The Tragic Figure Of Shakespeares Ophelia English Literature Essay

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Shakespeare has presented Ophelia as the prominent female in the play. This maybe because she has a very close relationship with Hamlet. Also, there seems to be two different sides to her. This is a happy lively side and a dark sinister point which becomes more dominant later in the play. Ophelia is Polonius' daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love. Ophelia is a sweet and innocent girl, who obeys her father and her brother (Laertes). She has the potential to become a tragic heroine, to overcome the adversities inflicted upon her, but instead, she crumbles into insanity, becoming merely tragic. The reason why she has the potential to become a tragic heroine is because of the fact that she is innocent and hasn't done anything wrong, yet so much happens to her and is portrayed as a tragic figure. Ophelia is a character who has been viewed differently by audiences from different ages. A modern audience would view her as weak and timid in comparison to today's women. She obeys the males and fulfils what she believes to be her duty. A Victorian audience would view her as an ideal woman; they would see her as idealistic, beautiful and would see her as a role model. Ophelia has the "perfect life"; she has a safe home in the walls of Elsinore Castle and is cared for greatly by others.

The extent to which Hamlet feels betrayed by Gertrude is far more apparent with the addition of Ophelia to the play. Hamlet's feelings of rage against his mother can be directed toward Ophelia, who is, in his estimation, hiding her base nature behind an appearance of perfection. Ophelia is portrayed as distressed throughout the play by Hamlet's treatment of her. Hamlet says he loves her but she must remember that a prince is not like ordinary men. Princes can choose wives for themselves, so she must be careful to protect her good name - and her virginity. When Laertes leaves for Paris, Polonius turns his attention to his daughter, and lectures her about her friendship with Hamlet. He is afraid that Hamlet will seduce his daughter and orders her to end her friendship with him. She decides to obey her father's orders and is reluctant to see him. She comes to find her father after Hamlet had badly frightened her. She describes how he came into her private room, only half dressed. His doublet was not buttoned, and his stockings were loose around his ankles, he did not say anything meaning he was very upset. When Ophelia explains this to her father, he decides that Hamlet is mad with love for Ophelia. The decision is helped by the fact he has found out that Ophelia has been refusing to see the Prince or to even receive his letters. From this, Ophelia will be confused because one minute she is forbidden to see Hamlet and the next her father allows it.

In Act Three Scene One, Ophelia hands back to him the little presents that he had given her in the past. Hamlet gets angered by this, and lets loose on Ophelia all the bitterness he has been feeling since his mother's marriage to Claudius. He then begins to suspect Ophelia too, and seems conscious that there are unseen listeners to their conversation. In this apparent madness, he drops a veiled threat: "I say we will have no more marriage. Those that are married already - all but one - shall live". His departure with a final result leaves Ophelia terribly upset and quite convinced of his madness. Hamlet's madness seemed to have had an effect upon Ophelia, because Hamlet is taking all his anger out on her, which seems to be unfair because she has no involvement, and is innocent. This makes Ophelia a tragic figure because Hamlet is putting all his anger on her, which makes Ophelia upset, which shouldn't be the case because she shouldn't be the victim throughout any of this.

Another reason why Ophelia can be seen as a tragic figure is because her father, Polonius was killed by Hamlet accidentally. Ophelia becomes mad with grief. Her father has been murdered by the man she is in love with. Ophelia was never actually told the real truth of how her father died. She was just told that father died graciously. Because Polonius was Prime Minister, he was entitled to a big state funeral with religious rites and ceremonies, and his grave was supposed to have a monument and statues, but none of this happens. Instead, he is dumped into a hole in the castle yard with nothing to protect it. The only person who attends his funeral is his daughter Ophelia. Laertes wasn't there because he is in Paris studying. Ophelia writes a letter to Laertes to tell him the disgraceful news, which she is saddened about. When Laertes finally receives the letter, he returns in secret to Denmark. He raises an army and intends deposing the King for lack of ceremony in burying his father.

Ophelia is driven to madness and the result of this is her committing suicide. Ophelia is portrayed as a childish and naïve girl. Her frailty and innocence work against her, as she cannot cope with the unfolding of one traumatic event after another. Hamlet causes all her emotional pain throughout the play, and when his hate is responsible for her father's death, she has endured all that she is capable of enduring and goes insane. But even in her insanity she symbolizes, to everyone but Hamlet, in corruption and virtue. The vulgar songs that she sings in front of Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius are sombre reminders that the corrupt world has taken its toll on the pure Ophelia. They show us that only in her insanity does she live up to Hamlet's false perception of her as a lascivious woman. In modern society, young women like Ophelia often become depressed or anorexic as a result of the conflicting demands; Ophelia's desperation literally drives her crazy, and she has no means with which to heal herself.

When Ophelia goes completely mad and has loses all control over her mind, she begins singing songs to herself that don't really make sense to anyone. "He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone…" (IV.V.29-30). The King now feels pity for her because she has lost so much, "O! This is the poison of deep grief; it springs all from her father's death."  (IV.V.75-6).  It becomes clear now, when she sings the song about a maid on St. Valentine's day, that the way Hamlet treated her was a great contribution to her insanity.  In this song she says "Quoth she, before you tumbled me, you promis'd me to wed" (IV.V.62-3) You can tell by the words she sings that she is upset because Hamlet slept with her during their relationship and had promised her they'd get married.  These are now the final stages of Ophelia's madness.  When Laertes comes to visit he is greatly confused by his sister's behaviour.  She does not talk to him now as herself; she sings and speaks of rosemary's and pansies, which are invisible to everyone else.  She says goodbye to her brother for the last time, leaving him filled with rage and grief.  A short while after, Ophelia is found dead in a river, having drowned that afternoon.  Some believe her death was suicide and some assume that it was an accident.  Unlike the other characters in the play, Ophelia died from loving too much, being too innocent, and too pure.  She died because of her virtues, while others perished because of their faults.  She did nothing wrong, but so many wrongs were dealt to her. Therefore, it was these factors, especially the loss of her father, which caused her to become mad and seen as a tragic figure.