Ophelia Essay, Research Paper
The Tragedy of Ophelia
A grieving widow is desolate. An African American slave is tortured. A concubine is mistreated. These three victims of circumstances that they could not control are pitied. So are there any foundations based on whether one should pity another? The Oxford Dictionary defines pity as the sorrow for another?s suffering or misfortune. In Shakespeare?s Hamlet, Ophelia rouses the pity of the audience because she is controlled, manipulated, abandoned, driven to insanity, which eventually leads to her atrocious death.
Ophelia was completely controlled, flagrantly used, and verbally abused by the dominant men in her life: Polonius, Laertes, and Hamlet. Laertes was blatantly unsympathetic towards her relationship with Hamlet. He gravely advised her to protect herself and to not take Hamlet?s display of affections as a promise of marriage. Polonius took a more forceful approach. He forbid Ophelia to see Hamlet again and also told her that she was foolish for thinking that Hamlet was sincerely in love with her: ?you speak like a green girl,? (Hamlet 1.3 101). Hamlet treated Ophelia like a possesion and made several inappropriate sexual remarks towards her. ?Lady, shall I lie in your lap?? (Hamlet 3.2 114). He also verbally abused Ophelia with phrases that attacked her pride and dignity. ?Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (Hamlet 3.1 121-122). He also accused her of living a fa?ade. ?I have heard of your paintings too?and make your wantonness your ignorance.? (Hamlet 3.1 144-148). During the Medieval times, the hierarchy was ?man over woman?. Therefore, the three men spoke down to her. She was the pawn in every relationship.
She lacked independence and the self-confidence to think for herself. ?I do not know, my lord, what I should think.? (Hamlet 1.3. 104). In this segment, she reponded to Polonius as an innocent maiden lost in utter confusion. ?I think nothing, my lord.? (Hamlet 3.2 119). She was raised to do what she was told and to let others make decisions for her.
She was abandoned by all of those who controlled her: Hamlet rejected her, Polonius died, and Laertes left to France. She was left in solitary confinement. She had no one else to tell her what to think, or what to do.
Her loneliness and absolute indecision forced her through the threshold of insanity. People of the court thought that Ophelia was mad because of Hamlet?s rejection and Polonius? death. Furthermore, she sang songs and pranced around. The subject of her songs alternated between her father?s death and the romance between her and Hamlet.
Discretion caused her madness because she didn?t know how to live life without a controller.
Whether or not Ophelia commited suicide is a controversial issue. According to Gertrude?s dialogue, ?Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,/Pull?d the poor wretch from her melodious lay/To muddy death.? (Hamlet 4.6 181-183). She says that Ophelia fell into the brook, bobbed up and down until her skirt was drenched in water and while she sang songs, her drenched skirt pulled her down, and she drowned. She appeared to not know that she was in danger. What is questionable is why nobody tried to save her and why the person who told Gertrude was very detailed in recounting the events. Therefore, it is contentious to say that Ophelia commited suicide. To kill yourself means that you are making a decision and obviously Ophelia could not make decisions for herself. It is also contentious to say that Ophelia was murdered. She had no apparent enemies and therefore there was no motive. Nevertheless, when Ophelia became free from her controllers, she could take care of herself which lead to her inevitable death.
As a young woman, she was robbed of her innocence, as a submissive daughter, she was mistreated, and as one of Shakespeare?s most tragic characters, she was pitied. Ophelia was a tragic figure because she never lived a life of freedom. She never reached her highest potential as a person. Instead she dies without even a proper burial, is mourned by only a few, and is more or less forgotten.