Ophelia is a beautiful and simple-minded woman, easily molded by the more powerful opinions and desires of others. The thoughts of her father and her brother influenced her the most. The love letters from Hamlet also swayed her opinions and confused her mind. Ophelia wasn’t able to realize herself because of all the pressures exerted on her to be something she’s not. That weakness of mind and will, which permitted her obedience to her father and thus destroyed her hope for Hamlet’s love, finally resulted in her insanity and death.
When her father had challenged the honor of Hamlet’s intentions, Ophelia could only reply "I do not know, my lord, what I should think" (III, iii). Used to relying upon her father’s direction and brought up to be obedient, she can only accept her father’s belief, seconded by that of her brother, that Hamlet’s "holy vows" of love were simply designed for her seduction. She was to obey her father’s orders not to permit Hamlet to see her again. Her father also wanted to prove Hamlet’s madness to the king. He used Ophelia as bait so he and the king could listen to Hamlet’s words. Ophelia willingly obliged to her father’s desires. By not thinking for herself and only doing as her father wished, she ruined her chances of love with Hamlet.
Hamlet put pressure on Ophelia by expecting her to surpass his mother’s shortcomings and be an epitome of womankind. He searched her innocent face for some sign of loving truth that might restore his faith in her. He took her mute terror for a sign of her guilt and found her to be a false person, like his mother. In his letter to her, he addressed the letter to "the most beautified Ophelia" and he terminated the letter with "I love thee best, O most best, believe it" (II, ii). He used the word "beautified" to display a sincere tribute, and it is apparent he still loves her. His attempts to win her affection are not triumphant. Ophelia is still too much under the influence of her father to question his wisdom or authority, and she has no mind of her own to understand how much she has made her lover suffer. No matter how much it pained her to not see Hamlet, all she could see in his present behavior is the madness that terrified her.
Ophelia’s insanity was a mixture of love and hate caused by her father and Hamlet. An example of hate is when she sings about a "baker's daughter"(IV, v). Ophelia is referring to the way her father used to treat her before the tragic incident of his death. The love within her madness is when she speaks about the events on "Valentine’s Day"(IV, v). When Ophelia speaks about Valentines Day she is referring to the events of romance that she was denied. Ophelia’s madness is brought on by her lack of being able to demonstrate any maturity in trying to cope with her losses and in return can only inflict her madness on the court. Abused by her lover, and bereft of her father’s protection she loses control of her mind.
In her insane state she came to believe that the seduction her family tried so hard to protect her from has passed. Her father’s admission of error might have embittered a more independent Ophelia. This explains Hamlets rejection of her. Being tormented of scenes of death and the burial, she reaches out to the beauty of hanging flowers in a willow tree and somehow drowns. Ophelia was never able to understand exactly what Hamlet was suffering from, and in a way he created a situation for her to relate; death of a father and betrayal by a loved one. Hamlet managed to rise above insanity and feelings of suicide, but her weaker spirit could not hold the burden.
Ophelia is the sister of Laertes and the daughter of the king's councillor, Polonius. As I.iii opens, Ophelia has apparently confided to her brother that Prince Hamlet has declared his love for her. Laertes, who is saying goodbye to his sister as he leaves for France, warns Ophelia not to take Hamlet's professions of love seriously. Pointing out that the weddings of princes are usually arranged for reasons of state rather than for love, he cautions her to guard her virginity. Ophelia promises to take his words to heart but also urges her brother to follow his own advice and to avoid "the primrose path of dalliance" (I.iii.50). Polonius enters and adds his warnings to those of Laertes. He orders Ophelia not to spend time with Hamlet or even to talk to him. Ophelia promises to obey.
Ophelia next appears in II.i, when she tells Polonius that Hamlet has frightened her by entering her room and behaving in a bizarre manner. Convinced that Ophelia's refusal to speak to Hamlet has caused the prince to lose his mind, Polonius hurries to Claudius and Gertrude, who have also noted Hamlet's odd behavior and are in the process of instructing Hamlet's old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out the reason for it. Polonius and Claudius arrange to spy on a meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia so that they can determine if love for Ophelia is really the cause of his apparent madness. This meeting occurs in III.i, and follows Hamlet's "To be or noto be" soliloquy. Ophelia greets Hamlet and tries to return his gifts to her. Hamlet denies having given her anything and subjects her to several vehement and disjointed statements commenting on the falseness of women and questioning the nature of marriage. Hamlet tells Ophelia that he "did love [her] once" (III.i.114). To her response, ''Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so" (III.i.115), he answers: "You should not have believ'd me" (III.i.116). Because Hamlet repeatedly charges Ophelia to "Get thee to a nunnery" (III.i.120), with the possible double meaning of "brothel," this scene is often referred to as the "nunnery scene." Although Polonius continues to believe that unrequited love has caused Hamlet's madness, Claudius is not convinced, and resolves to send Hamlet to England.
During the play '"The Mousetrap," Hamlet sits next to Ophelia and responds to her attempts at conversation with angry and sexually suggestive remarks. When Ophelia next appears, in IV.v, Hamlet has killed her father and has himself been sent away to England, and Ophelia has gone mad. She comes before the king and queen singing snatches of songs about death, love, and sexual betrayal. She exits briefly, then returns after the arrival of Laertes and distributes various herbs and wildflowers with symbolic meanings. Two scenes later, Gertrude interrupts a meeting between Claudius and Laertes with the news that Ophelia has drowned, an apparent suicide. Blaming Hamlet for the deaths of both his father and his sister, Laertes plots with Claudius to obtain revenge by killing Hamlet.
At the beginning of Act V, two gravediggers discuss the appropriateness of Ophelia being given "Christian burial" even though her death is believed to have been suicide. Hamlet, who has escaped his uncle's plot to have him killed in England and has returned unexpectedly to Denmark, enters with Horatio. Unaware of Ophelia's death, he engages a gravedigger and Horatio in a discussion of mortality. As the funeral procession approaches, Hamlet and Horatio hide. When Laertes shows his grief by leaping into the grave, Hamlet, realizing that the funeral is Ophelia's, follows suit, claiming that his own love for Ophelia was far greater than Laertes's. The two men grapple and have to be separated by the other mourners.
A completely innocent and naïve young woman, Ophelia is easily dominated by her father and lapses just as easily into madness after his death. Ophelia is a pathetic character, abused by circumstances and confused by Hamlet's alternating professions of love and disdain for her.
Ophelia's character represents the ideals of youth and innocence that are ultimately corrupted by the Danish court in Hamlet. Her descent into madness begins as the result of the "nunnery scene" (Act III, scene i), where she is manipulated by her father and cruelly abused by Hamlet. At the outset, Ophelia trusts both Hamlet's nobility and Polonius's wisdom, but by the end of the episode her emotions are damaged and she loses faith in both men. Ophelia's insanity and tragic drowning thus illustrate how the Danish court has degenerated to the point that it poisons even the purest form of beauty and innocence.
Ophelia is sometimes seen as an excessively weak character: first, because she obeys her father so unquestioningly, even to the point of helping him to spy on Hamlet; and second, because she loses her mind. Many critics, however, have defended both Shakespeare's choice of making Ophelia the character that she is, and Ophelia's behavior within the play.
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