Hamlet – Ophelia- “Discuss How the Construction of a Character Communicates the Attitudes and Values in Hamlet.”
Literature Essay- Discuss how the construction of a character communicates the attitudes and values in Hamlet. The ideas and attitudes towards women have changed very much during the recent times, in fact it is a very modern idea that a woman is free from the control of the men around her; that she is able to make her own decision about where to work, where to live, whom to marry or even to not marry at all. It is only recent that a woman is considered an equal to the males in the community, that women are strong enough to handle the stresses that a man has to go through.
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The construction of the character Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet reveals that she is nothing like the modern woman, instead her character construction communicates the attitudes and ideas held about women during the time of Hamlet; concepts such as the idea that women were weak or dependable, that they are easily to manipulated, excepted to be manipulated even, and the idea that a woman ultimately needs and at times desperately relies on the men that surround her, to Ophelia those men were mainly her father, her brother and her lover.
Women in the Elizabethan time were not considered as equals; in fact they were thought to be the exact opposite- the weaker of the two genders; mainly because of their uncontrollable emotions; the construction of Ophelia supports this attitude. One example of the weakness of Ophelia is her inability to stand up for herself; when Hamlet tells Ophelia to “Get thee to a nunnery” so as to not hurt anyone else, Ophelia does not stand up for herself, instead once he is gone she goes through a bout of self pity “And I of ladies most deject and wretched,”.
The fact that she does not defend herself gives the impression that she is not strong enough to do so- which is probably true. Ophelia is too weak to stand on her own two legs, instead she follows the people around her; however when her father, her primary guider, dies she has no idea what to do with herself anymore; and instead of picking up her life she calls on her brother to take over as her guidance, “My brother shall know of it, and so I thank you for your good counsel. Her need of direction and instruction supports the idea that she is an utterly weak dependable character that cannot even run her own life without the help of other people in her life. Another attitude that was held about women during the time of Hamlet is that because female gender were so weak and so unable to stand up on their own they were easy to manipulate, and some might go as far to say that they were made for man to use as was his will.
Ophelia is used on numerous occasions during Hamlet, the audience is obviously well aware of Ophelia’s feelings toward Hamlet when she tells Polonius “My lord he hath importuned me with love/ In honorable fashion” then however Polonius tells Ophelia to deny the prince, to “be something of scanter of your maiden presence. ” Because his promises are only to be broken, “Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers,” and he sees after Ophelia as only an object of lust, Hamlet’s promises are “mere implorations of unholy suits”.
And to all of this, against her own belief as she earlier said “He has my lord of late made many tenders/Of his affection to me”, but instead of standing up for those beliefs she lets herself be manipulated, and replies to her father “I shall obey, my lord. ” Another example of the manipulation of Ophelia is when she is sent to speak to Hamlet, but lets her father and the king spy on them as she does so. “Polonius: Ophelia you walk here. – Gracious, so please you,/ We will bestow ourselves. Again; even maybe against her own will Ophelia does not speak up, instead she lets the men in her life manipulate her into acting in a way she doesn’t want to act. We have been shown the depth of Ophelia’s love for Hamlet, so it does not make sense that she would be one to want to spy on him on her own initiative. The impression that we are left with is that women are incapable in denying a man his direct orders; the fact that Ophelia doesn’t even attempt to defy her father, or the king, even on something so important to her as Hamlet encourages the idea that women are there to be manipulated by their male counterpart.
For a very long time there has been the opinion that without a man, a woman is nothing- both legally and mentally she is nothing. A woman is far too emotional and weak to be able to live coherently on the Earth without the protection of her male counterpart. Again Ophelia definitely encourages this concept about woman in Hamlet. In scene one, when Ophelia’s father is warning her against Hamlet, to not let him use her, she replies doesn’t know what to think- instead letting her father tell her what to do; and in her case following his orders lead to much despair on her end. Polonius: Do you believe his tenders as you call them? / Ophelia: I do not know my lord what I should think. / Polonius: Marry I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby. ” On would think in the ways of love a woman would be much more capable of understanding, and therefore acting out in the most appropriate way; as love is an emotion and the female and emotions are usually put in the same box; however as it is Ophelia is so much the typical Shakespearian woman, so dependent on the men around her that she is unable to make her own decisions even when they concern her gender’s area of expertise.
Another example of Ophelia’s dependency on men is the fact that Ophelia goes mad when she loses the men in her life, particularly her father- the one who always told her what to do- encourages the idea that without her man a woman in incapable of living her life; especially how soon after going insane she commits suicide. Ophelia, when she goes mad even says it herself that without her father she feels lost, “I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. Violets are known to symbolize faithfulness and watchfulness- that is Ophelia felt great faith in her father that he watched over her. However with his death, the violets, his protection over her, died and she has no idea what to do with herself without him. As you can see the ideals of the modern female and the Shakespearian have a vast cavern between them; Ophelia is depicted as a weak, helpless, dependent and utterly manipulatable character that all in all has no control over her life.
This lack of strong-willness is her ultimate fatal weakness as the last we hear of the ‘sweet Ophelia’ is her going face down in a river. Hamlet’s approach towards women is an excellent inlet to explore the way that women were treated back in the Elizabethan times, and gathering from the evidence of Hamlet they were not the most sturdy of creatures, the polar opposite actually, instead they seemed to be the type of women who need to have their man around them at all times in order to survive the struggles of life.