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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ophelia functions in several different ways in Hamlet. She is a noblewoman, daughter of Polonius, sister to Laertes. She is also in love with Prince Hamlet, although his own love for her is open to interpretation. The first time we see Ophelia, she tells her brother that Hamlet has declared his love for her. However, his later actions of berating and mocking her suggest that his emotions are not so simple.

Ophelia herself is not so simple. She is used by nearly every man in the play for their own motives, with nary a thought for her own desires. Laertes and Polonius both attempt to control her relationship with Hamlet, which may lead to his vehement outburst later in the play. Polonius and Claudius use her as bait, to try & catch Hamlet in a moment of madness. Hamlet uses her to demonstrate his false madness to others. In the midst of all this manipulation, it may seem that Ophelia would lose her sense of self. Yet she warns Laertes to follow his own advice, & remain pure, which shows that she is not a flat character. Instead, she makes the best of her role in the male-dominated society of Denmark. However, pressures from all sides, including the death of her father at the hands of her lover, drive Ophelia to the point of madness. She drowns herself, unable to cope with her place in society any longer.