“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.
Hamlet has the disillusion that women are frail after his mother’s rushed remarriage as shown by “Frailty, thy name is woman!” He also believes women do not have the power to reason. (“O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason.”) Ophelia has the power to change his view but her unexplained rejection of him only adds to Hamlet’s disillusion. The ghost’s revelation that Gertrude dishonored Hamlet’s father but also their marriage by the adultery with Claudius is contemplated by Hamlet until he goes into Ophelia’s room to look upon her. As Hamlet searches Ophelia’s face for some sign that might restore his faith in her, he instead believes her face shows guilt and thinks she is another false Gertrude.
There is much similarity between Gertrude and Ophelia in the play. Both are attractive and simple minded, and are easily shaped by opinion, desires and ideas of others. Ophelia and Gertrude seem to be the same women at different stages in their lives. This may be one of the reasons why Hamlet was first attracted to Ophelia and now the reason why Hamlet rejects Ophelia.
By disposition, Gertrude turns to the positive side of life and can’t bear to face pain. The pain she felt after her adultery with Claudius may have been what motivated Claudius to murder her husband. When the conditions were right for her to marry her lover, she was most happy and wished for the difficulties of the past be forgotten.
The only thing left to make Gertrude unhappy is Hamlet’s refusal to forget the death of his father or to forgive her for remarrying so quickly. In order for her to completely bury the past, she must convince Hamlet to accept her new marriage and forget his father’s death.