Ophelia: Critical Character in Hamlet
The character of Ophelia plays many important roles in the play of Hamlet. Although many critics believe that she has only a minor function in the entirety of the story, there are equally as many who disagree. While it is true that the story could be told without her, Ophelia contributes significantly to the storyline of the play.
Ophelia’s most obvious role is as Hamlet’s love interest. She plays one of the few living characters in the play that Hamlet cares for and that cares for him in return. He clearly despises Claudius; it is his primary goal to end Claudius’s life. Hamlet feels betrayed by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because they aid Claudius in his quest to have Hamlet murdered. Hamlet feels nothing more than annoyance for Polonius whom he sees as merely an obstacle in his mission. Hamlet resents his mother for her disloyalty to his father and her lack of moral consideration. Laertes and Hamlet are natural rivals; they feud over Ophelia’s love, compete as the noble youth of Denmark, and are turned fully against each other after Hamlet murders Polonius. Only Ophelia and Horatio manage to hold Hamlet’s affection throughout the play.
Ophelia’s second most important role is that of the innocent. She does not commit a single crime or, to our knowledge, have a negative or hurtful thought; rather, she is a helpless victim, a guiltless bystander who is trampled on and eventually destroyed by the villainy of those around her. Her father and brother taint her mind, causing her to distrust anyone and everyone outside her own family. They turn Ophelia’s unadulterated love for Hamlet into something filthy, claiming that the man she loves thinks of her as nothing more than a bauble. When Hamlet kills Polonius, her father, the murder provides two openings for Shakespeare. First, he can make Ophelia to go insane from grief and a sense of purposelessness. Secondly and more importantly, he can set the stage for Hamlet to die with the audience’s approval. He is no longer a pure...