In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia is the most static character in the play. Instead of changing through the course of the play, she remains suffering in the misfortunes perpetrated upon her. She falls into insanity and dies a tragic death. Ophelia has issues surviving without a male influence, and her downfall is when all the men in her life abandon her. Hamlet’s Ophelia, is a tragic, insane character that cannot exist on her own.
In Elizabethan times, Ophelia is restricted as a woman. She is obedient to the commands of the men in her life although she often attempts to do the right thing. Polonius, Laertes, and Hamlet all have a grasp on Ophelia and who she is. She does not have the freedom to change her fate as Hamlet does. Shawna Maki states, “Ophelia’s life is determined by the whims of men who control her” (1). Polonius takes advantage of his relationship with Ophelia by using her to achieve a better relationship with Claudius. Polonius and Laertes teach Ophelia how to behave, therefore, abusing their power in allowing Ophelia to become who she wants to be (Brown 2).
Two of Ophelia’s difficulties arise from her father and brother. They believe that Hamlet is using her to take her virginity and throw it away because Ophelia will never be his wife. Her heart believes that Hamlet loves her although he promises he never has (“Hamlet” 1). Hamlet: “Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometime a paradox, but not the time gives it proof. I did love you once.” Ophelia: “Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.” Hamlet: “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.” Ophelia: “I was the more deceived” (3.1.110-18).
Ophelia’s obedience and lack of ability to stand up for herself is trouble when she needs to fight back, but she cannot. Hamlet knows that she is helping her dad, Polonius, spy on him. He accuses Ophelia, and all women, of being a “breeder of sinners” (Shmoop Editorial Team 1). Hamlet orders Ophelia to a nunnery, but she cannot call him out on it because she is not supposed to know what the word means. This is not the only criticism that Hamlet calls out to Ophelia. He says that if Ophelia is to marry a man, she will turn her husband into a monster because she will cheat on him (Shmoop Editorial Team 1). Hamlet: “If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell” (3.1.130-134).
The lack of women in Ophelia’s life deprives her from any influence in her life to help guide her. Gabrielle Dane says, “Motherless and completely circumscribed by the men around her,...