Characterization of Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Ophelia’s situation in Shakespeare’s Hamlet not only invokes pity in the reader but also provides an example of the nature of men and women and accentuates Hamlet’s tragic flaws. Shakespeare so beautifully links the female with the liquid, insanity, and frailty through this character that we often fail to realize the underlying message he intended for us. Ophelia’s mistreatment by the various men in her life drove her to insanity, and eventually to her symbolic death.

Ophelia had little self-esteem to begin with. When Laertes confronts her about her relationship with the prince Hamlet, she simply complies. He does not try to be sensitive when he tells Ophelia that Hamlet’s love is “a fashion and a toy in blood, a violet in…nature, forward, not permanent, sweet, [and] not lasting” (1.3.7-9). Laertes, however, is the least of the harmful influences the male sex has on Ophelia. Ophelia’s father Polonius is incredibly unkind, insensitive, and disrespectful of his daughter. Polonius does not credit Ophelia with enough common sense to be able to judge anything on her own. He cruelly twists her words and tells her she should consider herself a baby. His mistreatment of his daughter permanently forges an emotional barrier between...

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