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Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Character of Ophelia

analytical Essay
3349 words
3349 words
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Hamlet: The Character of Ophelia

Concerning the Ophelia of Shakespeare’s tragic drama Hamlet, is she an innocent type or not? Is she a victim or not? This essay will explore these and other questions related to this character.

Rebecca West in “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption” viciously, and perhaps unfoundedly, attacks the virginity of Ophelia:

There is no more bizarre aspect of the misreading of Hamlet’s character than the assumption that his relations with Ophelia were innocent and that Ophelia was a correct and timid virgin of exquisite sensibilities. . . . She was not a chaste young woman. That is shown by her tolerance of Hamlet’s obscene conversations, which cannot be explained as consistent with the custom of the time. If that were the reason for it, all the men and women in Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedict, Miranda and Ferdinand, Antony and Cleopatra, would have talked obscenely together, which is not the case (107).

West’s interpretation of Ophelia’s character is not a consensus feeling among critics, so her innocence is challenged but not overturned. Beginning now with the play, the reader/viewer sees that the protagonist of the tragedy, Prince Hamlet, initially appears dressed in solemn black. He is mourning the death of his father, supposedly by snakebite, while he was away at Wittenberg as a student. Hamlet laments the hasty remarriage of his mother to his father’s brother, an incestuous act; thus in his first soliloquy he cries out, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” Ophelia enters the play with her brother Laertes, who, in parting for school, bids her farewell and gives her advice regarding her relationship with Hamlet. Op...

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...Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint of Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html

Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York: Bartleby.com, 2000 http://www.bartleby.com/215/0816.html

West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.

Wilkie, Brian and James Hurt. “Shakespeare.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how polonius suggests that ophelia be placed in the presence of hamlet while her father and the king observe the hero’s conduct.
  • Analyzes how samuel taylor coleridge's lectures and notes on shakspere and other english poets elaborated on an important part of this contrived encounter between the protagonist and ophelia.
  • Analyzes gooch's review of the shapes of revenge: victimization, vengeance, and vindictiveness in shakespeare.
  • Analyzes how rebecca west in "a court and world infected by the disease of corruption" viciously attacks the virginity of ophelia.
  • Analyzes the development of ophelia's character as rounded and complex, not just because she is the girlfriend of the protagonist.
  • Analyzes how the penetrating hamlet perceives, from the strange and forced manner of ophelia, that the sweet girl was not acting a part of her own, and his after speeches are not so much directed to her as to the listeners and spies
  • Analyzes how hamlet prefers the company of ophelia to that of his mother, gertrude, in the dumbshow, prologue and play.
  • Analyzes how gunnar boklund interprets ophelia as a victim in "the shapes of revenge: victimization, vengeance, and vindictiveness in shakespeare."
  • Analyzes how laertes commits to the king's plan of vengeance against hamlet, who is now returning to elsinore.
  • Analyzes the lack of consensus in the interpretation of the character of ophelia in "one of destiny's casualties."
  • Introduces abrams, m. h., and boklund, gunnar. the norton anthology of english literature.
  • Cites jorgensen, paul a., lehmann, courtney, and starks.
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