Why does Ophelia rouse the pity of the audience?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that an appropriate starting point would be why wouldn't she be pitied.  She is the one character in the drama that no one could really fault.  There is little way one can blame her for all that she has endured and all that she was forced to endure.  She is pitted between the scheming of her father and the irrationality of Hamlet.  Her father, who should be validating her own experience and her own predicament, ends up treating her as a means to an end, as opposed to an end in ofitself.  At the same time, she must endure Hamlet's treatment.  If there is question about Hamlet's cruelty, it is confirmed when the reader examines how he treats Ophelia.  The idea of not only denying his love for her, but also suggesting that she was crazy to believe so is part of his cruelty.  At the same time, Ophelia's voice is never really validated and authenticated by anyone.  Her madness and eventual suicide is a critical point in that it reflects the danger of silencing voices.  It is for this reason that Ophelia arouses pity in the audience.  One can only feel a certain hollowness or emptiness at recognizing Ophelia's pathetic state.

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