How do the plot elements relate to Ophelia?

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Ophelia may be a minor character, but her relationship with Hamlet does serve a couple of purposes in the play. First of all it shows a glimpse of what Hamlet might have been like before the death of his father and his mother's remarriage. Ophelia speaks very highly of him to her father and claims that he is an honest suitor who claims to love her and has "made almost all the holy vows of heaven" to her. Unfortunately, Ophelia is drawn into her father's scheme to use her in an attempt to figure out why Hamlet is crazy, and once Hamlet realizes that he can't trust her, he verbally abuses her in attempt to leave Polonius and Claudius guessing what exactly is going on with him. Ophelia is devastated and heartbroken at the way he speaks to her in the "get thee to a nunnery scene" and mourns his loss of mind, remarking that while he once made beautiful sense, now his mind is like "sweet bells, but jangled out of tune." Ophelia is an unfortunate victim of Hamlet's bigger problems. Once Hamlet accidentally kills her father, she reaches her breaking point and literally loses her mind. She serves here as a kind of foil to Hamlet who is only pretending to be crazy. Hamlet has talked about suicide, but doesn't actually ever come close to following through, but Ophelia is so crazy that she hardly seems to know what is happening and does nothing to save herself from drowning. When Hamlet sees her dead body at her funeral is confronted in a very stark way with the reality of death -- a reality he has struggled with the whole play.

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