Without equivocation, in his play Hamlet, William Shakespeare explores the workings of the human spirit and how it responds to life challenges. More specifically, Hamlet focuses upon the struggles and conflicts with individuals, and the character Ophelia is certainly one burdened with conflict as she finds herself victimized by a patriarchal culture [a possible thesis]. From the introduction of this character until her death, Ophelia is objectified and dominated by men and rendered passive in her compulsory obedience [three points to discuss].
The argument based upon a thesis that Ophelia is a victim of a harsh patriarchal system by following the timeline of what transpires to her character:
- With her introduction into the play, Ophelia is objectified by her brother, who warns her against the advances of Hamlet, using language about her anatomy which reduces her to a sexual object that can be subjected to a "cankerworm" that will "deflower" her viginity, her only worthy possession (1.3.) since otherwise she is not worthy of a prince,
...you must fear
His greatness weighed, his will is not his own
and Hamlet may simply be "yielding of that body" and merely satisfying his lowest desires with her body.
- Shortly after this speech, their self-serving father enters and exerts his patriarchal authority, asking Ophelia what Hamlet has said to her. Ophelia says Hamlet has lately "made many tenders/Of affection to me" (1.3.99-100), but Polonius dismisses her perceptions,
Affection? Pooh! You speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you blieve his tenders, as you call them? (1.3.101-103)
Her confidence now shaken, Ophelia tells her father that she does not know what to think; so he dominates, "Marry, I will teach you. Think yourself a baby...." and he fills her mind with his own perceptions.
- Further, Polonius exploits his daughter to advance himself in the court, telling her to spy on Hamlet. "I shall obey, my lord. (1.4.10). So, in Act II, Ophelia subjects herself quietly to more verbal abuse as Hamlet, with ulterior motives, speaks disrespectfully in sexual innuendos to her, telling her to go to a "nunnery" (brothel). In her situation, Ophelia must not retaliate to Hamlet's cruel words about her character and that he did not love her; instead, she must pretend that she does not care in order to maintain her reputation as a lady.
- The power of suggestion from members of the patriarchal court exerts great power over the sensitive Ophelia as innuendos continue with Hamlet's sexually suggestive remarks to her during the play in Act III, and even create doubt in the reader: Did Ophelia actually have relations with Hamlet or just imagine herself as "deflowered"? In the end, the psychological damage to Ophelia effects the same results. For, some of the flowers which she gives away in her "mad scene" ("rue" and "wormwood") were used in abortion potions for centuries, indicating that poor Ophelia perceives herself as a tainted woman.
- Ophelia is, thus, destroyed by the culture of the patriarchal court of Denmark. In Act IV, Scene 5, singing bawdy songs, one of which is about a maiden who is tricked into losing her virginity and innocence because of false promise of marriage.
- Killed by loss of identity as a maiden, even in death she is objectified as her suicide is described as a passive act and a metaphor for Ophelia's life:
...her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death. (4.7.178-180)