The conflict between Ophelia and Hamlet character illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole.  Describe how.

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the key ideas in the play is that children pay the price of the wrongs committed by the previous generation.  The conflict between Ophelia and Hamlet highlights this idea. Because Gertrude so readily showed the brevity of woman's love, Hamlet finds it difficult to trust women, including Ophelia.  Because Polonius is concerned about his own political status, he is willing to sacrifice the well-being of his daughter.  He forbids Ophelia to see Hamlet and orders her to give him all correspondence she has had with Hamlet. And lastly, because Claudius murdered Hamlet's father, Hamlet is saddled with a mission of revenge that totally disrupts his life.  He is not allowed to return to Wittenburg; he must break off his relationship with Ophelia; he must commit an act that is against his conscience.

Indeed, what hope do the young ones have when the older ones have not only made messes of their lives but those of their children as well?

In her beautiful soliloquy, Ophelia recognizes the former potential of Hamlet:

O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!

The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword,

Te expectancy and rose of the fair state . . .

And, she realizes that her destiny is tied to his:

And I of ladies most deject and wretched,

That sucked the honey of his music vows . . .

With Ophelia having to engage in a set-up to spy on Hamlet and Hamlet having to fulfill his father's command to avenge his murder, the possibility for their relationship to develop is nil. What we see between the two are expressions of hopelessness and pain.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you can progress in a variety of ways with such a question.  In my mind, I would say that the fundamental premise in their relationship is that they both have feelings for one another.  It is quite apparent that both of them can commence a relationship.  There is a bond of affection present.  Yet, both do nothing to act upon it.  There is a great deal of hinting, intimating, and insinuating, but there is little decisive action with open dialogue and honest, transparent displays of heartfelt emotions.  The obscuring of these expressions end up giving way to hostility and frustration, intensified by miscommunication and misreading, leading to ultimate tragedy when loses her mind and then  drowns herself.  I see this as being representative of the dynamics of most of the characters in the play.  There are bonds of affection present, yet without the decisive step of honest and forthright action in the name of transparency and openness, disaster results.