Honour and Certainty


It is through one’s place in a world that one can be subjected to their perceptions on societal endearment.  Endearment can be of honour and certainty that has the potential to limit some while push others to strive and conquer; and therefore, can be placed upon certain minorities. Honour is a mask that compels one to diminish the true identity of the one wearing it.  As one is groomed into their roles and limitations, the identity is set aside to make the will of others be more captivating.  Though this can be seen as one’s loss of free will, it also adds certainty. These purposes or in other words  motivations, that can oppress yet create safety, forces an individual to become more compliant. When an unresolved individual is no longer dependant on the will and guidance of those around her, she will be forced to come to terms with her own identity.  This results in a clash of societal demands that can either persuade one to go down a path of a certain future, or carve their own path. As one is forced to betray her feelings around those closest, she is subjected to the tempted offers that honour provides, the safety and the prestige.  Eventually, forced to come to terms to her own certainty, the facade of honour is unable to contain the betrayal that certainty is, pushing an individual to choose between the two.  In William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Ophelia is pressured by Hamlet, Laertes, and Polonius into choosing between her compelling desires or the societal rules  that have been bestowed upon her.  

When an individual that priorly has no control over her destiny must choose between her heart and her mind, in the name of honour, one will choose to lead with ignorance as a way to suppress both.  Ophelia’s brother and father are able to contain her truth and pressure her into falling under their own truths. It is through the societal placement of both a man and a woman that Laertes is able to question the relationship Ophelia has with Hamlet.  By mentioning that Hamlet could be playing Ophelia for illicit affairs indicates the idea of chasteness and purity; however, in Act One Scene three, he had failed to convince her to.  This shows the nature of men that is present at the time but also the idea of purity that taken quite seriously.  Though Laertes had regarded himself as a womanizer,  honour is bestowed behind the facade of honour that women keep up.  Furthermore, honour could be credited to not only Ophelia but Polonius as well.  It is clear through this scene that Ophelia’s behaviour will reflect and affect poorly on Polonius; so, in duty to her father she disregarded her personal desires and chose to conform to society.  The selflessness that Ophelia portrays to give up on temptation gives her the sense of duty and thus certainty.  The reward that certainty gives to the family- though it is not in favour of Ophelia’s true identity, is a limit on her own decisions and choices for the future.  By only being submissive to the agenda of others takes away an individual’s independence which further will lead to one’s dependant nature on others.  This will result in one constantly accommodating to others expectation as well as becoming increasingly vulnerable.

The vulnerability is quickly taken advantage of through the dispute between Ophelia and Hamlet. When an unwanted truth is told to an obedient individual, the consequences result in a transition between her wanting honour to needing certainty.  The clarity provided by Hamlet’s soliloquy provides a grounding for an alteration in Ophelia’s beliefs and priorities.  In Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1, his disgust for seemingly unfaithful women is quite evident.  As said, “Get thee to a nunnery”, Hamlet pleas for Ophelia to go to a place far from here. This is not only to keep her safe from the madness, but also to destroy the hold Polonius has on her.  A nunnery, however, is also a sanctuary for unmarried pregnant women, which leads to a certain debate of whether Ophelia had already been deflowered, proving as to why her honour is quickly diminishing.  The significance of this scene is the underlying dependence that Ophelia has upon Hamlet.  In the instance that she has lost her virginity, one may say that this would further be considered Ophelia’s breaking point for she had been cast aside by the father of her child; however, by trying to create distance between her and Polonius can symbolize her distancing from honour. By being distance from both honour, Ophelia’s certainty is dramatically altered for her personal desires diminished.  

Therefore, when an individual is unable to gain both certainty and honour, one may choose to settle for certainty in the aim of gaining independence.  Though the madness that Hamlet acted upon was told to be an extension of the ecstasy of love, it can be said the Ophelia’s madness is due to the withdrawals from it.  The sudden independence gained from the death of her Father and the rejection of Hamlet lead Ophelia to a certainty which could be symbolized by her madness.  As she had said in her songs, “ They say the owl was a baker’s daughter.  Lord, we know what we are, but not know what we might be.”In this line, the story behind the Baker’s Daughter is of one where a daughter disagrees with her mother’s wishes to give break to Jesus Christ.  By denouncing God, the daughter was turned into an owl, which is a symbol for a portal of death.  As Ophelia’s madness grows, in order to gain sensibility, the idea of denouncing love and God is clearly shown. By not being in duty to her father any longer, a loss of purpose and meaning to life is presented which can also lead to a loss of faith. By committing sins such as losing her virginity as well as losing honour, her future is described as the violets are.   As the violets withered away due to her Father’s death, it can be said that by having no man to control her isolated her from reality, thus giving her no true certainty. Violets which symbolize one’s thoughts that are occupied by love as well as innocence shows the elements that are lost by Ophelia, because her identity in the play is seen to be based around chastity.  Because she had committed suicide in order to end her suffering, the idea of not going to heaven proves to be a reason behind her unfaithfulness and modesty.

In Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”, femininity is shown to possess a lack of certainty, because of the  societal pressures  used to maintain an air of honour and dignity.  As seen by Ophelia, in order to restore certainty, dis-favourable acts are to be pursued in order to find one’s truth.  As one is no longer able to pay the price of ignorance, the safety and prestige brought by honour quickly lacks appeal. This will eventually take away from one’s dependency on others; leading to an internal dilemma that results in certainty.  As an individual is able to outgrow the cast or walls that society forces them in, one may seek their own conviction.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *