Is Ophelia a victim in Hamlet?

Ophelia is a victim of circumstance, of Hamlet's revenge, and of the plots that abound within the Danish court.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial