Ophelias Role in Hamlet by William Shakespeare
In Hamlet, one of the many things Shakespeare shows us is how the world can change a person, how certain circumstances can knock a person so out of proportion with who they used to be that they take on a new persona, a new identity. One such character is Ophelia, a young, innocent girl, who, throughout the play is torn between father and lover, accused of not being as innocent as she seems, and finally driven to insanity. In the end, she is driven to suicide, an innocent victim of the world around her.
We first meet Ophelia when she is talking with her brother Laertes, who attempting to educate her about the ways of the world. He warns her not to get too close to Hamlet, for Hamlet is "subject to his birth," (1.3, 18) he cannot choose who he loves. His caring advice for his sister, though, is lined with undertones of accusation. He warns her that even "the chariest maid is prodigal enough,"(1.3, 36) implying that even though she may seem modest, but her intentions could very well be the opposite. He attacks her virginal nature, heaving the burden of other, more crass, women upon this frail beauty. She, though a member of the more seemingly dim and weak sex, replies very wittily to this, "Do not, as some ungracious pastors do...reck not his own rede." (1.3, 47-51), advising, and possibly implying, the same things to her dear brother, showing their mutual respect for each other.
Polonius is the next to step in with words of advice to his daughter. Rather than simply giving her advice as an equal, he chastises her for her behavior. He talks down to her, tells her to "think yourself a baby" (1.3, 106), as if she does not have a mind of her own. While Ophelia has yet to prove otherwise, Polonius's immediately accuses that she has been less than virginal. "Tender yourself more dearly or...your tender me a fool."(1.3, 108-110), he says, almost as if he has been expecting an illegitimate child from his daughter! He commands to make herself less available to Hamlet, and she, being the obedient daughter she is, quietly obeys.
Ophelia, already somewhat hurt and appalled by the expectations both her father and her brother hold for her, meets up with Hamlet. Their meeting was set up by Claudius and Polonius, in the hope that the cause for Hamlets madness lies in Ophelia. Much to everyone's surprise, even Hamlet questions her virginity, although he is much more blunt about it than either Polonius. Ophelia, quite taken aback by this, seems to loose her wit she had displayed with Laertes, and her strength and determination with her father defending her love for Hamlet. All she can do is sit, and listen to this madman tell her, "I loved you not."(3.1,120)
To add insult to injury, Hamlet quickly tells her "get thee to a nunnery," (3.1, 122) implying she get herself into a brothel, become a prostitute. He speaks to her as if he is appalled by the fact that she could possibly be a sexual...