The Character Of Ophelia In Shakespeare's Hamlet

1197 words - 5 pages

The Character of Ophelia in Hamlet

     In Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, the character Ophelia plays an important role in the elaboration of the plot.  In the beginning, she is in a healthy state of mind, in love with Hamlet, yet controlled by her father.  During the play she has several troubling experiences involving Hamlet - causing her to become distressed.  The death of Ophelia's father leaves her mentally unstable and in a state of madness that eventually leads to her own death.

            Ophelia and Hamlet's love for each other begins as a very real experience. Hamlet is quite attracted by Ophelia's beauty and falls in love with her.  However, Ophelia is very much controlled by her father, Polonius, a highly respected individual who is the chief advisor to King Claudius. Her father demands that she tell Hamlet that she can no longer be with him.

 I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth

Have you so slander any moment leisure

As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.

Look to't, I charge you. Come your ways (I.iii.139-142).

It is clear that here Polonius is making decisions for his daughter, without regard for her feelings.  Ophelia is used to relying on her father's direction and has been reared to be obedient to his commands.  She is helpless to question her father's wishes and, because of this, she is never able to develop emotional strength and stability.  All she can reply is, "I shall obey, my lord"(I.iii.143).  Ophelia's brother Laertes gives her no support as he agrees with what their father is saying.  He tells Ophelia that Hamlet is no good for her.

For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor,

Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood;

A violet in the youth of primy nature,

Forward, not permanent-sweet, not lasting;

The perfume and suppliance of a minute;

No more (I.iii.6-11).

Laertes knows that Hamlet may not be able to choose his own marriage partner in the future because he will have to act in a manner that is best for the country. He does not want Hamlet to treat his sister as a plaything only to end up leaving her. So he warns Ophelia to be careful. Ophelia is incapable of ignoring her father's and her brother's opinions. So, feeling as though she has no control over her life, she writes Hamlet a letter informing him that she can no longer see him.  This sets in motion a chain of events that eventually leads to her destruction.  

            When Hamlet receives the letter from Ophelia he is terribly hurt and angered by her words.  The next time he sees her, she is surprised, and even a bit frightened, by his behavior.  Hamlet does not look like himself, and he acts very strangely towards her.

He took me by the wrist and held me hard;

Then goes he to the length of all his arm,

And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow

He falls to such perusal of my face

As he would draw it. Long stayed he so (II.i.98-102).

As Hamlet exits, he...

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