"William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet': What is the Reason for Ophelia's Insanity?"

Essay, 2003

7 Pages, Grade: 1



1. Introduction

2. Discussing Task

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

My term paper is about the young girl Ophelia, who is, among Gertrude, the only female character in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

When we take a closer look on Ophelia’s character, we can easily see that she undergoes a change of behaviour in the play. In the first scenes she appears as a normal young girl of her period, but the process of becoming insane goes its way, which can be seen when she is singing her dialogue songs and finally when she commits suicide. During this process there are questions that come up: What is the reason for Ophelia’s insanity? Why is she such an obedient girl? Is Hamlet’s love to her real or just fake?

The last two questions may help with the answering of the leading question about Ophelia’s insanity.

In the following I use some feminist approaches to analyse Ophelia’s madness.

2. Discussing Task

In the play Ophelia is presented as a beautiful young girl. She is the sister of Laertes and the daughter of Polonius, who is a member of the Danish Privy Council. The third important man in her life is Prince Hamlet with whom she has fallen in love.

The play takes place 500 years before the Elizabethian period. In that period, in general, the feminine ideal was a passive one which explains Ophelia’s weak and dependent character.[1] She symbolizes the typical obedient women’s role of that time. Besides, she is no very complex character and appears in only five of the twenty scenes.

Laertes tries to talk Ophelia out of her love to Hamlet. He does not believe that Hamlet is able to return her love and he wants his sister to stay a virgin. “And keep within the rear of your affection, /Out of the shot and danger of desire. /The chariest maid is prodigal enough”.[2]

Whereas Ophelia takes Laertes’ warnings just as well-meant advices she obeys the admonitions of her father. Without being asked, she informs Polonius about Hamlet’s visit to her bedroom. “Alas, my lord, I have been so affrighted.” (Shakespeare 200) “He took me by the wrist, and held me hard. /Then goes he to the length of all his arm,[…]” (Shakespeare 201).

Ophelia needs the commands and advices of her father because she has no own opinion of her life. Her life is determined by Polonius and her personality development is prevented through him and her brother.[3] She misses a female wit at her home and so she does not even think of becoming emancipated. “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” (Shakespeare 178), “I shall obey, my lord.” (Shakespeare 180).

Another problem of Ophelia is her love to Hamlet. She loves him in a very passionate way but it is not sure if he feels the same way. When we read the play attentively we can note that he never mentions her in his intimate soliloquies (Quenell 197). The only thing that bothers him is the murder of his father.


[1] Quenell, Peter / Johnson, Hamish. Who’s Who in Shakespeare. 105

[2] Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. 173

[3] Seehase, Georg. „Hamlet and Ophelia“. 83

Excerpt out of 7 pages


"William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet': What is the Reason for Ophelia's Insanity?"
Technical University of Braunschweig  (Englisches Seminar)
Introduction to Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
496 KB
William, Shakespeare, Hamlet, What, Reason, Ophelia, Insanity, Introduction, Literature
Quote paper
Nathalie Drewes (Author), 2003, "William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet': What is the Reason for Ophelia's Insanity?", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/42556


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