook

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.

There with fantastic garlands did she come

Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,

That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

But our cold maids do “dead men’s fingers” call them.

There, on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds

Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,

When down her weedy trophies and herself

Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,

And mermaid-like a while they bore her up,

Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds

As one incapable of her own distress,

Or like a creature native and indued

Unto that element. But long it could not be

Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,

Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay

To muddy death.”

Although this is described as an accident, phrases such as “incapable of her own distress” implies that she made no effort to save herself. It is also possible that Gertrude is giving this poetic and peaceful description of death only to alleviate the grief of Ophelia’s brother. Gertrude’s description is also questionable since no one witnessed the actual drowning.

How Does Ophelia Die in Hamlet

However, the priest’s word in Act V, scene I implies that Ophelia has committed suicide. He is reluctant to give Ophelia a proper Christian burial since he thinks that it would insult the dead. This implies that she has taken her own life.

“Her obsequies have been as far enlarged

As we have warranty. Her death was doubtful,

And, but that great command o’ersways the order,

She should in ground unsanctified have lodged

Till the last trumpet. For charitable prayers

Shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown on her.

Yet here she is allowed her virgin crants,

Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home

Of bell and burial.”

Thus, there are two views on Ophelia’s death. According to Gertrude’s account, it seems to be an accident, but it also implies that Ophelia made no attempt to save herself from drowning. In the next scene, the priest who performs the funeral ritual implies that she may have taken her own life. However, the mystery surrounding Ophelia’s death makes this incident more poetic and tragic.

Image Courtesy:

“Millais – Ophelia (detail)” By John Everett Millais – (Public Domain) via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

Related pages

what is the radiclewhat is the difference between butterscotch and caramelwhat is the chemical formula of methanoldeoxyribose definition biologywhat does sedentry meandifferentiate step up and step down transformerdifference between endnotes and works citedwhat is nucleoidsorbet or sherbetmonocot seeds exampleskinetic vs static frictionwhat is the difference between pleurisy and pneumoniawhat does epithet mean in literaturewhat is the difference between an anode and a cathodegroup velocity definitionstereotypemeaningwhat is ductility and malleabilityhomonym for allowedthesaurus comparewhat does it mean to be sedentarywhat is the meaning of recounthow to calculate bank reconciliation statementtradeoff and opportunity costhow to spell madam in frenchneurotransmitters effect on behaviordifference between ketone and aldehydesubject vs predicatestupid synonimsnonsister chromatids definitiondifference between demonstrative adjective and demonstrative pronoundifference between interrogative pronouns and interrogative adjectivesvalanciesdifference between compressive strength and tensile strengthdifference between renewable and nonrenewablec4cycleculture ethnicitydoxin dogsxanthan and guar gumprotagonist of macbethwhat are some examples of static frictiondefine permittivitywhat is the difference between osmosis and active transportthe difference between llamas and alpacasproperties of saturated and unsaturated fatsis baking soda and bicarb soda the samewhat is ciliumwhat is the difference between a bucket and a pailwhat is chow mein or chop sueyblank verse definerelation between inertia and massdialogue vs monologuesummary or paraphrasedefinition of colloidal solutiondefinition of metallic bondsrmr vs bmrdifference between oncotic and hydrostatic pressurechemotroph exampleswhat is the difference between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disordernumerical adjective examplesc3 and c4 plants differenceethyl alcohol molecular formulaevaporation definition chemistrydifference between glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesiswhat is the difference between ac and dc circuitsmountains and plateauswhat is the difference between empirical formula and molecular formulaactive and passive transport definitionabu dhabi is the capital of what countrywhat is the difference between grammar and punctuationfrom delhi to manali by train