There are many pivotal characters in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, one of the most well known being Ophelia. She does not appear in the play until Act 1, Scene 3, in which she converses with her brother, Laertes, about the prince Hamlet, and his suspected motives and intentions. It is here that we learn that Ophelia has what she believes to be a strong, lasting relationship with the Prince, and we find as the play develops that Laertes is more accurate in his feelings towards the relationship describing it as “forward, not permanent”. Ophelia is depicted as quite the opposite to Hamlet.
Theodore Lidz said that “Whereas Shakespeare is ambiguous about the reality of Hamlet’s insanity and depicts him as on the border, fluctuating between sanity and madness, he portrays Ophelia as definitely, one might even say classically, insane.”
As the story progresses, we notice Ophelia being almost tortured by Hamlet as his feelings of hatred and betrayal that he is feeling towards his mother are relayed back at the childlike, naïve, loyal and loving Ophelia. To the reader, this is what Ophelia represents, a pure-hearted young woman with all the best intentions. She is loyal to her father and brother and loving towards Hamlet as she clings to the memory of the Prince treating her with respect and tenderness.
This woman who is the epitome of goodness is lost to a state of madness, as her father is murdered by the man she loves. It is not in fact the death of her father that is the cause of her insanity, rather the fact that she is unable to transfer that attachment that she had to Polonius over to Hamlet, as she is obliged to hate him. It is interesting to find that even after she is driven to insanity, pushed around, used and deprived of basic human respect, Ophelia is still virtuous.
A.C Bradley said that "In her wanderings we hear from time to time an undertone of the deepest sorrow, but never the agonized cry of fear or horror which makes madness...
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