Parental Relationships in Hamlet

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Evaluate the role of family in a character’s success or failure in Hamlet.

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the emphasis placed on a parent-child relationship is vital, as family plays an important role in developing a character’s values as well as bringing stability to their life. Throughout the play Hamlet, the values brought on by a parent are instrumental in developing a character’s familial obligation and sense of purpose. Following the loss of their fathers, the characters of Ophelia, Laertes and Hamlet lose the motivation and stability their fathers once provided. In order to fulfill their obligations to their late fathers, each character must look for a new sense of purpose, which ultimately leads to their death.

The relationship that Ophelia shares with her father, Polonius, is rather dogmatic to say the least. Throughout Hamlet, Polonius demonstrates almost absolute control over Ophelia as if she were a tool with the sole purpose of serving Polonius. As a result of a weakness of mind and will caused by a lack of independent thought, Ophelia does not oppose Polonius; for instance when Polonius challenges Hamlet’s intentions with Ophelia, she can only muster “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” (I,3,104) Ophelia allows herself to be controlled, even rebuffing her love for Hamlet simply because Polonius suggested that she not “give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet,” (I,4,135) which illustrates the importance Ophelia places on her familial obligations. The structure and guidance that Polonius provides for Ophelia, leads her to affirm that she “shall obey” him. (I,4,136) Following the death of Polonius, Ophelia, who is already distressed over hearing Hamlet say “I lov’d you not,”(III,1,119) has beyond a shadow of a doubt, lost her purpose. The stability that Polonius once offered has now disappeared, leaving Ophelia in a state of confusion. Even after death, the profound loyalty that Ophelia has to her father, prevents her from...
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