Act 4, Scene 5

This engraving depicts Ophelia, Gertrude, Laertes, and Claudius in Act 4 Scene 5 of Hamlet. Ophelia's arms wave out to the side, and Laertes appears to restrain her. Gertrude and Claudius sit upon thrones.
Folger Shakespeare Library LUNA 29749: Hamlet, act IV, scene V, Elsinore-King, Queen, Laertes, Ophelia, &c. / painted by Benjamin West ; engraved by Francis Legat.

Webtext: Folger Shakespeare Library

Audio: myShakespeare or ChapterVox via YouTube

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Encountering the Text

Whereas the first two selections are meant to help us rethink which early modern works “count” toward the canon of disability, Ophelia’s madness has been less directly discussed in terms of disability (even as it has been discussed a lot). This is also the first selection we’re offering with a woman in the disabled role.

  • What does it mean to put madness into the context of disability? What does it mean to include Ophelia in disability?
  • In what ways is Ophelia in control or agential in this scene? 
  • How has Ophelia’s madness been interpreted differently from Hamlet’s, and how might we think of that in terms of the construction of and naturalization of gendered disability?