A Hamlet timeline – chronicle of events

      Setting the Timeline – considerations

Claudius – planning my foul murder

King Hamlet's funeral – where was Hamlet?

Gertrude & Claudius – adultery or not?

Horatio – Hamlet's friend?

Horatio – is he passion's slave?

Polonius – the evil that men do

Ophelia's love? – did she love Hamlet?

Ophelia closetted – Polonius on love

      O help xxx ....... – Olivier's version

Ophelia's change – is Hamlet suspicious?

Hamlet feigns madness – protective "cover"

Is Hamlet mad? – Polonius's opinion

The Trial of Claudius – Hamlet's prosecution

Hamlet kills Polonius – stabs the "Voice"

Laertes v Hamlet – poisoned foil

Ophelia's death – a recipe

Hamlet's age – digging up the past

Yorick – something rotting in Denmark

Betting on Hamlet – the fencing match

Hamlet's fencing skill – better than Laertes

Hamlet's revenge – the rest is silence

Ophelia death — a recipe

Divided from herself, and her fair judgement

Was it an accident mistaken for a suicide disguised as an accident?

There are many considerations and questions that need to be addressed before one can say what was the cause of Ophelia's death. Possibilities are listed here somewhat like recipe ingredients. These possibilities can be accepted, dismissed or used in whatever combinations you like to make a 'cake' that suits your taste.

When the king realised Ophelia was completely mad he ordered Horatio to protect her. The ever-reliable Horatio would have done so but when Ophelia fell into the brook Horatio was not there. Presumably, he ensured someone kept Ophelia company.

Ophelia: ...... Good night, ladies. Good night, sweet ladies. Good night, good night. (Exit)
King: Follow her close; give her good watch, I pray you. (Exit Horatio)

Possibilities in favour of accidental death:

  • Horatio, ordered to Follow her close; give her good watch, was absent, having gone to meet Hamlet.
  • About one minute after Ophelia left the palace, Gertrude followed her.
  • Only one person was attending Ophelia and she ran for help.
  • Nobody jumped in to try to save Ophelia.
  • None attending her could swim.
  • Ophelia could not swim.
  • Ophelia could swim but: —
    • She was too mad to heed the entreaties to swim to the bank.
    • She heeded the entreaties to swim to the bank but swam toward the wrong bank.
    • 'Her clothes spread wide' and became a sea-anchor making swimming impossible.
    • 'Her clothes spread wide' and snagged in the fallen branch.
    • The brook flowed too fast and carried her down stream.
    • It took too long to get a boat into the brook.
  • The alarm was raised in the palace. The Queen and several others, including a few of Laertes' followers, hurried to the scene.
  • The Queen was taken under the willow and shown the broken branch. She says, 'That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.' She must have seen this because the hoar colour of the underside of willow leaves can only be seen from below, as can their reflection in the water.
  • The Queen describes the event as an accident.

Possibilities against the suicide theory:

The attendant or attendants on seeing Ophelia fall into the water would assume it was an accident. Even if Ophelia jumped into the brook for any reason whatsoever, it would be assumed she did it because she was mad, not that she was suiciding. Regardless of what was thought, an attendant would quickly run for help.

  • Mad people do not commit suicide. They are happy in their madness. They will write you a cheque for $1,000,000 or introduce you to the queen of England, the US president and the Pope. They are out of touch with reality. Laertes gives us the correct perspective of Ophelia's insane utterances and singing:
    Ophelia: (Sings) You must sing a-down a-down, .......
    Laertes: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.
    Ophelia: There's fennel for you, and columbines: ....... (Sings) For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.
    Laertes: Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,
    She turns to favour and to prettiness.

  • She was too crazy to think of suicide.
  • There was no suicide note, she being too crazy to write one.
  • Even if Ophelia intended suicide, who can know that was her intention?
  • She had no reason to commit suicide.
  • She would be anticipating Hamlet's return from England with his sanity recovered.
  • Ophelia did not love Hamlet nor was upset after she broke off their relationship.
  • Her madness and death occurred four months after she jilted Hamlet.
  • Her father's death was insufficient grounds for suicide.
  • Ophelia was mad but happy as she went about hanging flower garlands on everything.
  • She was trying to hang a garland around a bird in the willow but she couldn't fly.
  • She jumped into the brook to hang a garland on a fish.
  • The broken willow branch was evidence of an accident.
  • Those who rushed to the scene saw her floating and heard her singing.
  • She sang songs while floating in the brook.
    Queen: Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,
    As one incapable of her own distress,
  • Laertes always regarded it as an accident. Note his reaction when Ophelia is being buried.
  • And [most telling] a suicide rather than an accident does absolutely nothing to improve the story.

Possibilities against a suicide cover-up:

What might it be that looked so obviously different from an accident for Gertrude, or anyone, to instantly conclude Ophelia had committed suicide? The attendant(s) Horatio had ordered to watch her would be held responsible for not attending her more closely and restraining her. If it was concluded Ophelia had suicided, a temptation might be to make her death look accidental, despite any good reason. However, fabricating an accident needed to be done quickly. Consider the following — do you think a cover-up happened?

  • The Queen who came quickly to the scene instantly realised, somehow, that it was suicide.
  • Ophelia's attendant(s) convinced the Queen that Ophelia had suicided.
  • The Queen held nobody neglectful in their duty of care of Ophelia.
  • The Queen connived with the attendants to plan the cover-up.
  • The Queen convinced everyone that it was in Laertes' best interest that he not be told the truth.
  • The Queen convinced Laertes' own followers that they, too, must lie to Laertes.
  • Her real motive was to take the heat off Hamlet and avert any reaction by Laertes.
  • There was no need to take the heat off Hamlet – he was not in Denmark.
  • The Queen insisted they all tell the same lie.
  • The Queen insisted the lie must also say Ophelia floated around singing.
  • The actual old tunes from which Ophelia chaunted snatches needed to be agreed upon.
  • Flower garlands were made and hung on the willow.
  • The willow sliver was broken off and thrown into the brook.
  • For the willow to be broken convincingly, the person breaking it deliberately fell into the brook.
  • The Queen returned and lied to Laertes. The cover-up needed to be completed before that.
  • From Ophelia's exit until Gertrude's announcement of her death was insufficient time to organise a cover-up.
  • Laertes did not go for a stroll and arrive during the creation of the cover-up.
  • The Queen also lied to Claudius, then told him the truth. She had to get him to agree to the cover-up.
  • Laertes went immediately to the scene to see what happened and ask questions.
  • If it had been suicide, someone would tell Laertes, sometime. It would not remain a secret.
  • What was the point of the Queen lying, if someone told Laertes the truth within a minute or two?

More about characters – particularly Ophelia