William Shakespeare's defining work may in fact be the masterpiece named after its ambivalent main character Hamlet. In this play the poet-playwright artfully guides his audience through a tangled plot of murder, revenge, madness, and perhaps even love. Hamlet, the prince of Denmark has returned home for his father's funeral, and two months later must watch as his mother marries his uncle. Hamlet is told by the ghost of his father that Hamlets uncle, Claudius, is guilty of the murder. The ghost then tells Hamlet to avenge his murder. Hamlet decides to pretend to be crazy in order to throw people off, and this is the where things get especially interesting. During the time Hamlet is pretending to be crazy some interesting things happen between him and his lady friend Ophelia. The intimate nature of Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship leads to Ophelia's ultimate demise.
The first mention of the nature of Hamlets relationship with Ophelia comes from Polonius, Ophelia's father. He says, "'Tis told to me, he hath very oft of late/Given private time to you, and you yourself /Have of your audience been most free and bounteous." Polonius is afraid of what might be happening while his daughter is giving "audience" to prince Hamlet. Polonius then warns Ophelia that Hamlet's intentions may be "Giving more light than heat," that he is possibly in lust rather than in love. Polonius then instructs Ophelia not to "give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet" and she agrees to obey this command. Ophelia's father makes her feel guilty about her physical relationship with Hamlet. She agrees to follow her father's command because he has convinced her that she should not "believe his vows" (1.3).
Later Ophelia comes running in to her fathers' room ...
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...are of Ophelia's condition and he is reluctant to give her a proper Christian burial. It is only her place in the royal court that allows her to be buried in the churchyard.
I can't help but sympathize with Ophelia. Her trusting, innocent love for Hamlet comes into conflict with her duty to her over-protective brother and her over-bearing father. She loves Hamlet, and she gives herself to him body and soul, but to what end? She pays the ultimate price for love, gives up her life as a testament to her fidelity; she will have no other man but Hamlet. If Hamlet hadn't been so caught up in his own misery, he might have been able to recognize the melancholy in Ophelia, and perhaps he could have saved her from herself; and Ophelia might have been able to save him as well.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum, New York: Dover,1992.