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A Character Comparison of Ophelia in Hamlet, Gerturde, and The Prince of Denmark

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The character of Ophelia has been long debated: her role in the Shakespearean play is quite marginal, yet full of meaning. With the passing of time, she became a more and more important character, worth being examined and described in many other novels. This was the beginning of Ophelia's afterlives, her story being told -and sometimes reinvented- from different points of view and described with cognizance and attention to her feelings. This essay will analyse how the figure of Ophelia evolves in Shakespeare's Hamlet, in John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius and in Graham Holderness’s The Prince of Denmark. In particular, it will examine how these texts convey some of the main differences regarding her character, always connected to a deep symbolism: her physical description, her personality and her madness and death.

First of all, in these three masterpieces, Ophelia's physical description is quite corresponding and always associated with the colour white, even though this connection has different undertones. On stage and between the pages of those two novels, she is immediately related to the most delicate, brightest and purest colour. Furthermore, she is usually described by the adjectives “fair” and “white”, largely used in particular by Holderness. Evidently, being Gertrude and Claudius a prequel and The Prince of Denmark a sequel of the Shakespearean play, the reader can imagine her age to be slightly different, but no signs of these changes can be found in the texts. This could be a proof of how everlasting her beauty is, not touched by the passing of time.
In the play, her "virginal and vacant white" creates a striking contrast between Hamlet's "nighted colour" , his “solemn black" . Shakespeare's Hamlet also defines h...


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...dius kill her trying to do a Caesarean section. If Shakespeare’s Ophelia has maybe set herself free from a world she was too honest to live in, here she is set free by somebody else. Once again, the reader is sympathetic with her, since she is unable to decide anything about her destiny.

In conclusion, Ophelia’s personality had often been ignored or conceived just as a secondary character. However, with the passing of time, she started to draw the attention of many critics who understood how significant she was. The evolution of Ophelia’s representation affected her appearances, her personality, her madness and death. Still connected to her tragic fate, she has become a woman more and more linked to her femininity and sexuality. As John Updike and Graham Holderness show, she has travelled throughout cultures but can still be considered interestingly up-to-date.




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