Hamlet: The Controversy of Ophelia Essay

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Hamlet: The Controversy of Ophelia

During the Elizabethan period women were not known to have important roles in society. They followed men and devoted their lives to their men . Women didn’t have much say or play significant roles in society. It was mandatory for them to obey a “dominant code of ethics that prescribed chaste, silent, and obedient Renaissance women” (Pebworth 76). This stereotype stayed consistent for hundreds of years to come and has carried on through different generations, reaching the point where it has become traditional.

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, his character Ophelia is a victim to this stereotype. Many feminist reading this play would disagree with or dislike the actions of Ophelia, stating that she is much weaker than the real character of a female. (Ophelia; a beautiful young woman who is regularly involved in conflicts but doesn’t know how to solve them or stand up for herself. ) She continuously turns to men for advice who basically control her life and alter her decisions. Shakespeare makes Ophelia consist of only one strong trait, her beauty.

She lacks authority and self-respect because her male influences instruct her life and ultimately drive her insane which eventually leads to her suicide. “Throughout the play, Ophelia has her opinions and statements recast for her by other characters – namely, Laertes, Hamlet, and Polonius – who wish her to behave in a manner they deem appropriate. To mention just one example, upon hearing from Ophelia that Hamlet has been courting her, Polonius recasts Ophelia’s view of the relationship as one in which Hamlet ruthlessly exploits her naivete so that he may conquer her sexually,”(Peterson 24.)

Strangely enough, her brother and father advise her about her relationship and without any consideration about her own feelings or opinion she follows their advice which is more so instruction. Laertes says, “Perhaps he loves you now and now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch the virtue of his will: but you must fear, his greatness weighed, his will is not his own…. ,” (I,III 14-17. ) Laertes harshly tells Ophelia to not have high expectations for Hamlet because his love will not last since he is at such a high position as Prince. Ophelia listens and obeys her brother.

After Laertes leaves, Polonius talks to Ophelia about Prince Hamlet. “Set your entreatments at a higher rate than command to parle; for Lord Hamlet believe so much in him that he is young, and with a larger tether may he walk than may be given you: in few Ophelia, do not believe his vows, for they are brokers… “(I,IV 123-127. ) Polonius also tells Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet, she replies; “I shall obey, my lord,”(I,IV 135. ) Her brother and father seem to form a dictatorship to control Ophelia’s life. She helplessly follows their commands. Hamlet is quite frustrated at the fact that Ophelia obeys her father.

He makes the comparison of Gertrude marrying her dead husband’s brother and Ophelia choosing her father’s side instead of going with her instinct. He makes the conclusion that all women are defenseless and worthless. Later in the play, Ophelia suffers from Hamlet’s act of “antic disposition. ” Hamlet verbally abuses her and severely hurts her emotionally. According to literary critic, Amanda Mabillard, Ophelia “is incapable of defending herself, but through her timid responses we clearly see her intense suffering. ” Hamlet rudely claims that he never loved Ophelia. 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, (III, 1, 115-120. ) Not only does this hurt Ophelia emotionally but Hamlet’s act of insanity drastically confuses Ophelia. Polonius believes Hamlet is madly in love with Ophelia but Hamlet admits that he never loved her at all. “Another example concerns Hamlet’s false madness. Through it, he gives unrestrained vent to inward pain regarding moral corruption, regardless of the shattering effect of his words on his auditors.

Indeed, Ophelia becomes the primary victim of such onslaught,” (Levy 53. ) Hamlet’s act of insanity contradicts the idea of him being in love with Ophelia. Now that Polonius’s assumption has been proven wrong, Ophelia has no one to turn to for advice. Since she was so accustomed from receiving advice from her brother and father she is lost and nearly clueless about what to do. Ophelia is driven to more confusion as her conversation with Hamlet proceeds; “Get thee to a nunnery, ” why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest… ,”(III, 1, 122-123.)

After Hamlet tells Ophelia he never loved her and wants nothing to with her, he then tells her to go to a nunnery. In further meaning, he doesn’t want to be with her but he doesn’t want anybody else to have her. This indicates Hamlet’s true feelings for Ophelia which he is hiding through this act of insanity to side track the people who were told by Claudius to investigate this act. Such as Polonius, Claudius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. This leaves Ophelia hurt and puzzled about the situation. At this point Ophelia doesn’t know what she wants nor what Hamlet wants.

She has no idea why Hamlet’s behavior has changed so abruptly. Everything that was in her favor has reversed, causing a state of depression. Later in the play, Hamlet accidently kills Polonius mistaking him for King Claudius. Ophelia’s depression drastically increases, she is heartbroken, terrified, and distraught. The man she loves killed the man who was the main structure of her life. She is completely lost. The tension of these events begin to take a toll on Ophelia. Hamlet’s act of insanity actually creates a sense of insanity within Ophelia.

It is clear to see that Hamlet had the most affect on Ophelia. Later she is enclosed in a padded room, she sings songs, rhymes, and riddles about death; “he is dead and gone lady, he is dead and gone, at his head a grass-green turf, at his heels stone. ” (IV, 4, 37. ) Ophelia sings and shows signs of joyfulness as a way of mourning her father’s death, instead of being sad. Her madness is very apparent, she is very much insane, she can no longer cope with the rest of society. With no structure and a broken heart, her life goes through a drastic change.

She goes from a normal lifestyle to a confused and emotionally damaged life. She then reaches the point of severe depression and insanity which causes her to enter a different state of mind. The character Ophelia never gains a true identity, she is influenced by the men in her life. The choices she makes reflect their desires. By them making her decisions and criticizing her actions she never actually gets the chance to live her life. She lives accordingly to the men. Later, Ophelia is found dead in a brook. Many will say that this proves her weakness of dealing with adversity.

However, her suicide was ultimately caused by the males who she interacts with throughout the play. Their commands and actions cause stress and emotional pain which breaks down who Ophelia is as a person. Frankly she can no longer deal with these circumstances. She is not driven insane because of a weakness in females, Hamlet, Laertes, and Polonius destroy her life, slowly but surely.

Works Cited

Text: Roberts V. Edgar, and Jacobs V. Henry. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc. , 2007 Electronic: “Hamlet: Ophelia’s Death. ” Scribd. 11 March¬†http://www.scribd.com/doc/33947/Hamlet-Ophelias-Death

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