Who Is Ophelia?

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Ophelia is a primary female character in William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet." She plays the part of a tragic heroine because she follows orders rather than relying on her own passions and dreams, which eventually leads to horrible consequences. Filled with sorrow for betraying Hamlet and adding to his fury which causes him to accidentally kill her father, Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide. Ophelia's tragic flaw is that she struggles to find personal identity and doesn't trust her own better judgment.

A Vulnerable Young Woman

  • Ophelia is one of two notable female characters in "Hamlet." She's dutiful and often follows orders without considering the likely consequences. For example, Ophelia doesn't contest her brother's warnings not to let Hamlet seduce her. She also agrees to spy on Hamlet, according to her father's wishes, even though it jeopardizes her desire to have a romantic relationship with Hamlet. When Hamlet angrily denounces his love for her and belittles her reputation, she feels worthless and abandoned -- "And I, of ladies most deject and wretched that sucked the honey of his music vows..." Ophelia goes mad as she considers her lost love and grieves the death of her father. Eventually, she falls into a river and drowns herself.

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  • Photo Credit Claudio Divizia/Hemera/Getty Images
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