Ophelia: Harshly Criticized Essay

1272 words - 6 pages

Hamlet, a tragedy written by William Shakespeare in the 16th century, has been subject to evaluation for centuries. Each character has been broken down and analyzed. The psychology of each character has been examined. Every relationship has been studied to find more answer surrounding the play. Harold Bloom and Sigmund Freud have examined it extensively. Scholars have dissected all parts of the play. One character that has recently been analyzed more and more is Ophelia. She has been defended by feminists and criticized by many who believed she was mad. In their article and revisions, “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism,” from Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, the authors, being feminist critics, defend Ophelia and criticize the way she is treated and undermined as a minor character. The role of Ophelia in the play Hamlet is underappreciated and over criticized due to her developed psychosis following her rejection by Hamlet. However, Ophelia’s role is more than just a sexual arousal for Hamlet and psychosis for psychiatrist and specifically male critics to examine.
Scholars and critics throughout history have turned Ophelia into “an insignificant minor character” (Elaine Showalter). She lives in the shadow of Hamlet. Shakespeare has given Hamlet a back story while the reader has no clue what Ophelia’s past is like. Lee Edwards, a feminist critic, “concludes that is impossible to reconstruct Ophelia’s biography from the text: ‘We can imagine character. She is always shown as dependent on men, specifically Hamlet. The reader knows nothing about her, save the pre-play course of her love story with Hamlet is known only by a few ambiguous flashbacks” (Showalter). She develops a psychosis after Hamlet rejects her. This also illustrates her dependency on Hamlet: he has more important matters while she left out to dry. Shakespeare undermines her role and the role of women in society. Not only is she underappreciated being in Hamlet’s shadow, she also is treated as a useless tool or object. Hamlet’s story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet’” (Showalter). Ophelia is never given the opportunity to be treated as a main character. She is seen as someone who lives in Hamlet’s shadow and is a tool used by Hamlet for his own sexual enticing rather than her role as a woman and human.
Ophelia is underappreciated as a human being and viewed as a sexual enticement for Hamlet. Hamlet fails to address the feelings of Ophelia, but instead refers to her as having “nothing” (Hamlet Act 3 Scene 2 line 119). This is shown in Act III Scene ii of Hamlet:
Hamlet: That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.
Ophelia: What is, my lord?
Hamlet: Nothing.
(III.ii. 117-119)
During the Elizabethan time, the term “nothing” was referred to as female genitalia. Hamlet then saw “nothing” “between the maids’ legs.” This dejects the role of...

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