The Impact of Ophelia on Hamlet
Could the Bard of Avon have created a more innocent and obedient young lady in Hamlet than the victimized Ophelia? I think not. Let us discuss the ups and downs of her life in the play.
Michael Pennington in “Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven,” describes personality traits of the young lady:
This is the woman she might have become – warm, tolerant and imaginative. Instead she becomes jagged, benighted and imaginative. . . .Ophelia is made mad not only by circumstance but by something in herself. A personality forced into such deep hiding that it has seemed almost vacant, has all the time been so painfully open to impressions that they now usurp her reflexes and take possession of her. She has loved, or been prepared to love, the wrong man; her father has brought disaster on himself, and she has no mother: she is terribly lonely. (73-74)
Helena Faucit (Lady Martin) in On Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters reveals the misunderstood character of Ophelia:
My views of Shakespeare's women have been wont to take their shape in the living portraiture of the stage, and not in words. I have, in imagination, lived their lives from the very beginning to the end; and Ophelia, as I have pictured her
to myself, is so unlike what I hear and read about her, and have seen represented on the stage, that I can scarcely hope to make any one think of her as I do. It hurts me to hear her spoken of, as she often is, as a weak creature, wanting in truthfulness, in purpose, in force of character, and only interesting when she loses the little wits she had. And yet who can wonder that a character so delicately outlined, and shaded in with touches so fine, should be often gravely misunderstood? (186)
Ophelia enters the play with her brother Laertes, who, in parting for school, bids her farewell and gives her advice regarding her relationship with Hamlet. Ophelia agrees to abide by the advice: “I shall the effect of this good lesson keep as watchman to my heart.” After Laertes’ departure, Polonius inquires of Ophelia concerning the “private time” which Hamlet spends with her. He dismisses Hamlet’s overtures as “Affection, puh!” Polonius considers Ophelia a “green girl,” incapable of recognizing true love: “These blazes . . . you must not take for fire.” He gets her assurance that she will not talk with Hamlet anymore. Ophelia shows herself to be pliable and obedient to family members. Grace Latham, in her critical essay “O Poor Ophelia,” alleges a sheltered existence of the young Ophelia:
It has been suggested that Ophelia was put out to nurse, and passed her childhood in a farmhouse; but not only is there no line in Hamlet to warrant our adoption of such a theory, but the girl herself lacks the healthy practical tone of mind, the self-reliance in little things, which a rough open-air rearing would have given her. It is more probable that she grew up under...