OPHELIA A Girl without a Will of Her Own
In Shakespeare Hamlet Ophelia has hardly any will of her own. Hamlet dominates the play and overshadows nearly all the characters in it, especially the woman he professes to love. She has been brought up in complete obedience to her father, and is always ready to obey him without any questioning. For wit, common sense, she cannot compete with Shakespeare’s great heroines; but she was not intended to do. Mostly time, she reveals her inmost thoughts in a kind of crazy logic.
Ophelia’s submissiveness becomes evident when she first appears in the play. Her brother Laertes tells her that Hamlet’s apparent love for her is merely lust and that she should be on her guard against it. She readily agrees to do so. When he has gone and her lather speaks to her on the same subject, she puts up a feeble resistance which collapses in an instant. When her father expressly forbids her to see Hamlet again, she yields without any struggle.
Her Madness and Her Death by Drowning
Ophelia’s great dramatic moment is her appearance in disordered garments with garlands of flowers about her (Act IV, Scene v). She has gone crazy. The sadness of her disappointment is conveyed in the the rhymes she sings. The theme of these rhymes is that of a girl forsaken by her lover, through either unfaithfulness or death. Her thoughts run on to the death of her murdered father, and she thinks for a moment of what her brother might do to avenge the murder. She leaves, and when she re-appears later in the same scene, she brings with her flowers which she distributes in kinds* according to the language of flowers which she remembers from folklore. She leaves with a prayer for all Christian souls, and later (Act IV, Scene vii) we hear the Queen giving a pathetic account of her death by drowning.
A Martyr’s Death
She certainly loved Hamlet and, weak and clinging as she is, she looked to him as a support to herself in married life. Frustrated in her love, her state of mind is aggravated by the murder of her father. Bereft of any support in life, she goes mad and dies a martyr to her love for Hamlet and her devotion to her father.
A Guide To Shakespeare Hamlet Best Analysis of Ophelia At Any Age
Bradley, tells us, that a large number of readers feel a kind of complex against her because they are unable to forgive her for not having been a heroine. Such readers think that Ophelia ought to have been able to help Hamlet to fulfill his task.If Ophelia had been an Imogen, a Cordelia, a Portia or a Juliet, the story must have taken another shape. Ophelia, therefore, was depicted as a character who could not help Hamlet.In the delineation of Ophelia’s character, Shakespeare introduces an element, not of profound tragedy, but of pathetic beauty.
Her Love for Her Father and Her Brother, and for Hamlet
Ophelia is young and inexperienced. She lost her mother and has only a father and a brother to take care of her. Ophelia’s affection for her brother is shown in two or three delicate strokes. She gives to Hamlet all the love of which her nature is as yet capable.
Unable to Understand Hamlet’s Mind
Her father and brother are anxious about her welfare because they know her to be ignorant and innocent, and if we resent their anxiety, it is because we know Hamlet better than they do. Her whole character is a generous affection. But she is incapable of understanding Hamlet’s mind, though she can feel its beauty and power.
Her Unselfishness and Her Strength
Ophelia has been criticized for reporting to her father Hamlet’s strange visit and behavior, for showing her father one of Hamlet’s letters, for telling her father the whole story of the courtship, and for joining in a plot to win Hamlet’s secret from him. She hears of him so changed from what he was that he is considered to be out of his mind. She imagines that her unkindness towards Hamlet may be the chief cause of his gloom. She is frightened. And why not? She is not Lady Macbcth.
She goes, therefore, at once to her father. To whom else could she go? Her brother is away. Her father has been kind to her and is regarded as a wise man. Her father finds, in her report, the solution of the mystery:.
According to Bradley, her joining the “plot” is a sign not of weakness, but of unselfishness and strength, and if she tells a lie in saying that her father is at home when he is actually hidden behind an arras, it is because she must go through the role that she is playing for Hamlet’s sake and her father’s sake.
Her Madness, Not a Sign of Sheer Weakness of Character
Nor should we consider her going mad to be a sign of sheer weakness of character. Her lover has been estranged from her; he is believed to have gone mad; and he has killed her father. For Ophelia these frightful calamities are not mere calamities: they appear to her to have followed from her action in calling her lover. Besides, she feels utterly lonely.