In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet there is, technically, no heroine. But the female character who comes closest to qualifying for the role is not Gertrude, whose sinful past precludes this, but rather Ophelia, the “universal victim” of the drama. She is truly a good, upright person although she is victimized by her father, brother and boyfriend.
Harry Levin, in the General Introduction to The Riverside Shakespeare, elaborates on the special kind of prose which the dramatist uses with Ophelia when she suffers her madness:
Though there is no invariable rule, the comic scenes are frequently in prose, whereas the tragic scenes are usually in verse. Yet some of the most tragic, notably Ophelia’s made scenes and the sleep-walking scene of Lady Macbeth, are in that special kind of distracted prose which Shakespeare reserved for moments of mental distraction, when the fragments of suppressed emotion well up from the unconscious. (11)
Shakespeare’s use of distinctive language is one consideration concerning Ophelia. Another is her victimization. Gunnar Boklund in “Hamlet” performs a partial-analysis on the character of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet:
The only character who is presented almost entirely as a victim is Ophelia, a victim of the King’s fear and curiosity, her father’s servility and fundamental indifference to her, Hamlet’s misunderstanding of the situation and brutal treatment of her, and finally his fatal thrust through the arras in the closet scene. Her madness is, as I see it, a purely pathetic element in the play. In the world where Hamlet has been forced to act, there appears to be no room for passive and obedient innocence. It is crushed, and perishes. (123)
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...: Madness Her Only Safe Haven.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from “Hamlet”: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.
Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Excerpted from 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
Wilkie, Brian and James Hurt. “Shakespeare.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.
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