Essay on Interpreting Hamlet’s Ophelia

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Interpreting Hamlet’s Ophelia

Was Ophelia in love with Hamlet, or did she have more feeling for her father than for her boyfriend? In Shakespeare’s Hamlet was Ophelia’s madness contributed to by the prince’s rejection of her? The answers to these and other questions about this tragic figure will be given.

Rebecca West in “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption” argues that Ophelia has no love for Hamlet, but only for her father:

For the myth which has been built round Hamlet is never more perverse than when it pretends that Ophelia went mad for love and killed herself. No line in the play suggests that she felt either passion or affection for Hamlet. She never mentions him in the mad scene, and Horatio says of
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. . . She was not a chaste young woman. That is shown by her tolerance of Hamlet’s obscene conversations, which cannot be explained as consistent with the custom of the time. If that were the reason for it, all the men and women in Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedict, Miranda and Ferdinand, Antony and Cleopatra, would have talked obscenely together, which is not the case. (107)

West’s interpretation of Ophelia’s character is not a consensus feeling among critics, so her innocence is challenged but not overturned. After Laertes’ departure, Polonius inquires of Ophelia concerning the “private time” which Hamlet spends with her. He dismisses Hamlet’s overtures as “Affection, puh!” Polonius considers Ophelia a “green girl,” incapable of recognizing true love: “These blazes . . . you must not take for fire.” He gets her assurance that she will not talk with Hamlet anymore.

When the ghost talks privately to Hamlet, he learns not only about the murder of his father, but also about the unfaithfulness and adultery of his mother. Gertrude was seduced by “that

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