When a parent dies unexpectedly, it seems reasonable that a child would be distraught and beside themselves, unsure of what to do and how to react to the situation. Ophelia has just tragically lost her father and he was buried deep beneath the ground before she could steal one more glance at him or kiss him goodbye. Now that her father has passed, she is listening to the words he uttered to her during his lifetime more carefully. Her thoughts and mourning wails are filled with the warnings about men, Hamlet in particular, that he always lectured her about in his lifetime. As the reader, it is unsure what Ophelia means by the nonsense she is wailing, but the common tie to sex can be treated as a red flag from her conscious feeling guilty about past transgressions with Hamlet against her father’s warnings.
To begin, she mentions St. Valentine’s day, a day seen to modern celebrators to encapsulate love, but to her represents “in the maid, that out the maid/ Never departed again” (4.5.54-55). To some it may be seen as love but to Ophelia she sees now that appearances can be deceiving and what people may initially perceive as love or care is more likely just lust or want for selfish intent. Polonius was always trying to protect his daughter from being used and then discarded. Ophelia continues on, believing “Young men will do’t, if they come to’t/ By Cock they are to blame” (4.5.60-61) and that they’re heads and hearts are not at all considered in the equation when women are involved. These lines suggest that young men are only driven by what they’re sexual organs want and will do whatever needs to be done to ensure that their needs are met.
Ophelia returns to this theme of sneaking around against her father’s wishes and how these actions are now weighing on her conscious. She always thought that Hamlet loved her and that their actions would lead to more than just a fling, “‘before you tumbled me,/ You promised me to wed.’” (4.5.62-63). Laertes and Polonius tried repeatedly to convince Ophelia that Hamlet did not truly care for her and wouldn’t look after her in time, and as a stubborn daughter Ophelia did not heed her father’s warning.
It is too late and her world is crumbling around her as she realizes her father was right and no longer has anywhere to turn for guidance. Her father may be gone, but his words live on. It is not too late for Ophelia to listen to Polonius’ words now and try to learn from his teachings. There is a difference between love and lust and swept away in the moment, it can be challenging to differentiate the two, but Ophelia had to protect and watch out for herself, especially now that her father has passed.