Ophelia's Contribution in Hamlet
One thing critics of Hamlet can agree on is that Ophelia, though brief in appearance, enamored readers and audiences because of her cryptic death and her symbol of innocence in the play. Linda Wagner claims she "is pictured as the epitome of unsophistication and of purity" (Wagner 94). While the play mostly focuses on Hamlet and forces the reader to sympathize and view him as a misunderstood character, it practically brushes over Ophelia's struggle as unimportant. That is unfortunate since there are many aspects to Ophelia's characters that are worth being examined. In her five scenes of the play, Ophelia proves to be obedient and respectful to the men in her life, Hamlet, her brother, Laertes, and her father, Polonius. When Laertes gives her advice on her love life, she responds, "I shall the effect of this good lesson keep as watchmen to my heart", and then tells him to follow his own advice as well (Shakespeare 21). When Polonius forbids her from seeing Hamlet ever again, she does not rebel but obeys him. Critic Michael Shelden believes that the way she is treated by her father shows that "Ophelia is no more than a caged or leashed pet for Polonius to release at his discretion" (Shelden 357). She willfully accepts being used as the middleman to spy on Hamlet for Claudius and the Queen. She turns the other cheek when her father uses Hamlet's supposed love for her as an excuse to create importance for himself. Linda Wagner theorized that "to tie Hamlet to Ophelia was to tie the royal family to Polonius'" (Wagner 96).
There is the question of whether Ophelia's death was a suicide or accidental. She was denied a proper funeral because "her death was doubtful" and the Clowns say "she drown'd her selfe wittingly" in the beginning of Act V. While J. M. Nosworthy notes that "she fell into the brook, was incapable of saving herself, and was consequently drowned" (Nosworthy 1), in Carroll Camden's essay, "On Ophelia's Madness",...
Cited: Camden, Carroll. "On Ophelia 's Madness." Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2.
(Spring, 1964), pp
Nosworthy, J.M. "The Death of Ophelia." Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4.
(Autumn, 1964), pp
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Signet Classic, 1998.
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