Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s best known works. Laden with revenge, murder, and power seekers, it is no surprise that this play has survived the test of time. This play is definitely Hamlet’s play—filled with long soliloquys that reveal Hamlet’s thoughts, fears, and general angst, the audience gets to know Hamlet on a very intimate level (more so than other tragic characters like Othello, for example). It certainly is all about this tragic Prince of Denmark, however, what I find interesting is the immortalization of Ophelia.
Before I had ever even read Hamlet, or ever really knew anything at all about the play, I knew about Ophelia. I knew that she is associated with purity, blooming sexuality, sadness, and death. I have seen many depictions of this sad young woman in art, and I come across allusions to Ophelia in poetry and other works of fiction all the time. Her fate is horrifically tragic and yet she has been romanticized by artists and poets alike. I cannot help but wonder, “Why is Ophelia everywhere?” she is one of the most depressing characters in literature. Ever.
Did Shakespeare know what he was doing with this girl? because, in the play Ophelia is obviously overshadowed. She serves as a love interest for Hamlet, but he taunts her. She is there to grieve for her father, but it is not like she would ever avenge his death—that is why she has a brother. And, when Hamlet is sent away to be executed in England, Ophelia is there to grieve for the loss of Hamlet along with the loss of her father. All this grieving becomes too much for her, therefore she is driven into true madness. With Hamlet and her father gone, Ophelia is very much alone. The only she is left to do is sing morbid songs and gather flowers before she drowns herself in the river. In death Ophelia is more useful to the plot. Her brother has two reasons now to kill Hamlet, and this entire play is all the more tragic.
However, tragic this character’s life may be, she too has survived the test of time. Despite the melancholy beauty that is Ophelia, she will live on outside of the confined world Shakespeare created for her.