• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Examine Shakespeare's Presentation of Ophelia and how a modern audience might respond to her

Extracts from this document...


EXAMINE SHAKESPEARE'S PRESENTATION OF OPHELIA AND HOW A MODERN AUDIENCE MIGHT RESPOND TO HER. Throughout the play, Ophelia is treated as an inferior by the men in her life. She is instructed and also used by them to achieve their own selfish goals. As Rex Gibson states, Shakespearean women were 'virtually helpless pawns in the power games of their main relatives.' Her tone towards them is most often submissive and accepting of their commands, although the audience is given occasional glimpses of the seemingly intelligent and opinionated young woman beneath her clich�d exterior. In the play, she is merely a side story. She has no particular role in the play rather than to reflect the traits of other characters, and this secondary importance to the plot reflects Shakespeare's presentation of her. Upon Ophelia's first appearance in the play, it becomes obvious that she and her brother have a close relationship. Laertes tells Ophelia, 'let me hear from you', to which she replies 'Do you doubt that?' Laertes mentions Hamlet as a cause for concern, 'weigh what loss your honour may sustain, If with too credent ear you list his songs, Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open To his unmastered importunity.' He believes that Hamlet's intentions are dishonourable. He is quick to form this opinion, and as he feels he knows Hamlet's true motives, this suggests that men of the era shared this abusive attitude towards women. While he may be expressing a genuine concern for his sister's well-being, there is a tone of authority in his voice. He is not her father, but as a male he talks down to her. His primary concern may be more for the honour of his family, which Ophelia would destroy should she conduct a relationship with Hamlet. She does however retort defensively with, 'Do not as some ungracious pastors do, Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, Whiles like a puffed and reckless libertine Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads'. ...read more.


Elaine Showalter accurately describes Ophelia as 'that piece of bait'. She is used to confirm whether or not Hamlet's separation from her is the cause of his madness. Before the first conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia (which is held under surveillance by Polonius and the King), Ophelia is not even given a greeting, but is spoken to only by the Queen, and exclusively about Hamlet - 'And for your part Ophelia, I do wish That your good beauties be the happy cause Of Hamlet's wildness'. Their main concern is Hamlet's return to his prior sane state and hope to be able to use Ophelia as a way of bringing it about. Ophelia herself has absolutely no control over events relating to her. She speaks briefly, only when spoken to, and to express her desire to see Hamlet well again - 'Madam, I wish it may.' Her father again talks to her commandingly, as if she were a dog, 'Ophelia, walk you here'. When she is at first left with Hamlet, she remains silent onstage throughout his long monologue, until he mentions her. A conversation begins with Ophelia's greeting Hamlet, 'Good my lord', and hereafter she uses the words 'my lord' repetitively. When she mentions 'rememberances' that she as 'longed long to re-deliver', she is shunned by Hamlet, as he says 'I never gave you aught'. Ophelia further shows the audience that she is an intelligent young woman rather than a girl who is full of nonsense. She elaborates on her feelings for Hamlet with the words: 'My honoured lord, you know right well you did, And with them words of so sweet breath composed As made these things more rich. Their perfume lost, Take these again, for to the noble mind Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. There my lord.' The audience sees here through her passionate statement that these 'words' held great importance to Ophelia and that she is expressing the depth of her emotion. ...read more.


This may be seen as Gertrude's expression of genuine sympathy for her fellow woman. Ophelia's death can be seen as a suicide, but Gertrude, perhaps to prevent Ophelia from being denied a Christian burial, which would have deepened Laertes' grief, describes her as having been 'one incapable of her own distress', suggesting that she fell in and simply did not care enough to get out. Ophelia's last influence in the play is her funeral, where Laertes jumps into her grave in grief. Hamlet however jumps in after him, and they begin to grapple irreverently, arguing over who loved her more: 'Hamlet. I loved Ophelia, forty thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum - what wilt thou do for her? Hamlet persists in trying to out-do Laertes in his love for his sister, to the point of ridiculousness - 'Woo't drink up eisel, eat a crocodile? | I'll do't.' This sudden display of affection for Ophelia from Hamlet contrasts hugely with his treatment of her during her life, and seems unrealistic. Laertes' grief for Ophelia is overshadowed by his desire for revenge as Hamlet has destroyed his family. The two use their 'love' for Ophelia as an excuse to let private rivalries surface, even at her funeral. This is symbolic of how she has been used throughout the play, by Polonius to get closer to the king and by Hamlet to portray his insanity. To a Shakespearean audience, people's treatment of Ophelia would have been typical of the way in which women were treated. Her silence and oppression would have been met with sympathy, as well the empathy of women of the time. While her situation with regards to Hamlet and his cold rejection of her still holds poignancy with a modern audience, people today may question more why she made little attempt to defend herself in certain situations, and why she so blankly followed the instructions of her father and brother at the expense of her own mental and emotional well-being. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Hamlet section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Hamlet essays

  1. Hamlet - One student said she sympathised most with Gertrude and Ophelia because they ...

    and remarks towards Ophelia I think that Hamlet wants her to naturally distance herself from him. This to me is the beginning of Ophelia's madness as she has fallen in love with Hamlet and then Hamlet begins to act like a madman.

  2. A Razor Sharp Tongue

    ii 498-500). Thus, it is revealed that Hamlet wishes to use the play to reveal Claudius' crime: the murder of King Hamlet. His words "Make mad the guilty" reference to his attempts to draw out a confession from Claudius, while "appal the free" means to simply make others aware of Claudius' wrongdoings.

  1. The Dramatic Function of Ophelia in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'.

    In her sad reaction to Hamlet's madness "O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!" we see Hamlet as observed by her before he changed. She tells that he possessed "noble and most sovereign reason," emphasising the extent of change he seems to have undergone.

  2. Discuss Hamlet's attitude to death and the afterlife, giving indications to how both contemporary ...

    'I dare damnation. To this point I stand. That both the worlds give to negligence, let come what comes; only I'll be reveng'd, Most throughly for my father. Laertes is saying that he does not care what the consequences are, he will seek revenge even if he has to damn his soul to get it.

  1. Examine how Shakespeare explores the role of women in Hamlet. What might the response ...

    This also reflects the passive role women had in Shakespeare's time and the sexist view towards them that men controlled or even owned them. Ophelia's madness is arguably the climax of her character in the play. Elaine Showalter3 questions if her madness stands for oppression of women in society as well as in tragedy.

  2. How does Shakespeare portray the female characters and explore the role of women in ...

    as it pleases him and makes her feel like he has some sort of direction. This makes the women appear mentally weak and small without a man to lean on, and creates the impression of an inferior species, which don't have the capacity to form their own opinions or thought.

  1. Is Hamlet mad? How does Shakespeare make his audience think about this question and ...

    obsessed with Ophelia, and this could be why he appeared to her like this. This is how Polonius interprets Hamlet's strange behaviour, he questions his daughter as to whether Hamlet is 'mad for thy love?' Ophelia describes how 'he took me by the wrist and held me hard', then stared

  2. Criticism on Hamlet

    It is a well established fact, that on the brink of any serious enterprise, or event of moment, men almost invariably endeavour to elude the pressure of their own thoughts by turning aside to trivial objects and familiar circumstances: thus this dialogue on the platform begins with remarks on the

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work