Which character from Hamlet has a mind pulled in conflicting directions by two compelling desires, ambitions, obligations or influences?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hamlet, Ophelia is definitely drawn and quartered by men.  Her allegiances between father, brother, and lover are all called into question.  In the end, she has no identity left, for she had based it all on men.  When all men abandon her, she commits suicide.

First, Laertes digs in.  In Act I, he tells her:

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.

Laertes is full of double-standards and Oedipal jealousy.  He says that Princes like Hamlet are spoiled and that "The chariest maid is prodigal enough If she unmask her beauty to the moon. Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes."

Next, her father forbids her to see Hamlet.  He condescendingly treats her like a "baby":

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.

So, Ophelia is punished for being a woman and forbidden to see the man she loves.

Finally, Hamlet appears to Ophelia all disheveled in the "silent interview."  Ophelia says:

He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so;
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being: that done, he lets me go:
And, with his head over his shoulder turn'd,
He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;
For out o' doors he went without their helps,

And, to the last, bended their light on me.

This is Hamlet's "dress rehearsal" as "crazy Hamlet," and it troubles Ophelia, especially when he tells her to "doubt" that the stars are fire.  Hamlet knows the falseness of Denmark and his mother's marriage, and he uses Ophelia as his "whipping boy," punishing his mother through her.  Hamlet knows that whatever he tells Ophelia, she will relay it back to her father and the King and Queen.  Hamlet resents Ophelia's being used as a pawn.

Hamlet's most damning attack is also intended for his mother and all women.  He tells her:

Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a
breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.

Where's your father?

When she says "at home," Hamlet knows she is lying.  This act of betrayal severs her from him forever.  As a result, Ophelia starts to suffer a nervous breakdown.  After Hamlet kills her father, she loses all rationality, resulting in her suicide by drowning.