The tragedy of Hamlet was a very interesting play with many very interesting characters that did a great many heroic and disappointing things despite the complexity and difficulty to understand the true personality William Shakespeare intended for each. Ophelia, one of the minor characters, represents one of the two women captured between men set out for revenge. Despite the minor role this character played, her impact on the play was quite significant. However, one of the most important questions to analyze, and the question this paper will explore below is why she went mad. This paper will delve into the kind of person Shakespeare portrays her as, why she is so easily affected, the factors causing her madness and the importance each of them play.
One of the factors that may have been the initial cause of the trouble Ophelia found herself in at the end of the play may be her beauty. This is described in III, I, 6-7 when Hamlet says, “/that if you be honest and fair, / should admit no discourse to your beauty.” Her beauty is the reason Hamlet first fell in love with her, the reason her father, Polonius, was able to control her feelings toward Hamlet. Her father wanted this control over her love either for advancement within the court through gaining the favour of the king, or, if one were to think more optimistically, perhaps Polonius’ goal was only to protect her from Hamlet who, he believed, did not truly love Ophelia as she loved him. However, one is given hints as to Hamlet’s true feelings when Polonius reads the love letter from Hamlet to Ophelia. The letter begins with a very romantic, yet overly dramatic salutation reading, “To the celestial, and my soul’s idol, the/ most beautified Ophelia…” (II, ii, 117-118) giving proof of Hamlet’s obvious belief of her utmost beauty, continuing to say (II, ii, 124-127) “Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.”
giving proof of Hamlet’s love for her once only to give proof a second time when he writes “…but that I love thee best…” However, one very interesting factor in this letter is Hamlet choosing to write “adieu” prior to his closing. In French, adieu is used only when one is saying good-bye, and not planning to see that person again. Perhaps this letter, instead of verifying Hamlet’s love and the blossoming of it, represents instead the moments prior to the wilting of the love. After this letter, Hamlet seems to suddenly become very cruel to Ophelia, first declining he was ever kind to her, then insulting her beauty and honesty, then, as if that were not enough, demanding she go to a nunnery. This command is seen by some as a statement that is made by Hamlet due to his belief that no man is good enough for her, and only God can truly treat her as she deserves to be treated. However, if this were true, Hamlet probably would not have said so in such an impolite and malicious manner. Not only would Hamlet have been kinder in saying such easily offending words, but also he probably would not have sent out the love letter described above at all. This is because of Hamlet’s obvious planning seen when he decides not to kill Claudius in the end of act three, scene three due to what he believed would not be a true revenge. Therefore, because of the reason Hamlet sent the love letter and because he wrote adieu in it, represents his giving up on his love for Ophelia and his realization that this deep and dangerous emotion will never be returned. Unfortunately, his pitiless and vicious remarks, which are later shot at Ophelia, are also a result to his anger at her sudden and seemingly illogical refusal of him.
This rejection is actually a result of what should be one of Ophelia's positive character traits, her obedience. Her obedience is displayed most obviously when she says, “I think nothing, my lord” (III, ii, 124). This feature is an extremely important and necessary trait in the eyes of...