William Shakespeare's character of Ophelia in Hamlet, suffers greatly, from the time she learns of her father Polonius' death, until her own mysterious death. In Hamlet, Gertrude, Horatio and Claudius refer to her state, and conclude that she is crazy1. Though there is some truth to their claim, Shakespeare created Ophelia as an overly- dramatic character, who is somewhat exaggerating her emotions to give an impression of madness. Although their impression of Ophelia can be supported, evidence is not shown as much in her words, as it is shown in her actions. Ophelia's songs seem like riddles and nonsense2, yet they are similar to the patterns of speech by Hamlet, revealing truths and true emotions, and at times sarcasm. However, Ophelia's whimsical, and child-like behavior is quite different than the prim, reserved Ophelia at the beginning of the play. Still, this behavior is not consistent with the sad words in her grief-laden songs, nor is it consistent with a woman in grief rather Ophelia's physical behavior is the strongest evidence that Ophelia may exhibit signs of madness. Hamlet's act to convince his insanity to all that knew him influenced Ophelia to perform following Hamlet's lead with his feigned madness, eventually leading to the girl's suicide, thus implicating Hamlet in her death.
In Hamlet, one of the many things Shakespeare shows us is how the world can change a person, how certain circumstances can knock a person so out of proportion with who they used to be that they take on a new persona, a new identity. One such character is Ophelia, a young, innocent girl, who, throughout the play is torn between father and lover, accused of not being as innocent as she seems, and finally driven to insanity. In the end, she is driven to suicide, an innocent victim of the world around her.
The story of Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, is considered to be a perplexing play as the many subplots twist, turn, and unfold. The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is conceivably the most widely discussed topic as countless theories are developed throughout the story. It is a tragedy, of many sorts, that Hamlet and Ophelia are not able to display their love for each other,
But because of Hamlet’s drive to avenge his father’s death, and Ophelia’s will to obey her father, the two died in grief, along with the rest of Hamlet’s family. This play portrays the tragedy of death and how revenge does not end well. In fact it shows how revenge can lead to insanity and disturbance in the natural order. It causes anger and hate, something that is uncontrollable. Ophelia’s death shows how cruel revenge is and how one cannot realize whom their actions affect. Ophelia’s innocence gave a clear relationship to the theme of the play: mortality. Her death signifies how even the most naïve and delicate of situations can be affected by the horrors of death, revenge, and
Ophelia begins the play as an innocent, trusting, and spirited young girl, full of promise and full of life. But, all too soon her view of men and the world in general is tainted. Her brother warns her that Hamlet may be toying with her affections and to, "fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister..." (1.3.33). With these simple words he implants the seeds of distrust and betrayal. These themes of distrust and betrayal are interwoven throughout much of the play, from the murder of the King, to the constant spying of Polonius.
Firstly, the castle of Elsinore is notable for its evocation of place where it initially begins to shape Ophelia’s character and create Ophelia’s imagination beyond her life of limitations. It is undisputable the love Ophelia and Hamlet once shared in their past relations. This is clearly evident when Hamlet jumps out from hiding at the graveyard and expresses his feelings for Ophelia proclaiming his love. “I lov’d Ophelia: forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?” (5.2. 270-72) Although Polonius, Ophelia’s father, instructs her to never see Hamlet again and to never trust his promises, she continues to honour Hamlet’s love and defend him to her father; “My Lord, he hath importun’d me with love in honourable fashion” (1.3. 110-11). Since, Ophelia is dependent on her father, and the men in her life; she now finds herself alone after his sudden death, which causes her grief and unhappiness (4.5.11-13). Ophelia’s distracted behaviour gives the impression that some great unhappiness has befallen her (Ibid). Claudius suggests it is a result from her father’s death; “Conceit upon her father” (4.5. 43). Ophelia’s abrupt behaviour shows the nature of her mind and her songs suggest tragic irony, since it is paradoxical to the Ophelia that is introduced at the beginning of the play; a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeyed her father and brother (1.3.90-98).
In Ophelia’s last scene, she walks around singing bizarre songs and handing out flowers. This scene is essentially Ophelia’s last cry for help as she is pregnant and alone without parents. In addition, her brother, Laertes, would disapprove as he warned her about Hamlet and Hamlet is responsible for killing their father. Furthermore, she sings: “Quoth she “Before you tumbled me,/You promised me to wed./So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,/An thou hadst not come to my bed” (Shakespeare 4.5.106). Ophelia sings about
Ophelia was driven mad by the death of her father Polonius and how Hamlet betrayed her love with his own wave of madness which was just an act. In her madness, Ophelia talks about her father and his death and about the “Tricks in the world” (terrible things that happen to people). Ophelia’s madness was also the extent of her being used by her father so he could spy on Hamlet to see if he was truly crazy and then by Hamlet when he claimed he no longer loved her and that he didn’t send her any letters (remembrances). Ophelia’s speech and her fragments of songs are unsensible. Her song was about her father’s death “He is gone, He is gone” (4.5.220), and a maiden who is tricked into losing her virginity with a false promise of love and the possibility of marriage. “To be your valentine, then up he rose and donned his clothes and duped the chamber door” (4.5.56-58)
In The Tragedy of Hamlet, Shakespeare developed the story of prince Hamlet, and the murder of his father by the king's brother, Claudius. Hamlet reacted to this event with an internal battle that harmed everyone around him. Ophelia was the character most greatly impacted by Hamlet's feigned and real madness - she first lost her father, her sanity, and then her life. Ophelia, obedient, weak-willed, and no feminist role model, deserves the most pity of any character in the play.
The story of Hamlet is a morbid tale of tragedy, commitment, and manipulation; this is especially evident within the character of Ophelia. Throughout the play, Ophelia is torn between obeying and following the different commitments that she has to men in her life. She is constantly torn between the choice of obeying the decisions and wishes of her family or that of Hamlet. She is a constant subject of manipulation and brain washing from both her father and brother. Ophelia is not only subject to the torture of others using her for their intentions but she is also susceptible to abuse from Hamlet. Both her father and her brother believe that Hamlet is using her to achieve his own personal goals.
“Pretty Ophelia,” as Claudius calls her, is the most innocent victim of Hamlet’s revenge in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Hamlet has fallen in love with Ophelia after the death of his father. Ophelia “sucked the honey of his music vows” and returned Hamlet’s affection. But when her father had challenged Hamlet’s true intentions, Ophelia could only say: “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” Ophelia was used to relying on her father’s directions and she was also brought up to be obedient. This allowed her to only accept her father’s views that Hamlet’s attention towards her was only to take advantage of her and to obey her father’s orders not to permit Hamlet to see her again.
Ophelia, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, represents a self-confident and aware female character. She analyzes the world around her and recognizes the multitude of male figures attempting to control her life. Her actions display not only this awareness, but also maturity in her non-confrontational discussions. Though she is demeaned by Laertes, Polonius, and Hamlet, Ophelia exhibits intelligence and independence and ultimately resorts to suicide in order to free herself from the power of the men around her.
Poor Ophelia lost everything. She lost her lover and the social position and security that would have come when she became Hamlet's wife. She lost her father and an honorable burial and her trust and respect for her Queen and King. Finally, she lost her life. The innocent destroyed with the deceitful. Perhaps Shakespeare used Ophelia's innocence to provide an even greater contrast to the deceit of the characters that engulfed her.