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Ophelia Character Analysis Essay

Ophelia: Better Off in a Nunnery
Hana Travers-Smith

Various characters in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet exhibit aspects of an “outsider”. The obvious choices being Claudius and Hamlet. Claudius appears to be freed from moral restrictions, while Hamlet represents the stereotypical isolated intellectual. However, both of them pale in comparison to the true outsider in the play: Ophelia. Both Claudius and Hamlet are too respected and entangled in the lives of others to be considered the ultimate estranged outsider. Ophelia on the other hand, is constantly pushed to the periphery, despite her significant relationships with many of the main characters. She is also unable to comply with the restrictive and conflicting expectations placed upon her….

The dismissive behaviour of Polonius and Laertes dehumanizes Ophelia and keeps her separated from the decision making “adults”. In one instance, Polonius instructs her to “think [herself] a baby”. In her interactions with these characters, Ophelia’s opinion is not asked for or valued she is largely cast aside or used as a tool. In Ophelia’s first appearance she is constantly reminded by Polonius and Laertes of the “danger of desire”, Laertes advises her that he “best safety lies in fear”. (Act I, Scene III). It is made clear early on that Ophelia is being taught to fear relationships, leading to long term isolation. These repressed emotions may relate to her fixation on desire during her madness. Polonius also dismisses Ophelia’s opinions on Hamlet’s behaviour saying, ”Affection? Pooh! you speak like a green girl”. Throughout all of Ophelia’s interactions with her father she maintains formal titles and language, referring to Polonius as “my lord”. By submitting to the perception of her inferiority Ophelia alienates herself from others. Even before her becoming insane, Ophelia is marginalized and removed from others, a the true outsider within…

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