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Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Ophelia.

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Introduction

Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Ophelia. As one of only two women in the play, it is perhaps surprising that Ophelia's character is presented as being so very unsubstantial and passive. In particular, Ophelia fails to express any points of view and her only clear emotions are fear (after Hamlet's reported visit to her) and regret (at Hamlet's rejection of her). Furthermore, she never demands any freedom, nor questions Polonius' curt and misplaced instructions. Notably, Ophelia not only appears to have little understanding of Hamlet's madness, but no curiosity into its cause. Like Gertrude, Ophelia has no soliloquy in which she can confide her true thoughts and feelings, which is a pity as it detracts from her character as a whole. Shakespeare achieves this deliberately of course; however, it raises the question as to why Hamlet should have been attracted to her, if indeed he ever was. Although there is no textual evidence to indicate that Ophelia blossoms into a captivating and intelligent woman when freed from Polonius' scrutiny, Shakespeare is certainly highly methodical through the way in which he presents Ophelia within the play. Through comparing Ophelia's madness with that of Hamlet, there is a stark contrast between Hamlet's real or feigned madness which results in combative attacks and sly battles of wits and Ophelia's descent ion into a harmless, literally flowery witlessness. ...read more.

Middle

Ironically, Violets have been mentioned previously by Laertes when talking to Ophelia as he refers to Hamlet as "a violet in the youth of primy nature," continuing with the use of flower imagery, which was first seen at the beginning of the play in Hamlet�s first soliloquy where he described the world as an "unweeded garden". Appropriately, Shakespeare introduces closure to this cyclical form by having Ophelia surrounded by flowers at her funeral, "Sweets to the sweet". The impression that Shakespeare presents of Ophelia is one that while she is an innocent, she clearly understands the ways of the world, and is capable of wit which is seen in her response to her brother�s advice over Hamlet: "I shall th�effect of this good lesson keep/As watchman to my heart". Tragically, the hints of her independence are never realized as her constricting environment restricts her and ultimately turns her mad and leads to her death. She understands Hamlet�s obscene references when he says, "Shall I lie in your lap?" and talks about "country matters" as she replies to his "It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge". Although at first reading one does not expect the smutty words of her vulgar songs to come out of Ophelia�s mouth, there is also an argument in which Ophelia is able to sing about such sexual acts as she has experienced them and consummated her love with Hamlet. ...read more.

Conclusion

Therefore, Ophelia's death becomes a microcosm of the male world's banishment of the female, because 'woman' represents everything denied by reasonable men, including Hamlet. In conclusion, other than the ambiguity surrounding her death and her love for Hamlet, Ophelia is described by all as an innocent child, grappling with situations her youth is unprepared for. Furthermore, it is clear that the somewhat passive character of Ophelia is only essential within the play as she is linked for all eternity to the figure of Hamlet. Certainly, Ophelia is the most frequently illustrated and cited of Shakespeare's heroines. Her visibility as a subject in literature, popular culture and painting, from Redon who paints her drowning, to Bob Dylan, who places her on Desolation Row is in stark contrast to her view as an invisible. It is surprising that modern culture should be so obsessed with Ophelia, as we are given very little information from which to imagine a past for her. Furthermore, Ophelia is presented in only five of the play's twenty scenes; the history of her relationship with Hamlet is only known by a few flashbacks itself. Crucially, her tragedy is subordinated in the play; unlike Hamlet, she does not struggle with moral choices or alternatives. As a result, Shakespeare has made it impossible to reconstruct Ophelia's biography from the text, as while we can imagine Hamlet's story without Ophelia, Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet. ...read more.

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