Sweet and innocent, faithful and obedient, Ophelia is the truly tragic figure in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. "Her nature invites us to pity her misfortune caused not by any of her own self-initiated deeds or strategies"(Lidz 138). Laertes tells us convincingly how young and vulnerable Ophelia is, (act I. iii.10) likening her budding womanhood's destruction from Hamlet to a process as "the canker galls the infants of the spring,/ Too oft before their buttons be disclosed, /And in the morn and liquid dew of youth / Contagious blastments are most imminent". "He advises her to stay away and she lovingly banters back, typically like a young teen, reminding him to act as he advises" (Campbell 104). We then learn more of how pure and innocent she is as her father counsels her (Act I.iii.90). Telling her that she is a "green girl" and to think of herself as "a baby" in this matter, he insists that she must stop seeing him.
Ophelia trusts the advise given and her obedience is very evident in this matter as she avoids contact with Hamlet until she is told by her father, with the King and Queens approval, to meet up with him by 'accident' in the lobby. Deceit not being in her nature, believing that her father, the king and queen are right and true; that Hamlet is mad; and probably curious to know if Hamlet is "mad in love" with her the young, obedient, powerless Ophelia does her part to search out the truth. But tragically this one forced step outside of her true character begins her downfall. In a precarious predicament, loyalty to her father compelled Ophelia to lie to Hamlet when he asked about her father?s location at that moment saying he was at home instead of behind a tapestry right the...
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...ven though the initial fall to the water was an accident tragically she is denied a decent burial and is buried as a sinner.
Poor Ophelia lost everything. She lost her lover and the social position and security that would have come when she became Hamlet's wife. She lost her father and an honorable burial and her trust and respect for her Queen and King. Finally, she lost her life. The innocent destroyed with the deceitful. Perhaps Shakespeare used Ophelia's innocence to provide an even greater contrast to the deceit of the characters that engulfed her.
Campbell, Lily. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1952.
Lidz, Theodore. Hamlet's Enemy: Madness and Myth in Hamlet. Vision Press, 1975.
MacKenzie, Agnes Mure. The Women in Shakespeare's Plays. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1924.
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