Discuss the character of Ophelia. Would you agree that she is pathetic rather than tragic?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would see Ophelia as a very sad character.  One feels so bad for her predicament in the play that there is little else one can say.  She is a pathetic character because of the lack of control she has over her life and her feelings.  To some extent, tragic characters at least are able to have some level of autonomy over their lives, and through their own actions, the seeds of their destruction are sown.  Ophelia lacked even this.  From the opening scene, where she seeks counsel or even merely speaks of Hamlet's love, Laertes seeks to guide her actions and this is added by her father, who seeks to control them.  For his own part, Hamlet is tormented, but even he is able to exercise a level of cruelty on Ophelia, who essentially becomes the target of his abuses.  His constant vacillations between love and hurt cause her to move into an emotionally unstable real, with the death of her father, pushing her into madness.  Of the characters in the play, Ophelia lacks a "true voice," so that in the final analysis, one is left seeing a character that is almost the shell of one; the abuses of others have left their mark on Ophelia.  The constant scrutiny, manipulation, and cruelty she receives makes her life so very pathetic.