Hamlet's Ophelia: The Changing Perceptions of Suicide, Death, and Madness in the Elizabethan and Victorian Periods

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Arts and Sciences



Degree Name

Bachelor of Art in English- Literature and Language

Honors Thesis Director

Matthew Fike

Honors Thesis Reader 1

Gloria Jones

Honors Thesis Reader 2

Clara Paulino


Hamlet, Ophelia, death, suicide, accidents


William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has been the source of question, debate, and research since its theatrical debut. In the midst of readings performances and one particular question has remained open and unresolved: was Ophelia's death an accident or a suicide? Some see Ophelia's death as an accident; others see it as a suicide resulting from the accumulation of a series of unfortunate events: her rejection by her boyfriend, her father’s murder, and her possible pregnancy. This paper will explore that age-old question from the perspectives of two historically different audiences: those of sixteenth-century and nineteenth-century England. I will argue that, despite the 300-year expanse between these two audiences, both emerged with the same conclusion: Ophelia's death was accidental. However, cultural and scientific changes affected the reasons why each came to that conclusion.

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