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Examine the character Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Introduction

Examine the character Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, the right hand man of the King. Although she is only in five scenes Ophelia plays an interesting role in this play as the seemingly passive, melancholy, innocent 'little girl' whose story ends in tragedy. From the beginning Ophelia is an obedient character who has real trouble thinking for herself. This could be seen as one of the reasons for her eventual downfall, due to her inability to analyse a strange, complicated pattern of events. She is always accepting other people's views or advice, acting upon them, with no thought or interpretation of what the results could be. This is one of the reasons why her suicide is not thought of by her or the reader in her first scenes, because for her to commit such an act would take thought and initiative, two concepts completely foreign to Ophelia in the opening scenes. In the first scene that Ophelia is in (Act 1 Scene 3) we are not only treated to our first impressions of Ophelia but also her pivotal relationship with her brother and father. In this scene Laertes, about to leave for France, is saying farewell to his sister Ophelia. He warns her to beware of Hamlet (knowing full well of their relationship), whom he says is insincere. ...read more.

Middle

So Ophelia's formality to Polonius, and in this dialogue with Hamlet is another clue. "Good my Lord How does your honour for this many a day." More proof of her mindlessness comes with her repeating her brother's words. " ......perfume left." So not only does she have the inability to construct her own views, listen, accept and act upon her familys' views, but adopts them as her own. It is when Hamlet begins to completely destroy Ophelia verbally that you realise he knows he has been manipulated, as he is as much talking to Polonius and Claudius (who he knows can hear) as he is to Ophelia. "Are you honest/Are you fair." He is playing with Ophelia's emotions, attempting to hurt her to get at Polonius and Claudius. "Get thee to a Nunnery." Yet more verbal assault from Hamlet, but here he is attacking her sexuality, saying she is a slut. This is really as nasty as Hamlet can get, as sexual promiscuity was frowned upon extensively when 'Hamlet' was written as there was no contraception. Hamlet, knowing Polonius is watching asks Ophelia where her father is. "Where's your father," Ophelia replies "At home my Lord.". Hamlet, knowing Polonius is there takes the offensive further attacking Polonius. "Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in's own home." ...read more.

Conclusion

In her former scenes she has been a melancholy, uncreative and unimaginative character with absolutely no concept of creating one's own unique ideas, perception or thought, with the idea of initiative completely foreign to her. She has been willing to do what others want, wish or think of her. With no idea of constructing a personal view, she adopts other people's who she regards highly (Laertes, Polonius etc). It is this sheer mindlessness that is her purpose in her first two scenes. Because of her lacking intellect and her willingness to mould around other people, Shakespeare manipulates her to make other characters more interesting and to give more analytical information about these characters. (Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1). Her role in Act 4, Scene 5 is to shock the audience and add tension building up to Hamlet and Laertes' swordfight. It is the sheer change in Ophelia's character from a quiet, passive girl with no comprehensive, individual thought into a mad, insane lunatic with no regard for the other characters in this scene that shocks the audience so much. Although much of what she says in this scene appears at first to make no sense there is still a great deal of analytical information we get from her and about her in this scene that we get in no other. This is because only in this scene does she at last convey her own individual ideas and feelings. For the first time she shows independent thought. ...read more.

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