Is Ophelia a victim in Hamlet?

In Hamlet, Ophelia is a victim. She has little control over her circumstances and is constantly abused, manipulated, neglected, and taken advantage of by the men surrounding her.

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In the tragic story of Hamlet, there are many victims. Some are victims of their own poor choices and others of circumstances beyond their control. Ophelia is most certainly a victim due to forces beyond her control.

Ophelia appears to be a good, honest, and sincere person, one of the few such characters in this play. She dutifully consents to her father's command to stop seeing Hamlet. She even allows Polonius to use her as bait in order to gather information on Hamlet. Throughout the story, Ophelia is obedient to the will of men who, with the possible exception of Laertes, see her as a means to an end—someone useful. No one shows any real concern for Ophelia's feelings and well-being. Even Laertes seems disinterested in what could really be driving his sister mad.

When Hamlet verbally abuses Ophelia in act 3, scene 1, Ophelia is helpless to defend herself. Ophelia also receives derisive insults and disparaging innuendo from nearly everyone else, including Laertes, Polonius, and Claudius. She has been brought up to be timid and meek. As a result, she internalizes this abuse without fighting back. She has no confidants or anyone truly on her side.

This isolation and abuse lead Ophelia into madness and eventually to her suicide. Yet, even this is presented as passive. According to Gertrude, Ophelia did not so much kill herself as prevent herself from drowning. As a powerless victim of circumstances, we can confidently call Ophelia a victim.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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In Hamlet, there can be little doubt that Ophelia is a victim. Even an audience which takes the harshest possible view of her conduct, as Hamlet himself does, and thinks that she is deceitful and cynical in her desire to entrap a prince, can scarcely believe that she deserves insanity and a watery grave. Most audiences, however, will be more sympathetic to Ophelia's plight than Hamlet is and feel that he treats her with a hostility and suspicion she has done nothing to deserve. Her madness finally appears to prove her sincerity and her deep distress at the change she finds in Hamlet.

It is Ophelia's misfortune to be surrounded by intrigue and insincerity in a corrupt court. Polonius and Claudius are all too eager to take cynical advantage of Hamlet's supposed love for her and hers for him. Polonius may love her in his own way, but he sees her primarily as a valuable possession and a means of advancement. Laertes is more sincere and straightforward and is quick to defend his sister's honor, but he does not attempt to understand her or listen to her. Ophelia is left helpless and alone, the victim of circumstance and her own innocence, as well as the malice of those around her.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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