Hamlet’s Ophelia Explained Essay

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Hamlet’s Ophelia Explained

Who is Ophelia psychologically, morally, mentally, physically in Shakespeare’s dramatic tragedy Hamlet? Is she a lackey of her father Polonius? Is she a true girlfriend to the protagonist? These and other questions regarding this victim-heroine will be answered here.

In her essay, “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging,” Ruth Nevo explains how Ophelia’s treatment of Hamlet causes a negative reaction within the hero:

Whereas it is precisely his total inability to know her [Ophelia], or for that matter himself, that the scene, in this theatrically simpler view, would allow us to perceive as the center of his anguish. He is tormented precisely by doubts, not by confirmations.
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Ophelia agrees to abide by the advice: “I shall the effect of this good lesson keep as watchman to my heart.” Rebecca West determinedly, and perhaps unfoundedly, attacks the virginity of Ophelia:

There is no more bizarre aspect of the misreading of Hamlet’s character than the assumption that his relations with Ophelia were innocent and that Ophelia was a correct and timid virgin of exquisite sensibilities. . . . She was not a chaste young woman. That is shown by her tolerance of Hamlet’s obscene conversations, which cannot be explained as consistent with the custom of the time. If that were the reason for it, all the men and women in Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedict, Miranda and Ferdinand, Antony and Cleopatra, would have talked obscenely together, which is not the case (107).

West’s interpretation of Ophelia’s character is not a consensus feeling among critics, so her innocence is challenged but not overturned. After Laertes’ departure, Polonius inquires of Ophelia concerning the “private time” which Hamlet spends with her. He dismisses Hamlet’s overtures as “Affection, puh!” Polonius considers Ophelia a “green girl,” incapable of recognizing true love: “These blazes . . . you must not take for

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