Ophelia's Role In Hamlet Essay

Superior Essays
In the Shakespearean play “Hamlet”, the character Ophelia is viewed and treated in different ways by her lover, Hamlet, and the authoritative figures in her life, Polonius and Laertes. Society 's expectations of a young woman at the time and the treatment she receives from the male characters of the play are the factors that influence her submissive and obedient character.
Ophelia is forced, because of an oppressive society and a "traditional" family structure, to repress her own opinions, be unconditionally obedient and behave as a woman in her society is expected to behave. Family structure is a crucial factor to observe, especially because of how women were viewed and treated inside a family environment. Dreher expands on this idea by examining
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Their obsession with female chastity and the accompanying double standard reflect the patriarchal concern for legitimate issue, the demand that young women be presented as chasted vessels by their fathers to future husbands, sacrificing personal identity to their function as child-bearers. (Dreher 78)
Ophelia has to follow a designated role which she did not choose for herself, because of society 's demand that all young women should be denied of having personal opinions and making decisions in favor of her being kept "pure" for a future husband. In the play, this is clearly seen in a couple of scenes, however it is most notable when Laertes and Polonius talk to Ophelia about her relationship with Hamlet. The lines, spoken by Ophelia, "I do not know, my lord, what I should think." (1.3.591) and "I shall obey, my lord." (1.3.623), demonstrate her dutiful character and obedience towards the authoritative figures in her life. Ophelia is in a position where she must put aside her own desires and opinions in order to please others and be "correct" in the eyes of her society. Diane Dreher states that her
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Ophelia is used, much like a piece in a game and especially by Hamlet, for a number of hidden motives and plots. Linda Welshimer explains: "When it is convenient for Hamlet to assume madness, his motivation is the lost love. This he emphasizes in the scene in Ophelia 's room, a visit at least partly contrived." (Welshimer 95) Hamlet has the intention of pretending to be insane in order to effectively execute his vengeful plan against Claudius and Gertrude. Hamlet decides to use Ophelia, making her believe that he is madly in love with her, so that he can more perfectly implement his plan. "These scenes give him a perfect explanation for his madness, and supposedly keep Claudius from alarm." (Welshimer 95) More of this is seen, notably when Hamlet is with Ophelia and watching the performance that will reveal if Claudius is guilty of his father 's murder or not. "When Hamlet is near Ophelia during the player 's ' performance, his attitude changes significantly. Obviously, his attention is on Claudius ' reaction to the play; yet, he must, as a love-maddened wretch, pay court to-or insult-Ophelia." (Welshimer 95) All these actions towards Ophelia contribute to her character, forcing her deeper into the hole of submission and making her less and less her own person, but

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