Character Analysis Of Ophelia in Hamlet by Shakespeare

Hamlet made love to Ophelia in an honourable fashion but he seems to have made a wrong choice. Ophelia could not, in any case, be a fit companion for him in his life. Thrown into the storm-tossed life of Hamlet, she perishes and we mourn her tragic fate. She could have no will of her own. She is of a passive, non-resisting character and submits to hectoring by her brother and father. She might have responded to Hamlet’s love, but it may be doubled whether her love is stable. She is warned off by her father and brother form Hamlet, and she keeps away from him. Her love is at the dictation of her father. When Polonius imagines that Hamlet’s madness is due to disappointed love and it is Polonius’s own doing, as we know, he wants to make amends by ‘loosing’ the daughter to him again. Ophelia is used as a decoy by the King and Polonius. Hamlet sees through the whole game. He has got reason to be disgusted with Ophelia, but he appears to have still a feeling of pity and tenderness for Ophelia. Ophelia who loves Hamlet, but is not certainly one to break her heart over it, should have been conscious of the dishonourable part she was playing. A prayer-book is put into her hand by her father, and she is told:

“………Read on this book,

That show of such an exercise may colour

Your! Loneliness, – We are oft to blame in this.-

“Tis too much proved-that with devotion’s visage

And pious action we do sugar o’er

The devil himself.”

Polonius confesses that it is a dirty game. The King’s aside which follows Polonius speech is a self-condemnation. Ophelia is a willing party to it. Hamlet is not blind to what is going on and to his sense of honour it is revolting. Ophelia might be an innocent victim. When Hamlet notices Ophelia, kneeling at the prayer-desk, he addresses her:

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“The fair Ophelia ! Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remembered.”

It does not sound like mockery. He feels for Ophelia; after all Ophelia is to be pitied. When later he asks her where her father is, he replies ‘at home’. It is a parable lie, for Hamlet knows that Polonius is lurking behind the curtain. Hamlet repeats again and again-“Go to nunnery”. There is no use for her in the world. It is painful situation for Ophelia, and Hamlet violently reacts to it as he can not help doing. Morton Luce writes, “….. she plays the spy upon her lover; he knows it, and with loving pity pronounces her doom.” We may note Ophelia’s reaction at the end of the scene:

“………O, woe is me

 To have seen what I have seen, see what I see.”

If she puts all the anguish of her heart into this remark, does she hint at her personal loss-at her being broken-hearted, or is there not a tone of impersonality, expressing the regret at Hamlet’s insanity ? In her lament there is shown her admiration of Hamlet as he was-an accomplished courtier, a brave soldier, a distinguished scholar. But is there hint of her love? All that she says about herself:

“And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,

That suck’d the honey of this vows.”

We may assume a period of wooing. Ophelia now regrets that she so readily allowed herself to be swayed by his honeyed vows. If she loved Hamlet, she has now changed her mind.

Ophelia is innocence itself. Shall we say that she is “too good for the world” ? Morton Luce writes of her, “A maiden innocent as innocence, childhood as childhood, yet a very woman of a very woman, whom a queen would gladly take to her as a daughter, whose bride-bed a queen would have decked with flowers, who was importuned with the love of Hamlet in honourable fashion, besmirched with no soil, no cautel: who returned his love with such maiden modesty that the selfish warning of her brother, the coarse injunctions, the impertinent inquires of her father, the fantastic insinuations, the impertinent inquires of her father, the fantastic insinuations of her half-frenzied lover, could not convict her of one evil thought; she in whose grave that brother and that lover contended for loving martyrdom: she from whose fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring”. It is an excellent tribute to Ophelia. If we may not blame her for anything, we must say that she acts rather indiscreetly when she allows herself to be used as a tool by the king and Polonius. She may not, we admit, answer Hamlet’s exacting standard of honour and may be unaware of the dishonourableness of her part in playing the spy upon Hamlet. It may be partly explained by the vile court atmosphere as well as her home atmosphere which must have tainted her.

We question whether Ophelia could have acted like this if she had really loved Hamlet? H. Granville-Barker writes, “We call her docility a fault, when, as she is bid, she shuts herself away from Hamlet, but not trust of her brother’s care for her and her father’s wisdom? How even question the part she is made to play later when not her father only but the King and Queen themselves Prepare her for it?” Ophelia seems to have no individuality of her own and the meddling of her father, her brother, the king and even the queen in her private affairs brings on her suffering and tragic fate. Morton Luce says,  “I doubt whether any character in Shakespeare is more completely a victim to the requirement of tragedy.”



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