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The character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet Essay eBook on Kindle

The Character
of Ophelia

Book #4 in the Hamlet Essay Kit series  

Ophelia’s character illustrates the collapse of sanity that is the result of living in a maddening world of deception and betrayal.

Three 1,500-word model essays on the character of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

1

Introduction

Ophelia’s breakdown results from her exploitation by everyone around her for their own purposes.

2

Sister and daughter: “A green girl”

Her brother warns her against her relationship with Hamlet; her father ends it.

3

Seductress and snitch: “Where is thy father?”

At her father’s bidding, she attempts to trap Hamlet into revealing his past love for her.

4

Trauma and truth-telling: “Pray you, mark”

No longer silenced, she uses the language of flowers to speak the truth about the Danish court.

5

Death: “Fell into the weeping brook”

The passivity that so characterized her life becomes the cause of her despairing death.

6

Conclusion: “A living monument”

Her burial is overshadowed by two male characters who fight over who loved her more.

Introduction

1

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

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The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

Ophelia in Hamlet does not share the leading role occupied by the female title characters in other Shakespearean dramas such as Romeo and Juliet. But her character illustrates one of the play’s central themes: the collapse of sanity that is the result of living in a maddening world of deception and betrayal.

Moreover, Ophelia has become an iconic representation of every powerless and voiceless young woman who is divided between her true self and the role she has been forced to play in order to conform to social expectations.

Ophelia’s submission to her manipulative father, who in turns serves a corrupt king, in the end crushes her sanity (“a document in madness”, 4.7) and leaves her with only one route of escape: death.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Ophelia is exploited by everyone around her for their own purposes.
  • Her father Polonius uses her to gain favor with King Claudius (“I hold my duty as I hold my soul, / Both to my God and to my gracious king”, 2.2).
  • Claudius uses her to uncover the source of Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ (“If ’t be the affliction of his love or no / That thus he suffers for”, 3.1);.
  • Prince Hamlet uses her to pretend that his feigned madness is caused by unrequited love (“Here's metal more attractive”, 3.2).
  • Her name means ‘helper’, but, in the end, Ophelia could not even save herself.

Key Supporting Quotes

20
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Sister and daughter: “A green girl”

2

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

$4.99

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

The Ophelia we first meet in 1.3 has not yet had her spirit crushed by the world of Elsinore. In her conversation with a Paris-bound Laertes, her responses of “Do you doubt that?” and “No more but so?” suggest agreement with her brother’s warnings about Hamlet.

Yet her words also display a certain amusement at her brother’s sermonizing and a worldly awareness of male hypocrisy. She gently implores him not emulate those “ungracious pastors” who neglect to practice what they preach.

It is with the arrival of Polonius that Ophelia's manner descends into submissiveness. After dismissing Ophelia as “a green girl” and instructing her never again to speak with the prince, she responds with meek compliance: “I shall obey, my lord.”

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Ophelia’s teasing wordplay with Laertes in 1.3 echoes the pun-loving eloquence of Prince #Hamlet.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • The metaphor of flowers which is so associated with Ophelia’s character appears in her very first scene of 1.3 when Laertes warns her that Hamlet⁽s proferred love is but the “perfume … of a minute.”
  • In response, she teasingly extends his floral analogy by comparing her Paris-bound, pleasure-seeking brother with those “ungracious pastors” who pursue “the primrose path of dalliance.”
  • She makes a subtle biblical reference (“Enter through the narrow gate”, Matthew 7:13), and performs a clever play on the words “recks” and “reckless.”
  • Ophelia’s gentle ripostes to her brother mirror the eloquence of the scholarly and pun-loving Prince Hamlet.

Key Supporting Quotes

30
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Seductress and snitch: “Where is thy father?”

3

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

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The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

Is it only obedience to her father that motivates Ophelia to collude in the “’twere by accident” (3.1) scheme to “sift” (2.2) Hamlet in the so-called ‘nunnery scene’ of 3.1? Or, by encouraging the prince to recall his past love for her (“words of so sweet breath composed”), does she hope also to rekindle it?

A suspicious (“Where is thy father?”) and then hostile prince responds with an abusive and self-contradictory rant—against women, men and himself.

At the end, Ophelia is abandoned alone on stage, humiliated and holding the “remembrances” she intended to return to Hamlet. Afterward, the “of ladies most deject and wretched” Ophelia will succumb to the madness she mistakenly believed the denial of her love caused in Hamlet.

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Ophelia tries and fails to trap Prince #Hamlet into revealing his past love for her.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Polonius offers Ophelia as bait (“I’ll loose my daughter to him”, 2.2) in his scheme to uncover the root of Hamlet’s behavior (“the root of his defect”, 2.2).
  • Polonius’ motives are entirely selfish: he wishes to prove his loyalty to the king and anticipates the prospect of elevating his social status through a royal marriage.
  • When they emerge from their hiding place to debate the meaning of Hamlet’s responses, neither Polonius or Claudius ask for Ophelia’s opinion.
  • Her father and the king claim to “have heard it all” (3.1), but each comes to a different conclusion.
  • Claudius knows what Polonius does not, and must hear Hamlet’s remark about “all but one shall live” (3.1) as a direct threat.

Key Supporting Quotes

29
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Trauma and truth-telling: “Pray you, mark”

4

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

$4.99

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

Through fragments of traditional songs, but more vividly through the symbolic language of flowers, in 4.5 the traumatized Ophelia expresses her clear recognition of the dark truths beneath the surface of the Danish court. Her distribution of flowers conveys very specific accusations voiced in a mood of deep grief that will shortly descend into despair and apparent “self-slaughter” (1.2).

So often dismissed by others, Ophelia now dismisses the king’s suggestion that her grief arises solely from Polonius’ death. Through the ballad of a naive girl who is seduced by the promise of marriage only to be abandoned because she is no longer a virgin, Ophelia conveys the maddening contradictions of her situation and impossibility of anything but failure: “I cannot choose but weep” (4.7).

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In #Hamlet, everyone to whom Ophelia hands out flowers, including herself, will shortly die.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • To the king, Ophelia presents fennel (representing flattery) and then columbines (adultery). To the queen and herself, she offers rue (sorrow and regret).
  • Ophelia adds that Gertrude must wear her rue differently: as “‘herb of grace’ o’ Sundays”, which carries the extra connotation of repentance-seeking for past sins.
  • Ophelia picks up a daisy, only to put it down again; the innocence and gentleness it represents have no place in what Hamlet called the “unweeded garden” (1.2) at Elsinore.

  • With its recurring motifs of death and burial, Ophelia’s ‘mad scene’ serves as a warning of impending doom: everyone to whom she hands out flowers, including herself, will shortly die.

Key Supporting Quotes

33
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Death: “Fell into the weeping brook”

5

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

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4,600 words
3 sample essays

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The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

Although her final act takes place offstage, the image of a drowning Ophelia ranks alongside Hamlet’s graveside cherishing of Yorick’s skull as one of the play’s most enduring and iconic images. As poetically recounted to Claudius and Laertes by Queen Gertrude in 4.7, she created a crown of flowers and weeds and climbed a riverside willow, a tree associated with unrequited love.

She then fell into the water when the branch broke, floated for a while as she sung songs, and finally sank under the weight of her clothes (“her garments, heavy with their drink”) to a “muddy death.”

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The passivity that characterized #Ophelia's life becomes the cause of her despairing death.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • The brook-side tree Ophelia attempted to climb was a willow, which is associated with sadness and lost love; its downcast, water-overhanging branches suggest tears and depression.
  • In Ophelia’s hand was a coronet of wild flowers: crowflowers, (buttercups, suggesting ingratitude), nettles (sharp and stinging weeds), daisies (representing innocence) and long purples (orchids, representing sexual love).
  • Ophelia’s accidental fall is followed by a surrender to the water, as “one incapable of her own distress” (4.7).
  • Why did Gertrude not at least try to intervene to prevent Ophelia’s death? Did she view a possibly pregnant Ophelia (“I hope all will be well. We must be patient”, 4.5) a threat to her position as queen?

Key Supporting Quotes

22
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Conclusion: “A living monument”

6

The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

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The Character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet - Essay Kit eBook on Kindle

Ophelia’s death combines elements of an accident and suicide. Hence her burial in a church graveyard but without the full rites granted to “peace-parted souls” (5.1) Ending her life was only power left to Ophelia, her only escape from the control of others. In a way, her “self-slaughter” and “melt(ing) into a dew” (1.2) is Ophelia’s revenge.

Her death also leads to Hamlet’s, for it is at her grave that the prince challenges Laertes: “I will fight … upon this theme” (5.1). But in so doing, she also helps the prince achieve his goal of removing Claudius without himself becoming tainted by the motive of private vengeance. Horatio’s summary account to Fortinbras makes no mention of Ophelia. But she is present in the story that Shakespeare tells. It is her “living monument” (5.1).

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In #Hamlet, Ophelia's "self-slaughter" is her revenge against the Elsinore that silenced her.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Claudius’ comment of “Poor Ophelia, divided from herself and her fair judgement”, 4.5) is echoed by the prince’s later claim to Laertes that “Hamlet from himself be ta’en away” (5.1).
  • In 4.7, Gertrude uses the same term to describe the drowned Ophelia as she applied earlier in 2.2 to her depressed son: “poor wretch.”
  • If only with “maimed rites”, Ophelia is buried in a Christian graveyard on the “great command” of the king and against the wishes of the “churlish priest” (5.1).
  • In contrast, her “bonny sweet Robin” (4.5) is promised a ceremonial burial with full military honors by Fortinbras: “Let four captains / Bear Hamlet like a solider to the stage” (5.2).

Key Supporting Quotes

26
quotations from the play to support your statements.

You have the rest of your
life to appreciate Hamlet …

but only a few hours
to finish your essay

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Also in the Hamlet Essaykit series:

#1: The Character of Hamlet

Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as both the tragic hero and victim of a story he did not want to be in.

#2: The Character of Claudius

His “ambition” for Denmark’s throne leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.

#3: The Character of Gertrude

“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage” dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.

#5: Relationship of Hamlet and the Ghost

By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.

#6: Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

The relationship between uncle and nephew begins with mutual suspicion and dislike, escalates into a psychological battle of wits and ends with defeat for both and victory for the rival kingdom of Norway.

#7: Relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius and her collusion with the prince’s confinement at Elsinore creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.

#8: Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia

Begins in uncertainty, descends into mutual deceit and rejection, and ends with their double surrender to death: she to the water, he to Claudius’ rigged fencing duel.

#9: Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio

A genuine friendship in an Elsinore poisoned by betrayal. But does Hamlet exploit his friend’s loyalty with his improbable tale of divinely-inspired rescue by pirates?

#10: Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude

A marriage of practical interest: Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the role of queen) she wanted to hold onto.

#11: The Themes
of Hamlet

Deception, revenge, madness, corruption, decay and death—all shaped by destiny. A prince is left with an impossible choice when his uncle chooses murder and his mother chooses self-delusion.

#12: The Theme of Revenge

Two young men journey from revenge, through madness and anger, to forgiveness. An opportunist claims an empty throne. And a restless Ghost is granted atonement for his sins by his kingdom-surrendering son.

#13: Deception and Appearance versus Reality

‘Seems’ and ‘is’ are as far apart as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are similar in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to play a false role, and to perform in theater.

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