Ophelia As Victim or Tragic Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

3.47-51). While Ophelia clearly is intelligent enough to take care of herself as well as offer her own rebuttals against the male characters' altogether creepy insistence on controlling her sexual life, she suppresses this intelligence and ability out of deference for her father. Thus, her eventual fall is inevitable and largely her own fault, because by allowing her relationship to her father to overshadow everything else, including her own thoughts and desires (revealed explicitly when she says "I do not know, my lord, what to think"), she sets herself up to be utterly devastated following her father's death (and abandonment by Hamlet) (1.3.104).

The circumstances surrounding Ophelia's death are somewhat murky, as they are only related second-hand via the Queen, and the reasons for Ophelia's madness are only ever truly "explained" by the king. Although Ophelia does state that she "cannot choose but weep" at the thought that her father will be buried, one may easily read this as Ophelia simply stating that the only socially acceptable action for her to take following her father's death is mourning, when in fact, based on the somewhat ribald nature of the songs she sings, she seems to be enjoying herself (4.5.69). The suggestion that her uncharacteristic behavior is due to mourning comes from the king, who of course would find the most patronizing explanation to reinforce the primacy and importance of men in order to explain Ophelia's behavior (4.5. 45, 75-76). Instead, if one considers Ophelia to be a tragic heroine in the traditional sense, one may read Polonius' death as both Ophelia's peripeteia and anagnorisis in one, because it is the moment in which Ophelia's tragic flaw renders her life somewhat worthless (at least in the context of the play, as she has placed all of her worth in her father's hands) and the same moment in which she realizes the folly of this flaw.

Her punishment, then, is to go mad and die, but even her death may ultimately be read as an act of defiance against the ruling powers of the play, because it does at least instigate the specific events which lead to everyone else's deaths. Thus, while Hamlet is often regarded as the story of the titular character's revenge against his usurping uncle, one may actually read it as Ophelia's revenge against everyone, as her death even manages to result in the return and subsequent killing of her hypocritical and condescending brother, alongside the patronizing king, the subservient queen, and the rabidly misogynistic Hamlet.

Although many readers are tempted to view Ophelia as simply an unwitting victim of the intrigues and betrayals of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, upon closer inspection one can see that she is clearly a tragic heroine in the Aristotelian sense, albeit one whose tragic flaw is rooted more in a devotion to the dominant power structure of the day than in hubris or pride. By placing all of her devotion and self-worth in her father, Ophelia sets herself up for disappointment, betrayal, and ultimately madness. She defers to her father out of an outmoded sense of paternal devotion, without ever questioning her clearly imbecilic father or his judgement. However, she does at least gain some understanding before the end, realizing the folly of her devotion to family and masculine rule such that she is able to kill herself and ultimately destroy the entire system of which she was formerly a part, facilitating the death of her brother, the royal court, and even the fall of Denmark itself.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet." Shakespeare Navigators.…

Sources Used in Document:

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet." Shakespeare Navigators. Web. 4 Aug 2011.


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