How can that be, unless she drowned herself in her own defense?
Why, ‘tis found so.
It must be se offendendo. It cannot be else. For here lies the
point: if I drown myself wittingly, it argues an act. And an
act hath three branches—it is to act, to do, to perform.
Argal, she drowned herself wittingly.
Nay, but hear you, Goodman Delver—
Give me leave. Here lies the water. Good. Here stands the
man. Good. If the man go to this water and drown himself,
it is, will he nill he, he goes. Mark you that. But if the water
come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself. Argal,
he that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.
(Hamlet, V.i. 5-17)
What hast thou done, unnatural and unkind?
Killed her for whom my tears have made me blind.
I am as woeful as Virginius was,
And have a thousand times more cause than he
To do this outrage, and it now is done.
What, was she ravished? Tell who did the deed.
Will’t please you eat? Will’t please your highness feed?
Why hast thou slain thine only daughter thus?
Not I; ‘twas Chiron and Demetrius.
They ravished her and cut away her tongue,
And they, ‘twas they that did her all this wrong.
(Titus Andronicus, V.iii. 52-57)
The comparison of both suicide and murder as “unnatural” stuck out to me; they are both crimes to humanity because they end a life before its natural death. I also chose these two specific passages because they are both two male characters conversing about the death of a woman—who each had little agency by the point of their death. Ophelia had a decrease in agency because of her madness, Lavinia because of her violation and silence. And these men aren’t necessarily right. The “Other” character is wrong about her death not being a suicide, and we don’t know if Lavinia wanted to end her life. This relates back to the idea of prescribed identities discussed earlier in the semester. What is decided about Ophelia’s death (suicide or self-defense) by other characters will determine her identity, just like Titus speaks and acts for the identity he prescribes to Lavinia after her violation.
Another comparison between these two passages is the reasoning for the “ravishing” of both Ophelia and Lavinia. The “Other” character’s description in Hamlet that Ophelia’s death was believed to self-defense, and therefore not a crime, takes the blame away from Ophelia. Similarly, Titus claims that it was not him, rather it was Chiron and Demetrius, that truly took away Lavinia’s life, even though he was the one who murdered her. It is interesting how ideas of blame and responsibility are represented in both of these plays. If Ophelia’s death was self-defense, she wouldn’t be held responsible for her death, just like Titus doesn’t hold himself responsible for Lavinia’s death because he believes she’s better dead than alive.