Polonius’s daughter, Laertes’ sister, and Hamlet’s lover. Along with Gertrude, Ophelia is the only other female character in the play, Ophelia’s actions and trajectory are unfortunately defined by the men around her. At the start of the play, Ophelia—who has been in a relationship of undetermined seriousness with Hamlet for an unspecified amount of time—is used as a pawn in her father Polonius’s attempt to help Claudius and Gertrude ascertain the source of Hamlet’s madness. Polonius believes a burgeoning rift between Ophelia and Hamlet is the cause—in reality, Hamlet is, unbeknownst to the others at Elsinore, affecting madness in order to seem less suspicious or threatening as he investigates his father’s murder. Ophelia, however, is ignorant of Hamlet’s plan—and as she interacts with him in service of her father’s plot, Hamlet becomes so hurt by her transparent betrayal that he begins acting like even more of a lunatic towards Ophelia, cruelly suggesting she become a nun and making lewd sexual remarks towards her at every available opportunity. Between Hamlet’s abuses—and his murder of Polonius—Ophelia eventually loses her own mind, succumbing fully to the madness at which Hamlet has only been playing. Ophelia eventually commits suicide, and though Hamlet claims to grieve her, no one—least of all Ophelia’s furious brother, Laertes—believes him. A tragic figure whose life and death alike are coopted by the men around her, Ophelia is nonetheless able to do the one thing Hamlet, for all his musings on his desire to take his own life, is never able to do: she kills herself, reclaiming through a tragic action the only measure of agency she’s had over her own life for as long as she’s lived 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: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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…
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 2
...Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and the queen; Hamlet himself; Claudius’s councilor Polonius; Polonius’s children Laertes and Ophelia; and several members of court. Claudius delivers a long monologue in which he laments the... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Act 2, Scene 1
Act 2, Scene 2
...daughter. In the letter written by Hamlet, the young prince professes his intense love for Ophelia. Polonius admits that when he discovered the affair between Hamlet and Ophelia he grew worried,... (full context)
Claudius asks if there’s a way they can test Polonius’s theory. Polonius suggests “loos[ing]” Ophelia onto Hamlet during one of the prince’s long, pensive walks through the main hall of... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Act 3, Scene 2
...during the performance, but Hamlet says he wants to sit next to the “more attractive” Ophelia. As he sidles in next to Ophelia, he begins taunting her with sexually explicit barbs,... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
Act 4, Scene 7
Act 5, Scene 1
...walls of Elsinore. The first gravedigger asks the second if an unnamed woman—understood to be Ophelia—is going to receive a “Christian burial” even though she committed suicide. The second gravedigger says... (full context)