Ophelia is one of the main female characters in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. However, in comparison with leading male parts, she appears only several times. Ophelia’s life is vaguely depicted by a succession of tragic scenes where she emerges. Thus, the audience can read a crucial part of her story between the lines. Apart from the fact that Ophelia is a loving daughter, sister, obedient citizen of the Dutch state, she is a lonely girl rejected by her beloved. She is surrounded by people, who know about her sufferings. Ophelia is an innocent blameless creature that becomes a victim of political intrigues.
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Ophelia is not a typical representative of the Renaissance. She is more like a woman of the Middle Ages. Other Shakespeare’s heroines like Juliet, Desdemona, and Cordelia are women of the Renaissance. They are vigorous, tough and courageous enough to make their own choice, not being afraid of scandal.
The fact that Ophelia relates more to the traditions of the Middle Ages is proved by her obedient character; she does everything as her father tells, as if he was her owner: “I shall obey, my lord (Shakespeare, 44 Act 1, Scene 4)” – she utters. However, it does not mean that she is obtuse or truly stupid. Ophelia is a simple and innocent character. She is a girl, who just lives in accordance with common laws of her time, where parents have an ultimate power over their children. Therefore, she does not find it strange or wrong that Hamlet’s parents decide to spy on him as she genuinely believes that they do that for his own sake. As a result, she willingly agrees to help Claudius and Gertrude to scheme.
No wonder that Ophelia humbly returns all Hamlet’s presents back and avoids meeting him. Her father said:
“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 (Shakespeare 44 Act 1, Scene 4).”
It seems that Ophelia is just a useful tool ruled by her artful and sly father.
However, Ophelia is not as simple as it may seem. She is not dumb and narrow-minded; she is not a speechless doll that does not have her own opinion. It is vividly depicted in the scene, where Ophelia talks to her beloved brother Laertes. Modest, commonly silent and obedient Ophelia feels more comfortable around her brother and abruptly expresses her mind. Moreover, she does it in a decisive, even ironic manner, pointing out at Laertes own faults:
“I shall th' effect of this good lesson keep
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.
(Shakespeare 41, Act 1, Scene 3).”
Therefore, Ophelia, who is not a woman of a simple manner, has a vested interest in letting Gertrude and Claudius to eavesdrop the conversation between her and Hamlet. Thus, Ophelia blindly obeys her father’s and brother’s requests, but she still loves Hamlet. She deeply cares about him and continuingly strives for explanations. She needs to know whether Hamlet still loves her and whether she is a source of his insanity. However, there are no other attempts on the part of Ophelia to help Hamlet.
Considering relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, the latter remains quiet and submissive; she is a cold fish that is indifferent to everything and only contemplates and opens her mouth in order to concur: “Yes, my lord”, “No, my lord”(Shakespeare 82, Act 3, Scene 1). She can only hold a dull and tedious conversation. Besides, there is no single scene, where Ophelia and Hamlet privately talk to each other; it even seems that there is no sign of deep and true feelings between them. Nevertheless, there is a small but passionate and meaningful monologue, where Ophelia reveals her genuine feelings and demonstrates her sensitive nature:
“O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
The courtier's, scholar's, soldier's, eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observ'd of all observers,--quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see! (Shakespeare 84, Act 3, Scene 1)”
Ophelia is in sorrow because of her father’s death. Obviously it is a deep, overwhelming grief; but is it that severe that a young girl goes mad? Of course no, it is natural that children live longer than their parents. What exacerbates a situation that much? An answer does not seem extremely complicated. Ophelia not only loses her father, but also her beloved, who turns out to be a murderer of her parent. Consequently, her entire world is destroyed. Poor girl has not a single incentive to continue her social existence. As a result, Ophelia loses her senses and then her human life ends as well.
Ophelia is a fragile young woman that, due to the tragic concourse of circumstances, ends up to be a casualty of a political war. Her character is a deep symbol of society that frequently decides destiny of youngsters.
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