William Shakespeare in the play “Hamlet” develops the character of Ophelia in three unique stages. Initially, Ophelia is portrayed as a normal and obedient character. As the play progresses, she falls madly in love and ultimately goes insane. Ophelia progresses in a negative direction as the plot of the play moves on.
In the beginning of the play Ophelia is depicted as the normal, obedient daughter. Laertes explains to Ophelia that even if Hamlet says he loves her, he may not be telling the truth. After Laertes speaks, Ophelia respects the personal knowledge on relationships that he has to offer. Ophelia accepts his speech and “shall the effect of this good lesson keep as watchman to [her] heart” (I, III, 48-49). Ophelia listened to Laertes’ advice and obediently accepts his guidance. Moment’s later Ophelia’s father, Polonius, requests that Ophelia stop seeing Hamlet. In response, Ophelia says, “I shall obey, my Lord” (I, III, 140). Polonius’ word appears to be of importance when Ophelia responds in such a compliant manner. Primarily, Ophelia is interpreted as a well-behaved teenage girl, however this depiction soon changes.
Although Laertes and Polonius try to steer Ophelia in the right direction, she ends up falling almost irrationally in love with Hamlet. Ophelia’s utter obedience leaves her vulnerable to the abuse of Hamlet, who accuses her of being unfaithful and deceptive. Ophelia claims that Hamlet “took [her] by the wrist and held [her] hard” (II, I, 97). Although Hamlet physically abuses Ophelia, her love for him is stronger than him mistreating her. While Hamlet tells Ophelia that his love for her has departed, she is in utter shock and dismay. Ophelia responds with “O heavenly powers, restore him!” (III, I, 153). Ophelia cannot believe that Hamlet no longer loves her and wishes that he would love her again once more. Her love is clearly consuming her every thought. Although Hamlet no longer loves Ophelia she cannot accept or cope with this reality and the stress ultimately leads to her death.
After Ophelia realizes that Hamlet no longer has feelings for her, she goes insane. Ophelia sings a vulgar song about a maiden who is tricked into losing her virginity with a false promise of marriage. While Ophelia is prancing around singing her outrageous song, she relates her song to Hamlet. Ophelia says, “Quoth she, before you tumbled me, you promised me to wed” (IV,V,62-63). Ophelia felt that they were going to get married and she believed that Hamlet was certainly going to propose to her. Later, Ophelia fell into the water and drowned. The Queen speaks up and says, “Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death” (IV,VII,196-198). Rather than trying to save herself, she passively let herself drown because she didn’t care to continue living without Hamlet. In the end, Ophelia’s emotions controlled her, and these negative emotions led to her demise.
Ophelia develops over the course of the play in a number of ways. Initially she is obedient and normal, and later turns into a girl controlled by love and eventually she commits suicide. Ophelia is a dynamic character that changes throughout the play. Her blind passion for Hamlet causes her to lose the ability to think or act rationally. Life, to her, is meaningless without him, and she chooses death over life. Ophelia surely progressed through the play in a negative manner.
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