The Tragedy of Lady Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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The Tragedy of Lady Ophelia of Hamlet

Melancholy, grief, and madness pervade Shakespeare's great tragedy, Hamlet. The emotional maladies presented within Hamlet, not only allow the audience to sympathize with prince Hamlet, but also with the tragic lady Ophelia as well. It is Ophelia who suffers at her lover's discretion because of decisions she was obligated to make on behalf of her weak societal position.

Hamlet provides his own self-torture and does fall victim to melancholia and grief - his madness is feigned. They each share a common connection: the loss of a parental figure. Hamlet loses his father as a result of a horrible murder, as does Ophelia. Her situation is more severe because it is her lover who murders her father and all of her hopes for her future as well. Ultimately, it is also more detrimental to her character and causes her melancholy and grief to quickly turn to irretrievable madness.

Critics argue that Hamlet has the first reason to be hurt by Ophelia because she follows her father's admonitions regarding Hamlet's true intentions for their beginning love. In Act 3, scene 1, line 91 Hamlet begins with his malicious sarcasm toward her. "I humbly thank you, well, well, well," he says to her regarding her initial pleasantries (Johnson 1208). Before this scene, he has heard the King and Polonius establishing a plan to deduce his unusual and grief-stricken behavior.

Hamlet is well aware that this plan merely uses Ophelia as a tool, and as such, she does not have much option of refusing without angering not only her busybody father but the conniving King as well. Hamlet readily refuses that he cared for her. He tells her and all of his uninvited listeners, "No, not I, I never gave you aught" (lines 94-95). Some critics stress, as does J. Dover Wilson, that Hamlet has a right to direct his anger to Ophelia because even though many critics "in their sympathy with Ophelia they have forgotten that it is not Hamlet who has 'repelled' her, but she him" (Wilson 159). It is possible that Wilson does not see the potential harm to Ophelia should she disobey her authority figures (i.e. her father and her king). Furthermore, Ophelia cannot know "that Hamlet's attitude toward her reflects his disillusionment in his mother . . . to her, Hamlet's inconstancy can only mean deceitfulness or madness" (Lidz 158).
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