OPHELIA

Ophelia is Polonius’ daughter. She is the most innocent victim of Hamlet’s revenge. Attracted by her sweet beauty after the depressing event of his father’s death, Hamlet has fallen in love with her. But when her father challenges the honour of Hamlet’s intentions, Ophelia can only reply: “ I do not know, my lord, what I should think” (act I, scene iii). Used to relying upon her father’s direction and brought up to be obedient, she can only accept her father’s belief, seconded by that of her brother, that Hamlet’s vows of love have only been designed for her seduction and obeys her father’s orders not to permit Hamlet to see her again.

When his mother’s hasty remarriage leads Hamlet to the disillusioned view that “frailty, thy name is woman“, Ophelia’s affection might yet restore his spirit. But her unexplained refusal to see him soon after his mother’s remarriage completes Hamlet’s disillusionment with women. Ophelia is still too much under the influence of her father to question his wise authority, and she has no mind of her own to understand how she has made her love suffer. As she cannot believe that her father’s orders are wrong, all she can see in the prince’s present behaviour is the madness of which the whole court is talking and which terrifies her. Then Polonius orders her to meet Hamet at a place where he and the King can observe their meeting. Her hopes for this meeting are raised, however, by the Queen’s kind statement to her that she hopes that Ophelia might cure him and that they might get married. Ophelia accepts to see Hamlet because she wants to help him; after a hopeful beginning, Ophelia ruins her chances by the foolish feminine strategy of accusing Hamlet of rejecting her. Then, he launches an ever more savage attack against her, telling her to go to a nunnery: “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (act III, scene i).

When that night her father is mysteriously killed and then obscurely buried in great haste, it is too much for her. Abused by her lover, bereft of her father’s protection, alone and overcome by the sense of her dishonour and that of her father, she loses control of her mind.