By Isabel Smith-Bernstein
Ophelia has been the subject of interest for centuries. Her charm, intelligence, and mysterious death have sparked many harsh debates and lengthy conversations. She is Hamlet’s close friend and lover, but Shakespeare gives them few scenes together.
Ophelia is Hamlet’s equal and ally. She matches him in intelligence, need for authenticity, and powerful love. But unlike Hamlet, Ophelia is utterly trapped within Elsinore. She cannot leave and she knows this. When Hamlet tells her to get to a nunnery, he is telling her to leave to save herself. But she can’t leave because “Denmark is a prison” for young women like her who must remain under the rule of her father.
Ophelia being trapped is what sets her apart from Shakespeare’s other heroines. Ophelia’s love for Hamlet is as great as Juliet’s, her intelligence as great as Rosalind’s, her wit that of Viola’s. Yet she has no Friar on her side, no Arden to flee to, no shipwreck to free her. Instead she is isolated in Elsinore with Hamlet as her only ally. When Hamlet is taken from her, she is utterly alone.