This is probably my tenth-ish reading of Hamlet and I still love this play. The complexity, depth, and interpretation of these characters are just so rich that it hooks you in. Each reading I find myself re-evaluating my stance on characters, their motives, their meanings. How many works can you say do that?
I have to say, no matter how often I read this play I always feel bad for Ophelia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hamlet and the complexity of the characters, but her character just breaks my heart. While it is often debated if Hamlet does truly love her, I feel in his quest for vengeance he punishes Ophelia. At the same time, she never has faith in his love for her.
I love the part when Polonius reads his letter to Ophelia to Claudius:
“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”
Hamlet tells her to not doubt him or his love, but Polonius dissuades Ophelia:
“And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:
‘Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star.
This must not be.’ And then I prescripts gave her,
That she should lock herself from his resort,
Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.
Which done, she took the fruits of my advice;”
Polonius thinks that Ophelia rejecting Hamlet drives him “Into the madness wherein now he raves, And all we mourn for.” In fact, it is she that is driven eventually to insanity and suicide. Ophelia is very much a game piece in Hamlet, being used by her father. Hamlet is so resentful of females at the moment because of his mother cheating on his father and the events surrounding his father’s death, that he is completely distrustful. I really do believe he loves Ophelia, but he isn’t in the right mental place to do anything about it. This poor girl just doesn’t understand because she has no knowledge of what is going on in Hamlet’s head. Heck most readers are still trying to figure out what is going on in Hamlet’s head! When she rejects him as her father asks, it just adds fuel to the fire that Hamlet has against females and makes him more resentful because he can see she is being used as a pawn and wants her to make her own choices. After he discovers her death, he professes his deep love for her:
“I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not with all their quantity of love
Make up my sum.”
In the end this is a tragedy play for a reason. Poor Ophelia.