Ophelia can be viewed as an insignificant minor character Essay
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Ophelia can be viewed as an insignificant minor character in the play through the way she is used as an unwitting pawn in schemes of those who have control over her, as revealed in Act 2 Scene 2 where Polonius says “I will loose my daughter to him” when he and Claudius plan how they will ‘test’ Hamlet’s madness. The word loose objectifies Ophelia, portraying her as an animal used as bait for Claudius’s own objectives; spying on Hamlet. Ophelia’s character does not have a say in the matter, and through her absence in this particular scene, Shakespeare is able to emphasise her insignificance in the play.
Ophelia’s lack of appearance in the play also portrays her character as minor and insignificant, as Shakespeare only uses her character in 5 scenes. For the majority of these scenes, Ophelia has little contribution to the dialogue and her spoken lines are often responses to questions and commands by others who dominate the play, for example in Act 1 Scene 3 Ophelia’s responses are short in comparison to her father’s and brother’s dialogue, most of which contains instructions on how Ophelia is expected to act; “Do not believe his vows…
Look to’t I charge you.
Come your ways”. The use of imperatives in this scene show how Ophelia is dominated by others and is therefore highlight her insignificance in the play. This is further portrayed in Ophelia’s responses, such as “I shall obey, my Lord”. The use of “my Lord” reveals her inferior status and through minimalistic speech we are able to gain a sense of her unimportance to the action of the play. Another way in which Ophelia may be viewed as insignificant is in her marriage prospects.
Her brother Laertes, who suggests that she is not good enough for Hamlet, condemns her relationship with Hamlet, who tells her to regard Hamlet’s love as something unlikely to last and potentially dangerous: “Fear it my dear sister”. Hamlet is a prince and therefore Ophelia’s status makes her inferior in comparison and as a result, an unsuitable wife. Both her brother and father tell Ophelia how to behave, for example Polonius instructs Ophelia to spend less time with Hamlet; “Be something scanter of your maiden presence”.
This dominance over Ophelia, as well as her subservience, again presents her of an insignificant status in the play. Ophelia does not say or do anything to indicate she is unhappy about the instructions given to her by her brother or father. However, another interpretation of Ophelia’s subservience is that obedience is a role she plays. She is expected to act as a loyal daughter and responses such as “But as you did command” suggest she is carrying out orders to keep her father content.
Shakespeare reveals a weak Ophelia in Act 4 Scene 5 in which she is in a state of madness, through her songs about death, chaos and unrequited love. The poignancy of her songs (“He is dead and gone lady, he is dead and gone”) as well as the reactions of other characters (“Alas sweet lady”), induce a piteous reactions, allowing the audience to sympathise with a character who has become so weak it has led to madness. In contrast to her minimalistic speech, in Act 1 Scene 3, Ophelia has dominated the speech.
This may suggest that Ophelia’s character is only of significance when she is in a state of madness. The taboo nature of her songs reveals a character stepping out of the bounds of her social status and this contrasts to how her father has ordered her to act. The death of Polonius may be a cause of Ophelia’s madness and this is evident when Claudius says “Oh this is the poison of deep grief; it springs all from her father’s death”.
This may suggest that Ophelia becomes weak without the presence of the dominant male authority. Her father is dead, her brother is absent from the country and she has been rejected by Hamlet; without them Ophelia collapses. Shakespeare presents Ophelia as weak in Act 4 Scene 7 where she is unable to save herself: “As one incapable of her own distress”. The suggestion that Ophelia has committed suicide may have been used by Shakespeare to imply that Ophelia’s weak state did not allow her to go on living.
Shakespeare uses Ophelia’s character to portray many aspects of Hamlet’s character, for example Shakespeare is able to reveal Hamlet’s capability of staggering cruelty through his treatment of Ophelia in the nunnery scene. Shakespeare presents this cruelty through the use of brutal commands and insults such as “Get thee to a nunnery”. In Act 2 Scene 1 Ophelia presents herself as a victim of Hamlet’s rough treatment; “He took me by the wrist, and held me hard”, revealing Hamlet’s capability of cruelty.
There is also evidence of Hamlet’s cruelty when he embarrasses Ophelia in public, asking her “Do you think I meant country matters? ” Hamlet’s wit enables him to belittle or mock other characters and the fact that there is little sign of Ophelia’s character reinforces the idea that she is a minor character. Another thing that is revealed about Hamlet through Ophelia is Hamlet’s judgment of women. In the nunnery scene, Hamlet accuses Ophelia; “You jig, you amble, and you lisp, you nickname God’s creatures, and your make your wantonness your ignorance”, revealing his disgust towards women.
Shakespeare lists the deceptions to reinforce Hamlet’s repugnance towards the women in his life. Once again Shakespeare has revealed Hamlet’s feelings through his words to Ophelia. Ophelia’s character is also used to portray ideas about other characters, for example when handing out flowers to other characters, Shakespeare develops ideas about the nature of other characters through the type of flower that Ophelia gives to them. For example, one of the flowers she gives out is a daisy, which represents deception – an act that could be linked to Claudius’s character.
By doing this, Shakespeare is using Ophelia in this scene to indirectly criticise the characters, and the connotations associated with the various flowers would be widely understood by the audience in Shakespeare’s day. It could be argued that Ophelia is chiefly interesting for reasons other than what she reveals about Hamlet, for example Ophelia is important in the manner in which she illuminates discussion of some of the play’s central themes, one of which is the oppression of women in society. Shakespeare presents Ophelia as oppressed through her lack of opinion and contribution in the play.
The mere fact that she can be viewed as insignificant shows the audience that Ophelia is oppressed by male authority in the family. Polonius tells Ophelia that she “speaks like a green girl”, implying that she is nai?? ve, and this comes across to the audience as patronising. The alliteration of “green girl” emphasises Polonius’s condescending tone. By belittling Ophelia, he is able to gain control of the conversation. Ophelia is told to “think herself a baby”, suggesting that she is constrained from using her own mind and must follow the orders given to her.
Ophelia’s character is presented as one with no point of view; as she says “I do not know my Lord what I should think”. Through statements such as this, Shakespeare reveals an oppressed Ophelia who is unable to think for herself due to the strict control by men in her life. The fact that Ophelia is being used as a pawn in men’s political affairs is also a sign that she is being oppressed. When Polonius offers to “loose” Ophelia, he is taking advantage of her by offering her as a service without her consent.
This also portrays Ophelia as a possession that belongs to Polonius. On the other hand, it could be argued that Ophelia’s character is not oppressed, but in fact in need of male control. In Act 1 Scene 3 Ophelia says “I shall th’effect of this good lesson keep as watchman to my heart”. The use of “good” implies that the advice is necessary for Ophelia’s well being and is taken on by her with a positive attitude. When asked by Laertes to remember what she has been told, Ophelia responds by saying “‘Tis in my memory locked, and you yourself shall keep the key of it.
” This statement also shows Ophelia is willing to take on her brother’s advice. This argument can be supported by the idea that Ophelia collapses without her father or brother, and that she in fact benefits by being in their command. Ophelia is also significant as her character is crucial for the plot and setting the scene in the play, for example, in part it is her death that motivates Laertes to take revenge on Hamlet. Another example of the importance of Ophelia in the plot is that her death is used by Shakespeare as a catalyst for confrontation between Hamlet and Laertes.