Hamlet

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Ophelia Character Analysis

Polonius's daughter, Laertes's sister, and Hamlet's love. As a woman, Ophelia must obey the men around her and is forced by her father first to stop speaking to Hamlet and then to help spy on him. Ophelia's loyalty to her father and resulting estrangement from Hamlet ultimately causes her to lose her mind. Though Laertes and Fortinbras are the characters usually seen as Hamlet's "doubles," Ophelia functions as a kind of female double of Hamlet—mirroring Hamlet's half-madness with her own full-blown insanity, and takes his obsession with suicide a step further and actually commits it.

Ophelia Quotes in Hamlet

The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by Ophelia or refer to Ophelia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Ophelia
Page Number: 3.1.131-134
Explanation and Analysis:

After Ophelia tries to return a set of gifts Hamlet has given her, he renounces their relationship. He first disparages Ophelia for her lack of honesty, and then implicates himself as the cause of moral wrongdoing.

This passage is another striking example of how Hamlet’s apparent insanity covers up complex reflections on human nature and society. His general claim is that Ophelia should not continue to propagate the species, for all men are sinners even if they are generally honest and well-intentioned. Yet instead of expressing this statement directly, Hamlet couches it in the lunatic demand that Ophelia enter a “nunnery”: a place where should would be celibate and therefore unable to “be a breeder of sinners,” or give birth to more children.

Though this passage might be interpreted in passing as chastising Ophelia for her sins, Hamlet’s claim is actually based on his own transgressions. He notes, in a somewhat roundabout manner, that others could consider his actions reprehensible despite his “indifferent honest” behavior: “indifferent” in that he remains relatively passive, and “honest” in that any sins are supposedly driven by a strong moral compass. Yet, Hamlet reasons, if even his disposition makes him worthy of accusation, then presumably other similar men are sinners, and Ophelia should not risk giving birth to one of them. Shakespeare, here, shows how Hamlet’s nihilistic images of the world are a fascinating mixture of compelling and irrational. The logic makes sense and carries deep philosophical weight, while being simultaneously insensitive and outrageous. The two, Shakespeare shows us, can quite easily coexist.

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Ophelia Character Timeline in Hamlet

The timeline below shows where the character Ophelia appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 3
Women Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
As he prepares to leave for France, Laertes warns his sister Ophelia not to fall for Hamlet, a young man whose passions will change, and a prince... (full context)
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Ophelia promises, but sassily tells Laertes to listen to his own advice. (full context)
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Polonius asks Ophelia what she was talking about with Laertes. Ophelia answers: Hamlet. After Polonius asks her to... (full context)
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Ophelia promises to obey. (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
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Ophelia enters, upset. She tells Polonius that Hamlet burst into her room and held her wrists,... (full context)
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Polonius concludes that Hamlet has gone mad with love because, on Polonius's orders, Ophelia stopped speaking with him. (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
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After a long-winded ramble about Hamlet's madness, Polonius reads love letters Hamlet sent to Ophelia. Claudius and Gertrude agree that lovesickness may be causing Hamlet's behavior. Polonius proposes that they... (full context)
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...statements about pregnancy, death, and rot that, though nonsensical, also seem to refer to Denmark, Ophelia, and Polonius. Polonius, perplexed, exits. (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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...and Polonius have chosen this moment to set up the "accidental" meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia. (full context)
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Polonius tells Ophelia to walk in the courtyard as if reading a book. He muses that people often... (full context)
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Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
...afterlife. He observes that such thinking turns people into cowards, and action into inaction. Suddenly Ophelia enters and tries to return the gifts Hamlet gave her. He denies having ever given... (full context)
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Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
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Hamlet asks Ophelia if she's honest, then says beauty corrupts honesty. Becoming angry, he tells Ophelia he loved... (full context)
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Claudius, from his hiding place, decides that Hamlet neither loves Ophelia nor is he mad. Instead, he thinks Hamlet is "brooding" on something, and that this... (full context)
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Polonius still thinks Hamlet loves Ophelia. He requests that after the play Hamlet be sent to talk with Gertrude, where Polonius... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, and others arrive to watch the play. Hamlet tells Horatio he's now going to act... (full context)
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...and says he's eating the air. Hamlet mocks Polonius's attempts to act at university, harasses Ophelia with sexual puns, then makes bitter remarks about Gertrude for marrying Claudius. (full context)
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...Gertrude and Claudius become uncomfortable. Hamlet mocks them, while continuing to launch sexual puns at Ophelia. Claudius asks the name of the play. Hamlet says, "The Mouse-trap." (full context)
Act 4, scene 5
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Gertrude and Horatio sadly discuss the madness that has taken over Ophelia since Polonius was killed. Ophelia enters, singing mournful songs about her father. (full context)
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Claudius enters. Ophelia's madness upsets and unnerves him. Ophelia's songs change topic, and focus on maids who are... (full context)
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Ophelia enters. She is clearly insane, singing songs, speaking in riddles, and handing out flowers (perhaps... (full context)
Act 4, scene 7
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Gertrude rushes in with news that Ophelia has drowned. While gathering flowers she fell into the river and sang songs as her... (full context)
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Laertes, weeping, exits. Claudius fears Ophelia's death might reignite Laertes anger and rebellion. He and Gertrude follow Laertes to calm him... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...a funeral procession with a coffin. The priest refuses to provide further religious services because Ophelia's death seemed like suicide. Laertes says his sister will be an angel while the priest... (full context)
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Laertes jumps into Ophelia's grave to embrace her once more. Hamlet, shocked and distraught at Ophelia's death, follows Laertes... (full context)