Back to: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Ophelia is the one seemingly loved by Hamlet who is the protagonist of the play written by Shakespeare. She is the daughter of Polonius, the chief councillor to the King of Denmark. In the very beginning, the naivete inherent in Ophelia can be seen when her brother Laertes is advising her before leaving for France.
In the later part of the play, it can be said that she must’ve loved Hamlet but here she’s prone to any opinion which seems stronger than her love for Hamlet. She can easily be seen as a passive woman.
Ophelia doesn’t love Hamlet with enough strength to discard what her brother and father impose upon her. In an indifferent manner she “repels his letters and denied access to her” without even caring about Hamlet’s state of mind who in complete despair and betrayal could come only to her. She shows an unbearable incapacity of defending herself and thinking for herself, so she says, “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.”
Obeying her father blindly, she takes part in his plans to prove Hamlet as a madman in front of the king and the queen. It means, she has no stand of her own. It devastates Hamlet as his own immense conflict is unable to comprehend the immense passivity of Ophelia.
In complete disarray of his state of mind, he finally chides Ophelia in the famous Nunnery scene with “Get thee to a nunnery.” Ophelia also understands the depth of Hamlet’s personality. It becomes obvious when seeing Hamlet leaving the scene in an erratic manner makes her say, “O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”
As Hamlet accuses that a woman’s love is frail and brief, Ophelia shows no mark of her personality through her words. When her father is killed by Hamlet, Ophelia appears in the next scene with her descent into madness.
The reason may be a composition of poles apart conflict in her. After realising the frailty in his mother, Hamlet must’ve sought compensation from Ophelia’s integrity but her silence and passivity infuriate him and in the torn apart state Ophelia gives in to disintegration.
She is too much oppressed and silenced under the unquestioned authority of her father and brother. Instead of fighting herself out of such conflicts, she closes herself in a kind of maddening silence.
In the end, when she possibly suicides, it can be said that she was a weaker character but one must understand the state of the woman in such a society which hasn’t changed much to these days. Society conditions women in such a way that they remain unable to decide certain things for themselves without hurting their own faculty for true judgement.
Here, Ophelia remains unable to understand Hamlet in a condition where her overprotective typical father and brother who are closed to her true feelings, dissuade her from the very onset of her heart’s affair with Hamlet.