Essay, Research Paper: Hamlet And Ophelia

Shakespeare: Hamlet

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The character Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet plays a very
interesting and important role in the elaboration of the plot. In the beginning,
she starts off in a healthy state of mind, in love with her boyfriend Hamlet,
yet controlled by her father in regard to their relationship. During the play
she encounters several troubling experiences involving Hamlet which cause her to
become distressed. Near the end, the death of her father leaves Ophelia mentally
unstable and in a state of madness that eventually leads her to death. So, due
to all of the unfortunate events that took place with the people she loved the
most in her life, Ophelia gradually becomes mad, and in the end passes away.
Ophelia’s and Hamlet’s love for each other in the beginning was very real.
Following the death of his father Hamlet falls in love with her, and is much
attracted by her beauty. It is not uncertain, however, that Ophelia is very much
controlled by her father. She is the daughter of Polonius, the chief advisor to
the new King Claudius, and a highly respected man. Her father demands that she
tell Hamlet at once that she can no longer be with him and tells her "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.132-35). It is clear that here Polonius is
making decisions for his daughter, regardless if she really loves Hamlet or not.
She feels very unimportant and helpless now, and because of this develops a lack
of emotional confidence and strength. All she can reply is "I do not, my
lord, what I should think." (I.iii.104). She is used to relying on her
father’s direction and has been brought up to be very obedient. As well, her
brother Laertes agrees with what their father is saying. He also tells Ophelia
that Hamlet is no good for her "Perhaps he loves you not" (I.iii.16).
He thinks that Hamlet only loves her because he wants to seduce her, and demands
his sister to never see him again. Ophelia can only accept her father and
brother’s beliefs and writes Hamlet a letter which informs him that she can no
longer see him. As a result, she begins to feel alone with very little
independence. At this point in the play Ophelia’s emotions are what help
contribute to her madness. There are a few other incidents in the play which
help in the course of Ophelia’s madness. When Hamlet receives the letter from
Ophelia he is affected terribly by her words. The next time she sees Hamlet she
is surprised and even a bit frightened by his behavior. He did not look like he
usually does, and he acted very strange towards her. He held her by the wrists
and stared deeply into her face, long and hard, then storms out, leaving her
intensely troubled and saddened. After that she tells her father, and he
believes that Ophelia’s love is what made him mad. "That hath made him
mad" (II. i.110). Polonius then goes to tell the King and Queen of
Hamlet’s strange behavior and plans to spy on Hamlet to prove he’s gone mad.
Ophelia now is left feeling guilty. When she sees Hamlet later on she tries to
speak with him, but is rejected coldly. He does not listen to her and screams
harsh words leaving her feeling worthless and embarrassed. "…I loved you
not." (III.i.119). "Get thee to a nunnery." (III.i.121) "…
you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nickname God’s creatures, and make you
wantonnes your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on’t;" (III.i.146-48)
This incident causes Ophelia to become slightly disturbed. She sits weeping
while her father and the King practically step on her weak body to find out more
reason for Hamlet’s actions. In this depressed state all she can say is
"O! woe is me, to have seen what I have seen, what I see!"
(III.i.163-64) So, because of Hamlet’s rudeness and rejection through this
part of the play, Ophelia is driven even more closer to insanity. Perhaps the
biggest cause of Ophelia’s madness was the death of her father. The news of
Polonius’ death was just enough to throw her over the edge of insanity.
What’s worse, she finds out that her dearest father was murdered by the one
she loves, Hamlet. Ophelia now goes completely mad and has lost all control over
her mind. She begins singing songs to herself that don’t really make sense to
anyone. "He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone…"
(IV.V.29-30). The King now feels pity for her because she has lost so much,
"O! this is the poison of deep grief; it springs all from her father’s
death." (IV.V.75-6). It becomes clear now, when she sings the song about a
maid on St. Valentine’s day, that the way Hamlet treated her was a great
contribution to her insanity. In this song she says "Quoth she, before you
tumbled me, you promis’d me to wed" (IV.V.62-3) You can tell by the words
she sings that she is upset because Hamlet slept with her during their
relationship and had promised her they’d get married. These are now the final
stages of Ophelia’s madness. When Laertes comes to visit he is greatly
confused by his sister’s behavior. She does not talk to him now as herself,
she sings and speaks of rosemary’s and pansies which are invisible to everyone
else. She says goodbye to her brother for the last time, leaving him filled with
rage and grief. A short while after, Ophelia is found dead in a river, having
drown that afternoon. Some believe her death was suicide and some assume that it
was an accident. Unlike the other characters in the play, Ophelia died from
loving too much, being too innocent, and too pure. She died because of her
virtues, while others perished because of their faults. She did nothing wrong,
but so many wrongs were dealt to her. Therefore, it was these factors,
especially the loss of her father, which caused her to become mad. Ophelia’s
madness progresses throughout the play as she comes across more and more
unfortunate incidents. She starts off happy with Hamlet by her side, but due to
the fact that her life was under so much control by her father she lost him. The
occurrences after their breakup were even more unsettling to Ophelia because of
the unpleasant way Hamlet treated her. The death of her father is more than she
can bare, and she ends up going completely insane. Ophelia’s madness and the
events that lead her to it are key parts in the plot in Shakespeare’s play,
Hamlet.
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