Immortal Ophelia

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.

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2 thoughts on “Immortal Ophelia

  1. karissakeir

    I agree that Ophelia has certainly stood the test of time, and as far as general culture goes, I think she is more well known, talked about, and popularly portrayed than Gertrude is. One of the greatest reasons for that might be because there is so much controversy surrounding Ophelia. On the one hand, she is a very passive figure, and I think she often receives a lot of criticism for being a stereotypical female character. On the other hand, however, I think she is a very admirable character. She seems like a sweet, gentle person, and she clearly loves her family and Hamlet very dearly. She even has a soft wit as she teases Laertes in turn after his lengthy behests (1.3.45—51), and banters along with Hamlet in 3.2. Her death is also very interesting, as its cause is somewhat ambiguous. She dies by drowning, but that death is a sort of combination accident, suicide, and murder. Ophelia’s end and the events of her life may be pathetic, but I think Shakespeare includes enough so that we know Ophelia herself is not.

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  2. anikakrempl

    I agree with both annaleasully and with karissakeir. I am confused why Ophelia is one of the most well-known leading ladies of Shakespeare’s, but I can see how sweet and sincere she truly is. But why her? It may be the feminism side of me, but I feel that someone like Viola from Twelfth Night deserves immortality more, as she is both a sweet, sincere character, as well as strong and spunky. Ophelia did bring up feelings of empathy, with her madness and death, but I still am surprised at her fame.

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