Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
OPHELIA S ROLE IN THE DOWNFALL OF HAMLET
In Shakespeare s Hamlet, Hamlet can be viewed as a character having two very opposing personalities: there is the intellectual Hamlet, school[ed] in Wittenberg, gentle and loving (I.ii.117); yet, there is also the cruel Hamlet, who murders Polonius and plans to avenge Claudius, along with having bloody thoughts (IV.iv. 69). Many factors contribute to this character duality, ranging from the death (or, rather murder) of his father to the rejection by Ophelia. However many factors, or, whether it is completely fate, Hamlet is a tragic hero that is doomed to destruction. Throughout the play, we see that Ophelia has an important role in his life, greatly contributing to the downfall of Hamlet.
Hamlet loves Ophelia and has made many tenders / Of his affection to [her] (I.iii.108-09). He [has] importuned [her] with love / In an honorable fashion (I.iii.119-120). Ophelia, however, does not know how to react nor what [to] think of Hamlet s intentions (I.iii.1130). It appears as though Hamlet is quite serious in his love for her, as he [has] given countenance to his speech / With almost all the holy vows if heaven (I.iii.122-23). Polonius is skeptical about Hamlet s affection for his daughter and tells her not [to] believe his vows, for they are brokers (I.iii.136). He further warns her that Hamlet is young, and [has] a larger tether, meaning he has more freedom and not knowing completely what he wants (I.iii.134). Polonius instructs Ophelia to set [her] entreatments at a higher rate / Than a command to a parle (I.iii.131-32). In other words, he is somewhat ordering Ophelia to restrain herself from Hamlet and to ignore him. An obedient daughter, she agrees to her father s request.
The fact that that Ophelia does ignore Hamlet ultimately has a significant effect on him. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet is disgusted with his mother s incestuous (I.ii.162) marriage and the wicked speed with which it was done (I.ii.161). He calls out against Gertrude when he believes that frailty [is the] woman[ s] name (I.ii.150). His affection for Ophelia, however, restores his spirit and his disillusionment of women. But when Ophelia starts to ignore him, he feels betrayed and dishonored (similar to his father when Gertrude remarried). He must know the reason for Ophelia s behavior and thus forces his way into her room (while she was sewing). Looking for a sign of truth in Ophelia ( he falls to such pursual of [her] face (II.i.102.)) to restore his love and faith in her, and through her, womankind, he views her responses to him as a sign of guilt. Distraught even more so, he now truly believes that frailty [is the] woman[ s] name (I.ii.150).
It becomes more evident that Ophelia is very similar to Gertrude with only one difference: they are at different stages in their life. Both women are attractive, simpleminded, and easily shaped by others opinions. In fact, Ophelia is still under the heavy influence of her father; she also has no mind of herself to recognize the pain and suffering she has caused Hamlet. And although Polonius admits he is wrong in telling Ophelia to ignore Hamlet (and also that he was incorrect in judging Hamlet s love), Ophelia still does not question his decision to reveal the love letters to Claudius and Gertrude. In addition, this idea that Ophelia is easily shaped by other s opinions is salient in that she still accepts her father, despite the hindrance and rejection (of Ophelia by Hamlet) he caused.
It is believed, especially by Polonius, that Hamlet s madness is due to his love for Ophelia. This leads to a plan to listen in on Hamlet and Ophelia. All goes well when Ophelia attempts to blame Hamlet for rejecting her. Hamlet unleashes a vicious attack on Ophelia and tells her to [go to] a nunnery (III.i.140) and that [he] did love [her] once but not anymore (III.i.125). Once again Hamlet reflects back on women and views them with contempt. He has lost his faith in women, as he continues to see the similarities between Gertrude and Ophelia and womankind, and calls for no more marriage (III.i.160). The situation proves to be extremely significant in that it does in fact convince others that Hamlet is mad. At this point in the novel, Hamlet admits that this crisis [has] made him mad and Claudius is worried about Hamlet s lunacy and wants him shipped to Europe (III.i.159).
It is now a mystery whether or not Hamlet is truly crazy. Indeed, it is arguable that Hamlet is, especially because of his recent problems with Ophelia. As stated before, it [has] made him mad and the effects have proved to be detrimental (one example includes how Hamlet must be shipped to England) (III.i.159).
As time progresses, Hamlet inadvertently murders Polonius, which in turn destroys Ophelia and turns her into a state of insanity. However, it is important to realize the principle difference between Ophelia and Hamlet: Ophelia cannot cope with the insanity while Hamlet can. A parallel situation has been created; that is, both Hamlet and Ophelia have lost a father and have been betrayed by a loved one. Hamlet, able to maintain control and overcome the temptation of suicide, carries through with his plan. Ophelia, on the other hand, a weaker spirit, distraught over the loss of her lover, father, and brother, succumbs to the temptation of suicide (it is my belief, based on evidence from the text, that she committed this act; however, because this is a paper within itself, I need not further explain). Note also that a bit of irony has occurred: just as stated earlier, where Ophelia cannot understand nor experience the pain Hamlet suffered, she is now repaid with the same tragedies.
In short, there are aspects of Hamlet that fall into many themes. While feigning madness, Hamlet truly becomes insane to some degree, primarily a result of Ophelia s reactions toward Hamlet. This greatly effects Hamlet, especially in such a way that he comes to denounce womankind, sex, and marriage. This betrayal proves to be detrimental to Hamlet and contributes to his ultimate downfall and destruction.