In "Hamlet", how does Ophelia portray examples of illusion vs reality?

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luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ophelia is young and naive.  She is told by her father, Polonius, to avoid Hamlet and to cut off her relationship with him.  When she tries to return letters he has sent her in Act 3, sc. 1, Hamlet says he did not send those to her.  She is confused because she sees only the reality of the issue: Hamlet did send the letters.  She doesn't see the inference that Hamlet is making that if she doesn't want them and if she spurns him, then the love letters no longer figuratively exist since the love no longer exists.  Ophelia can only see the reality.  She is completely confused by Hamlet's following words to her in that scene and she gets none of the double meaning in the words.  Later, in Act 3, sc. 2, when Hamlet again is speaking with much hidden meaning, puns, and double entendres, Ophelia takes everything literally such as when Hamlet says it's been 2 hours since his father died and she corrects him telling him it's been 4 months.  Ophelia completely loses her grasp on reality when she goes mad after her father's death and before her own death after Act 4. sc. 5.  In that scene, she sings snippets of songs and hands out herbs and flowers.  The songs have hidden meaning as do the flowers and herbs.  Unintentionally, she is hiding meaning and reality behind illusion.