Ophelia as a Sexual Being in Hamlet
In Elaine Showalter's essay, "feminist criticism allows Ophelia to upstage Hamlet [and] . . . brings to the foreground . . . the cultural links between femininity, [and] female sexuality" (221). In most of his plays, William Shakespeare has many women in secondary roles, only filling dead space or causing strife between men. During Shakespeare's time, thoughts of women bordered on weak and deceitful images, leading to the idea of frail, yet conniving creatures. In Hamlet, the character Ophelia uses her sexual prowess as a source of power when dealing with the opposite sex. As she weaves her way through the background of the play, she affects the men greatly to become a main focus when critiquing the literary work. Interpretations of Ophelia vary based on the experts' view of sexual importance. The influence she has over Hamlet's emotions and desires affects the outcome of their faltering relationship and Hamlet's sanity. Viewing Ophelia as a sexual being, one can surmise that she embodies the very essence of female sexuality. Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film version of Hamlet portrays Ophelia as a siren: natural, beautiful, and the perfect object of male desire. In Elaine Showalter's essay and Kenneth Branagh's film, the representation of Ophelia gives strong evidence regarding the sexuality Ophelia emanates and her effect on the men surrounding her despite her five short scenes in the play. Ophelia's overzealous sexuality, uncommon in those "moral" days, constitutes an image of madness and impropriety ending in her tragic death by her own hand.
With the strong sexuality Ophelia radiates, even her brother Laertes cannot resist her charms. Speaking with Ophelia, Laertes warns her of Hamlet,
"If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmast'red importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire" (Wofford, 1.3.30-5).
His concern crosses the boundaries between brotherly love and old-fashioned romantic jealousy. Responding to his warning, Ophelia says, "But, good my brother,/Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,/Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,/Whiles, [like] a puff'd and reckless liberine,/Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,/And reaks not his own rede" (1.3.45-51). In the film by Branagh, the two walk on the castle grounds as a couple, with Laertes' arm around Ophelia's waist. They suddenly stop, and Ophelia gazes at Laertes, averting her eyes between his eyes and lips while invading his personal space. Looking lovingly at her brother, they kiss on the lips like a romantic couple. Unable to control his urges, Laertes seems to yearn for her love.
After the questionable exchange between Laertes and Ophelia, Polonius takes Ophelia to the church and reprimands her for having contact...