Hamlet, a world-famous play by William Shakespeare, is a very dark and somber piece of work. With murders and lies almost seeming to be a common topic throughout the play, it would be an understatement to say only Hamlet was the true victim in this theatrical work. Characters like Horatio, who did not provoke anyone in any way however witnessed the fights between his once close friends, the insanity of his closest friend and the loss of his home, are just one of the characters that experienced such trauma.
However, one character is perceived to be the most victimized and hurt amongst all the others. Not a single word of slander from her mouth and a single act of wrongdoing from her once. Although she had not hurt a soul, she is mocked and belittled by her own father due to patriarchal constraints, Hamlet, someone she holds close manipulates and mentally deteriorates her into a critical mental health state, and her lack of emotional support due to everyone she relies on abandoning her leads her to her tragic death leaving Ophelia the true victim of this play.
Towards the beginning of the play, she is confronted by her father, Polonius, about her relationship with Hamlet. Polonius is advising her to stay away from Hamlet with his belief that Hamlet has no moral intentions with her. This assumption made by Polonius trumped any evident knowledge to Ophelia that Hamlet did in fact love her for who she was. Additionally, to maintain control over Ophelia, Polonius refers to her as a baby and to be told what to do for the rest of her life. “I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay, Which are not sterling.,” is what Polonius says to forbid and surveil Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet.
Polonius displays his patriarchal standards and dominant opinions on Ophelia by completely disregarding her opinions on the man she loves forcing to leave him against her own will. Comparing her to a baby, this is not only refraining Ophelia from being with Hamlet but also refraining her from making her own decisions at all whether it be relationship wise or everyday life decisions. This cancelling of her voice is a problem however, she receives this order from her own father which could only increase the mental damage to her exponentially.
Moreover, the influence of Polonius must be great over her, especially being her father, which will ruin her overall confidence towards common confrontations in life. This father figure of dominance and control could even act as a pressure of society leaving her defenseless and inadequate, making her a victim even in her own family and blocking her from choosing her path and her reality.
With further progression throughout the play, Ophelia obeys her father’s command to avoid Hamlet. However, Hamlet is deeply affected by this with an additional build-up from learning about Gertrude’s marriage with Claudius and the reason for it. Furthermore, Hamlet conducts conducting his plan to act like he is crazy subsequently leading to Hamlet visiting Ophelia in a rude and almost malicious manner. He channels his rage and hatred for his mother and lets it out on Ophelia in an odd way, shaking her and yelling at her. Hamlet tells her to go to a nunnery out of disrespect to Ophelia because he says her children will be wicked. Things like this are only a small portion of what Hamlet says to her. “Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? … Get thee to a nunnery… Go,” are the words of Hamlet terrifying and leaving Ophelia in shock.
Hamlet is someone she loves and cherishes deeply and for Hamlet to begin to act in such vulgar and cruel ways appalls her. As much as she stops talking to Hamlet, it is not in her control as she is being ordered to do so as stated previously. This is another example of external influences affecting one’s mental state and psyche. With Hamlet’s constant pressure of deceit and erratic actions and behaviors, Ophelia is left in shambles because this is someone, she is open to. This is someone she loves and cares for and for Hamlet to exploit her like this and mock her very existence leaves Ophelia in a fragile and vulnerable state, all while still doing nothing wrong to nobody else including Hamlet.
Lastly, Ophelia is left for dead and falls into a lake and dies alone and depressed. This event is a build-up of events like the death of her father, shaming from her father, the attack from Hamlet and the overall commotion occurring in the kingdom. With her brother also off to university, Ophelia is left alone with her thoughts and terrors of what has taken place. As a result, Ophelia resides in an immense amount of emotional distress and there is no one there to aid her in this predicament. As she is isolated from everyone, she is now overwhelmed with her thoughts of the past and what she has experienced in recent events. This leaves her in a state of madness and craziness. As she rants to herself as a coping mechanism to potentially ease her pain and help her control herself.
However, as Ophelia continues to talk to herself it is evident that her depression is getting the best of her, and her mental state is getting worse and worse as the act progresses. Furthermore, as Ophelia is attempting to place the wreath she has made, she slips into the brook and drowns leaving her to die with no one by her side. Leading up to this moment, Ophelia does nothing to harm or offend or even taunt anyone. She lives her life and chooses to listen and do good throughout everything that is thrown at her.
For example, when Polonius and Laertes ban her from seeing Hamlet, as much as she does not want to follow through with it because Hamlet is someone she loves dearly as we see in the beginning acts of the text, she obeys the order given to her anyway. Even after Hamlet, the man she loved attacks her, although she is hurt badly, she does not hold a grudge on Hamlet. Even with this, Ophelia is left to die with no one to comfort her in her trials. In fact, Ophelia’s last words were words of forgiveness and farewell. “God a’ mercy on his soul. And of all Christians’ souls. God buy you.”
Hamlet, an extremely sad tragedy, has many sad events and many characters with sad plots. One could even say most of the characters were victims to someone’s actions at one, some being greater than others. Regardless of how many victims there are in this play, Ophelia is most definitely the true victim of this entire story. Although she had not hurt a soul, she is mocked and belittled by her own father due to patriarchal constraints, Hamlet, someone she holds close manipulates and mentally deteriorates her into a critical mental health state, and her lack of emotional support due to everyone she relies on abandoning her leads her to her death making Ophelia the real true victim of this play.