What is Ophelia's relationship with her father and brother like in Hamlet?

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On the surface, there does not at first appear to be anything abnormal or dysfunctional in Ophelia's relationships with her father and her brother. Both men are protective of her and concerned especially about her connection, whatever it may or may not be, with Hamlet . It is precisely...

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On the surface, there does not at first appear to be anything abnormal or dysfunctional in Ophelia's relationships with her father and her brother. Both men are protective of her and concerned especially about her connection, whatever it may or may not be, with Hamlet. It is precisely this concern which accelerates the negative developments in the plot and aids in propelling the action towards tragedy.

It is open to interpretation what effect Laertes's warnings to her about Hamlet, as he takes leave of her and Polonius in act 1, scene 3, ultimately have. Nor do we have any real way of determining what has already transpired between Ophelia and Hamlet by this point. In act 3, scene 1, when she tells him, "My lord, I have remembrances of yours / That I have longed to redeliver," we do not know if this is the precise thing that provokes his angry outburst, because he takes it as a sign that she is breaking off their relationship, as most men would think in such a situation. Or has the relationship already ended and she is merely confirming this by returning his gifts? At any rate, Laertes's telling her to stay away from Hamlet could not have helped in this matter, and arguably is a factor in Hamlet's estrangement from her.

Polonius, though similarly concerned about Ophelia's welfare, also appears, in his silly, meddlesome way, to be more interested in proving to Claudius that Hamlet's "madness" is due to his having been rejected by Ophelia than he is in protecting his daughter. Polonius deliberately sets up the encounter in which Hamlet goes ballistic at Ophelia, launching into his startling stream of abuse culminating in the "To a nunnery, go!", as a final condemnation of Ophelia—and, in some sense, women in general in Hamlet's mind. After this, Polonius seems satisfied with the outcome of the confrontation, in spite of Claudius's disbelief ("Love? His affections do not that way tend) and shows only muted concern for Ophelia after Hamlet has lambasted her cruelly. (Interestingly, in Branagh's film version, Polonius begins aggressively kissing Ophelia, ostensibly to comfort her, but more in the manner of one harboring incestuous feelings.) Since Polonius is not content to let matters rest, his spying behind the arras at the encounter between Hamlet and Gertrude is what brings everything to a head so far as Ophelia's fate is concerned. Hamlet stabs him to death, and this precipitates Ophelia's descent into madness and, finally, her suicide. In conclusion we can argue that though Laertes and Polonius are both "well meaning" in their own way towards her, their know-it-all attitudes, meddling, and attempts to manipulate Ophelia help to bring about her downfall, as well as their own.

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One of the most important scenes of the play toexplore Ophelia's relationship with her father and brother is Act I scene 3, as this scene features a conversation Ophelia has not only with Laertes but also with Polonius, both of them concerning Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship with him. It is clear from the warning that Laertes gives Ophelia, and her response to it, that Ophelia has a deep respect for Laertes that is built on love and a good relationship. Note how he counsels her to be very wary of Hamlet and of getting too close, as he warns her to "fear" the potential consequences of becoming sexually involved with him:

Fear it, Ophelia. Fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.
 
It is clear from what he says that the prime concern of Laertes is his sister's wellbeing, and this shows his love and care for her. Consider especially the way that he refers to Ophelia as "my dear sister," and urges her to keep away from Hamlet for her own good.
 
This is an attitude that is sharply contrasted with the way that Polonius acts towards his daughter. He demands to be told what she has been talking about with her brother, and then, instead of the gentle, caring advice that Laertes gives, tells her bluntly and openly that if she is not careful she will make both herself and him look like a fool:
 
Marry, I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby
That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly,
Or—not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus—you’ll tender me a fool.
 
From the phrasing it is obvious that Polonius is more concerned about his own reputation and standing than he is about what happens to his daughter, which is the complete opposite to the relationship that Laertes has with Ophelia. With one, the relationship is characterised by love and mutual self-regard, but with the other, it is characterised by a power imbalance, as Polonius only cares about Ophelia in relation to his own goals, ambitions, and standing.
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