17 Oct 2012
Ophelia, simply known for being incapable of her own distress, has been known in the history for epitomizing the mystifying woman who is hard to grasp. For the critics of Shakespeare, she has always eluded as a character (Camden). She is depicted as a herione who meets a tragic end. Her character exudes the potential of becoming a tragically devastated woman who finallyloses er mind under the immense pressure by the social norms. Ophelis is a product of her environment, depicting the way a woman was supposed to be in the 16th and 17th century. She was an obedient child , a doting sister and a loyal wife. She played her duty unconditionally and blended into the roles of women of that time so finely that it was hard to find a more perfect woman in those times. The Hamlet’s Ophelia is one of the most distressed, one dimensional characters of its time. She acts out as a tragic herione who has the potential to overcome all the misfortunes wrecked on her, instead she dissolves into craziness, thus encompassing the true essence of tragedy. The character of Ophelia is important because of the dual nature of women that she represents. The purpose of the character is to display the viewpoint of hamlet about women. Hamlet’s twisted view about women as subjects of seduction only makes him hate Ophelia all the more. He takes Ophelia to be amongst all women who he thinks are insensitive sexual predators that lure men into their charms and sexuality and then trap them with their conniving manipulations. So Ophelia plays the role of Hamlet’s whore version of a woman while at the same time remaining a distinctive innocence and virtue that was the chastity of women at that time. Hamlet’s betrayal start with Gertrude and it moves along to Ophelia who becomes the predated under the obligation of being an obedient daughter and a loyal wife. Hamlet is enraged with his mother for being the woman of masked connivance and because of this hatred he projects his sarcasm and loath towards Ophelia.
Ophelia’s character helps us to experience the viewpoint of Hamlet and his gradual evolution into a loathsome man who believes that every woman is a whore. He believed that women who wear a cloak of purity and chastity of character are the ones who are laden with evil from inside. He also tool Ophelia’s father as a pimp who prostituted his daughter to spy on Hamlet and when the purpose was served told her to stop talking or meeting with him. Ophelia’s abject dismay in being torn between the obedience for her father and her love for Hamlet makes her decide to go for her father’s wishes and follow in suit. This is because she depicts a true example of a woman who is obsequious in nature and believes that her life is devoted to her father before marriage and to her husband after marriage. Therefore, Hamlet’s version of whore is a woman who is used not by one but many men. Ophelia is used by her father, brother and hamlet at various events throughout the play. However, what really instigated his view about Ophelia was the apparent innocence she wore in front and the way she presented herself to him in servitude, yet remained loyal to her treacherous father simultaneously. For Ophelia, she was just playing the part of being a daughter, when she decided to seduce Hamlet, she did it out of sheer love for her father and brother, and when she shunned Hamlet away, and she did it because her father told her so. Hamlet’s wrath was pointed towards Ophelia for choosing her father over Hamlet, this reminded Hamlet of Gertrude, his mother, who chose his new father over the old. So to Hamlet, both choices were increasingly “incestuous”.
From an audience point of view, Ophelia represents a quite distinctive character. She is the damsel in distress; a woman so wrought with the pain inflicted on her by her loved ones, that she is unable to take it through the end and loses her sanity. To us, Ophelia depicts the convoluted character of women that still resides in each of women. She is a daughter, a sister and a lover. And she is destined to play all those in the most perfect way possible. She has to be an obedient daughter, when unmarried she must obey her father, and she does not act because she is supposed. In fact, she does it out of the goodness of her character and the demands required by the social norms of that time. Likewise, when she becomes Hamlet’s wife, she does not relieve her loyalties from her father because she was supposed to, but because it was ingrained in her give herself up to her husband, in mind and body. So she strikes as a woman who is an emblem of goodness of heart and mind. She has her childlike loyalties towards her loved ones, clings to them for being hers and she is not aware of the darkness that her small acts could lead to (Mabillard).
Her whole character depicts simplicity and sheer loyalty towards those who care for her. She is an epitome of selfless affection. She is desperately in love with Hamlet but has to hold because of her father. So she stays away from him, but her heart stays pure. Once with Hamlet, she clings to the very memory of Hamlet when he was sweet to her and loves her till the end. She is there to defend him even when his whip like tongue tears her flesh apart. She seems incapable of her own distress and is not able to defend herself in front of hamlet. However, her immense suffering was obvious through her coy responses.
“Hamlet: …I did love you once.
Ophelia: Indeed, my, lord, you made me believe so.
Hamlet: You should not have believed me…I loved you not.
Ophelia: I was the more deceived” (Mabillard).
A story written on Ophelia takes the play from the account of Ophelia. It divides the whole life of character into three parts and then highlights the key areas which lead to Ophelia’s gradual demise towards insanity. Part one of the book describes the early childhood of Ophelia and her transition towards womanhood and the love affair with Hamlet. The second part describes the sequence of the play as seen through the eyes of Ophelia. Finally the third part depicts the life of Ophelia after the play, thus giving readers food for thought about the escape of woman scorned from the shackles of dismay (Xirena). Ophelia’s slow descent to madness was directly related with the callous attitude of Hamlet and the death of her father took a final toll on her (Hamlet).
In conclusion, there were some very important aspects of Ophelia which need to be highlighted in this review. To start with, she was the archetypal obedient daughter that was the demand of the 16th and early 17th century role of a woman. This filial obedience makes Ophelia vulnerable to the abuse inflicted on her by Hamlet. He accuses her of being deceptive and disloyal towards him. He goes on to accusing her of “breeder of the sinner” and says that if she was to marry she would turn her husband into a monster. Finally, Ophelia gives in to the immense pressure given to her by those who loved her dearly. Her father’s death disturbs her greatly. Besides, given the harshness subjected to her by Hamlet she finally cracks in to the pressure. This comes as a tragic end to a woman who did everything out of purity of heart and selfless love for those she loved dearly. In the days of her insanity, she takes to singing brazen songs in which she described the tale of a woman who was tricked into losing her virginity by a monster. So Ophelia’s madness can be attributed to the immense patriarchal pressure of that time when men used to have the dominance and power on the society norm building. The character of Ophelia displays a woman torn between the love of her father and her lover. She is portrayed as an extremely compassionate woman and is subjected to unfair treatment at the hands of those who loved her dearly. This comes in contrast to the Hamlet’s version of her as someone who feigns insanity and madness. The death of Ophelia’s character is a mystery and many critics still regard as one of the most poorly understood act of the play. She drowns in an offstage sequence which leaves the audience perplexed and lets them ponder on the exact nature of death and its validity. She is taken as an erotic creature even at the time of her death. A mermaid-like woman who spent her like in quite grief and finally gave into insanity lies down with her clothes spread wide in waters which engulf her body in the waves of death and makes her a part of her own distress (Ophelia).
Camden, Carroll. “On Ophelia’s Madness.” Shakespeare Quarterly 15.2 (1964): 247-255.
Hamlet. “The Psychological Pain of Laertes and Ophelia.” 06 August 2011. tryshakespeare. 16 July 2012 <http://www.tryshakespeare.com/articles.php?article_id=29>.
Mabillard, Amanda. “Ophelia.” 20 August 2000. Shakespeare Online. 16 July 2012 << http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/opheliacharacter.html >.>.
“Ophelia.” n.d. shmoop. 16 July 2012 <http://www.shmoop.com/hamlet/ophelia.html/>.
Xirena. “Book Review: Ophelia.” 25 November 2011. akralena. 16 July 2012 <http://akralena.blogspot.com/2011/11/book-review-ophelia.html#!/2011/11/book-review-ophelia.html>.