Ophelia - The Innocent Victim in Shakespeare's Hamlet
Poor Ophelia, she lost her lover, her father, her mind, and, posthumously, her brother. Ophelia is the only truly innocent victim in Hamlet. This essay will examine Ophelia's downward spiral from a chaste maiden to nervous wreck.
From the beginning of the play, in Act I Scene iii, Laertes and Polonius are trying to convince her that Hamlet does not love her and only is interested in her so he can sleep with her. Laertes says "Perhaps he loves you now, ...... His greatness weighed, his will is not his own." He is telling Ophelia that she is likely to have her heart broken because of Hamlet's high birth. He may not be able to choose who he marries, so although he may love Ophelia, he can never marry her because of the difference in their social classes. This cannot have a good effect on Ophelia, her brother telling her that the her relationship with the one she loves is doomed from the start! Polonius tells her "Affection pooh! You speak like a green girl, / Unsifted in such perilous circumstance. / Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?" He means that although Lord Hamlet has been showing many signs of affection to Ophelia, it cannot be real. He is saying that Ophelia is blinded by Hamlet's charm and is inexperienced (Unsifted) in this sort of situation. He goes on later to say that these affections are merely "...springes to catch the woodcocks" (traps to catch stupid little birds.) Why does Ophelia's family find it necessary to bring down her spirits about her relationship with Hamlet? Can't they let her figure it out for herself? This, in my opinion, is a good example of how Ophelia is victimized in this play.
Later in the play, when Hamlet becomes (or pretends to become) mad, he turns his back on Ophelia either because it is all part of his act, or because his genuine madness is causing him to do so. In Act III scene i, Polonius and the King hide behind Ophelia's curtains and eavesdrop on the conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia. Hamlet goes on to scold Ophelia and accuse her of not being chaste "Ha, ha! Are you honest?" ... "Are you fair?" ... "Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be / a breeder of sinners?" Hamlet goes on to say "...This was sometime a paradox, but now / the time gives it proof. I did love you once." Ophelia replies with "Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so." Her heart must have torn in two when Hamlet came back...