The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

939 Words4 Pages
The Character of Ophelia in Hamlet Of all the pivotal characters in Hamlet, Ophelia is the most static and one-dimensional. She has the potential to become a tragic heroine; to overcome the adversities inflicted upon her, but she instead crumbles into insanity, becoming merely tragic. This is because Ophelia herself is not as important as her representation of the duel nature of women in the play. Ophelia serves a distinct purpose: to show at once Hamlet's warped view of women as callous sexual predators, and the innocence and virtue of women. The extent to which Hamlet feels betrayed by Gertrude is far more apparent with the addition of Ophelia to the play. Hamlet's feelings of rage against his mother can be directed toward Ophelia, who is, in his estimation, hiding her base nature behind a guise of impeccability. Through Ophelia we witness Hamlet's evolution, or de-evolution into a man convinced that all women are whores; that the women who seem most pure are inside black with corruption and sexual desire. And if women are harlots, then they must have their procurers. Gertrude has been made a whore by Claudius, and Ophelia has been made a whore by her father. In Act II, Polonius makes arrangements to use the alluring Ophelia to discover why Hamlet is behaving so curiously. Hamlet is not in the room but it seems obvious from the following lines that he has overheard Polonius trying to use his daughter's charms to suit his underhanded purposes. In Hamlet's distraught mind, there is no gray area: Polonius prostitutes his daughter. And Hamlet tells him so to his face, labeling him a "fishmonger", even if Polonius cannot decipher the meaning behind Hamlet's words. As Kay Stanton argues in her essay Hamlet's Whores: Perhaps it may be granted...that what makes a woman a whore in the Hamlets' estimation is her sexual use by not one man but by more than one man.... what seems to enrage [Hamlet] in the 'nunnery' interlude is that Ophelia has put her sense of love and duty for another man above her sense of love and duty for him, just as Gertrude put her sense of love and duty for her new husband above her sense of love and duty for her old. Gertrude chose a brother over a dead Hamlet; Ophelia chooses a father over a living Hamlet: both choices can be read as additionally sexually perverse in being, to Hamlet, 'incestuous'.

More about The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Open Document