Characters in Hamlet and Frightening Ophelia

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Ophelia the Victim

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the character of Ophelia is being portrayed quite like a victim. This simple, innocent young woman falls victim to many things. She is the victim of Hamlet's harassment, the victim of manipulation by many, the victim of her own flaws of being obedient, indecisive, and weak both mentally and eventually physically. Ophelia is unfortunately not very strong willed and is placed in the crossfire between many things and is unable to escape them. Gerald Chapman similarly agrees in the below quote taken from his book Essays on Shakespeare. The only character who is presented almost entirely as a victim is Ophelia, a victim of the King's fear and curiosity, her father's servility and fundamental indifference to her, Hamlet's misunderstanding of the situation and brutal treatment of her, and finally his fatal thrust through the arras in the closet scene (123). Ophelia is the number one victim of Hamlet's harassment. As Harold Bloom says in his book Hamlet- Poem Unlimited, "What emerges clearly is that Hamlet is playacting and that Ophelia is the prime victim of his dissembling" (38). All though Hamlet may not mean all that he says, or perhaps he does, Ophelia most certainly believes his words and actions as truthful. He speaks harshly and insanely to her, and on occasion will physically grab at her. "He took me by the wrist, and held me hard" (2.1.84). Hamlet continuously uses Ophelia as a pawn in his game and eventually torments Ophelia first to insanity and then eventually to death. "…and Hamlet is monstrous to torment her into true madness" (Bloom 42). It is in Act 3, Scene 1, when Hamlet really lashes out on Ophelia. He questions her purity and accuses her as a sinner. He continues to ramble on and on about such matters, with each word he says frightening Ophelia more.

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, go, 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. (3.1.135-140).
By the end of this tirade Hamlet has almost completely broken down Ophelia, for she starts her downward spiral to death after this point.
Ophelia is also victim to her vulnerability to be manipulated by others. Ophelia does not really have a mind of her own; she does what she told to do by others. Since this is the case it lets her be very opened to be used in whatever way people see fit. "Unlike Desdemona, Ophelia is not guilty of showing a dangerously strong mind of her own" (Pitt 52). Ophelia holds back her own opinions and desires in the hope to pleasure others, especially her father. She is manipulated by her father to be used as bait to draw out the true reasons of Hamlet's insanity. A perfect example of her father's manipulation is in Act 2 Scene 2. It is here that Polonius proposes to have Ophelia meet Hamlet in one of the main hallways that Hamlet often paces, and to have the King and himself (Polonius), listen into the conversation that the two will have. Of course by Polonius doing this he is feeding into Hamlet and helping him also manipulate Ophelia. She is manipulated by Hamlet because he uses her as the main target of his false insanity; as a result she helps to make everyone else think he is in fact truly mad. With Ophelia being manipulated by so many and being pulled in so many directions she is most surely to be confused and eventually go mad herself.

Ophelia's indecisiveness has a lot to do with her being obedient to the requests by others. For example, at first "we know that Ophelia has first accepted and then rejected Hamlet's love addresses" (Muir 147). She loves the letters Hamlet is sending her and accepts them with opened arms, and then she denies them at the request of her father. It can also be assumed that at the start...
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