The character of Ophelia from Hamlet has been interpreted in widely different ways: from virginal, pathetically innocent victim to a spirited, sexually experienced lady. Modern audiences can see this character as closer to the latter possibility, but it is nevertheless clear that she is a loyal and obedient to her family, almost to the point of subservience.
The first time Ophelia speaks and is spoken of in the play, it is clearly shown that she is a devoted sister and daughter. When entreated by her brother Laertes to write to him while he is away she responds: “Do you doubt that [I will]?” (Ac.I, Sc.3, L.5) and after he then goes on to lecture her at length not to trust Hamlet and to keep herself pure she resolves “I shall th’effect of this good lesson keep / As watchman to my heart.” (Ac.I, Sc.3, Ll.45,46). Ophelia’s clear agreement to take on this advice is confirmed when she says that it is “…in [her] memory locked…” (Ac. I, Sc.3, L.85) and she also demonstrates this familial loyalty to her father.
After a heated exchange with her father Polonius in which she is told again – with even greater vehemence – to disregard Hamlet and not to see him, she obeys: “as you did command, / I did repel his letters, and denied / His access to me.” (Ac.II, Sc.1, Ll.106-108). Ophelia’s loyalty to her father is given its greatest test when Hamlet suspiciously asks her where her father is in Act III, Scene 1 (she knows that Polonius and Claudius are nearby spying at that moment). She puts her loyalty to her father above that to Hamlet and lies, saying that her father is “At home my lord.” It is clear she, rightly or wrongly, loves her father. His death seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and causes her insanity, both because of her loss and her feelings of final betrayal by Hamlet. She speaks of these two things in her madness both off-stage and on (Ac.IV, Sc.5, Ll.4,23-36).
Despite this loyalty and obedience Ophelia clearly has some spirit; she...
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