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Ophelia Quotes

She is not someone you understand. she is someone you watch, someone you use, someone you mourn. she is made for love but love is not made for her. everything about her runs deeper than in you; her madness is truer, her mind brighter and better broken, and her anguish is in her bones, not her blood. you will never forgive her for dying, but she will aways be dead forever, and your horror means nothing to her anymore. That, more than anything is why you still dream about her and her flowers thrown like curses. She has made herself no longer yours to dream of, choking on her water, crawling through her weeds, living beneath the world; her body inviolate and violable no more, there in her resting place where no man rules.


[Ophelia] is pale--woe-begone--and her restless, fevered eyes bespeak a mind diseased.

The Art Union: Monthly Journal of the Fine Arts, vol. 4, 1842

Scoffed at, ignored, suspected, disbelieved, commanded to distrust her own feelings, thoughts and desires, Ophelia is fragmented by contradictory messages ... Seeming to absorb the general absence of belief in her own intelligence, virtue, and autonomy, Ophelia is left with an identity osmotically open to external suggestion; that is, she appears to lack clear psychic boundaries ... Ophelia appears never to have [been] allowed to develop a discrete sense of self apart from those others (father and brother, then later, Hamlet) who fashioned her identity to suit their needs.

GABRIELLE DANE, "Reading Ophelia's Madness"

Interestingly, the most complex assessments of Ophelia's character emerge from iconographic readings that recognize in her the presence of contradictory mythic images. She is both Virgin and repentant Magdalene. Even in her role as Magdalene, she stands both for spiritual succor and for dangerous sexuality. Through her ambiguous flowers, Ophelia is also associated with Flora, who is at once nature goddess and urban prostitute. Significantly, however, Ophelia has complexity only when she is silenced and made an object of sight.

CHRISTY DESMET, Reading Shakespeare's Characters: Rhetoric, Ethics, and Identity

The killing of Ophelia is the most useless and the most monstrous of all the cruelties of Hamlet. I cannot understand how a single soul can have forgiven him for this. His rambling frenzy at her tomb does not suffice to obliterate the crime. She, at least, was pure and innocent; yet through the fault of him who loved her there came to her the greatest unhappiness and the most unjust fate. To her, the one pure being, the one innocent heart--and her only fault was that she had trusted love!

GIOVANNI PAPINI, Four and Twenty Minds

We can imagine Hamlet's story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet.

LEE EDWARDS, "The Labors of Psyche," Critical Inquiry (1979)

Though she is neglected in criticism, Ophelia is probably the most frequently illustrated and cited of Shakespeare’s heroines. Her visibility as a subject in literature, popular culture, and painting, from Redonwho paints her drowning, to Bob Dylan, who places her on Desolation Row, to Cannon Mills, which hasnamed a flowery sheet pattern after her, is in inverse relation to her invisibility in Shakespearean criticaltexts. Why has she been such a potent and obsessive figure in our cultural mythology? Insofar as Hamletnames Ophelia as “woman” and “frailty,” substituting an ideological view of femininity for a personal one,is she indeed representative of Woman, and does her madness stand for the oppression of women in societyas well as in tragedy? Furthermore, since Laertes calls Ophelia a “document in madness,” does sherepresent the textual archetype of woman as madness or madness as woman? And finally, how shouldfeminist criticism represent Ophelia in its own discourse? What is our responsibility towards her ascharacter and as woman?

ELAINE SHOWALTER, "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism"

The women's roles in _Hamlet_ are perceived as problems, at least by those who see the play as a "written text." "Without Hamlet, Ophelia has no story," says Lee Edwards, objecting to patriarchy, while not recognizing that patriarchy IS Ophelia's "story." She escapes only into the ironic liberation of madness. As Anna K. Nardo suggests in the lass in Ophelia's "St. Valentine's" song, "If she refuses his sexual encounter, she will jeopardize [the] marriage proposal; but because she accepts the offer, he withdraws the proposal. Like Ophelia, the lass is simultaneously treated like a whore and told to be a virgin." Get thee to a nunnery--convent AND brothel. That is Ophelia's story. She is torn between contradictory messages, between two worlds, "one dead, the other powerless to be born," in paralysis between childlike innocence and adult sexual knowledge.

HERBERT R. COURSEN, Watching Shakespeare on Television

As to Ophelia, she is little better than a barmaid of an inn, and we are at first sight reconciled to her drowning.

JOHN EAGLES, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Jul. 1842

Ophelia is a screen on which a culture projects its preoccupations and reflects its values back onto itself. In this sense, analyzing an example of Ophelian representation at a specific historical juncture is, thus, also a neat, shorthand way to examine the workings of ideology more broadly. Reinvented for every age, Ophelia tells us more about ourselves at whatever instance we feel compelled to tell "her" story. Moreover, she has become an endlessly adaptable symbol for the universality of the feminine and, more broadly, the human psychic condition in any era, across cultures.


Ophelia is insane. Her sweet mind lies in fragments before us--a pitiful spectacle! Her wild, rambling fancies; her aimless, broken speeches; her quick transitions from gaiety to sadness--each equally purposeless and causeless; her snatches of old ballads, such as perhaps her nurse sang her to sleep with in her infancy--are all so true to the life, that we forget to wonder, and can only weep. It belonged to Shakespeare alone so to temper such a picture that we can endure to dwell upon it.

ANNA JAMESON, "Characters of Passion and Imagination," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Mar. 1833

In her few appearances, Ophelia develops towards a spectacular mad scene, one of the most striking moments in Shakespeare. A performance can hardly be described without reference to it; and any critical discussion of Hamlet's ambiguous madness can hardly ignore the parallel of Ophelia's.

MARVIN ROSENBERG, The Masks of Hamlet

Separate but transferentially potent, Ophelia is the one selfobject who could have served Hamlet as a stabilizing figure in [his] time of crisis, and it is testimony to the care with which Shakespeare works out his purpose in the play that he deprives Hamlet of this recourse too.

JOHN RUSSELL, Hamlet and Narcissus

Ophelia is my favorite Shakespearean part. She is often played by little flibbertigibbets chosen apparently both for their youth and their imbecility, so that when Ophelia does go mad, the shock which Shakespeare meant the audience to feel is no shock at all. I think she is really a very subtle, tragic, and beautifully poetic character.


Ophelia exists as an inversion of the Prince. While he is socially powerful, she is essentially powerless. While he feigns madness, she succumbs to it. While he vacillates on the possibility of suicide, she commits it. What she has in common with the Prince, indeed, what provides the reader with grounds to compare them, is the use of sexually descriptive language as a weapon of satiric aggression. In the mad songs of Ophelia, we see the character engaging the rhetoric of sex in order to invert the dynamic of power in the tragedy and thereby usurp some of that power, at least rhetorically, for herself.

GABRIEL A. RIEGER, Sex and Satire in Early Modern England: Penetrating Wit

Ophelia is one of the most fascinating creations which has been proposed to human imagination. Something which we can call the drama of the feminine object, the drama of desire, of the world which makes its appearance at the dawn of civilization in the form of Helen ... incarnated in the drama and misfortune of Ophelia.

JACQUES LACAN, "Seminar VI: Desire and Its Interpretation"

The reason Ophelia is the classic representation of today's teenage girl is because she puts herself aside to please others. She allows the pressures of society to dictate her life to the point where her emotional, mental and physical health no longer matters. She cannot please her father or her love and she fails to see how perilous it is to lose her self. This is what destroys her.

GREG WEST, Are We Reviving Ophelia

Remarkable that in a play that is very explicitly about acting, a play in which virtually all of the other characters seek to achieve their ends and more often than not prove themselves quite adept at role-playing, Ophelia is universally understood, by both critics and performers, NOT to be playing a role. Perhaps the most important story we tell ourselves about both the actress and the character of Ophelia is that when she is mad, she is not acting.

JEREMY LOPEZ, attributed, The Afterlife of Ophelia

[Ophelia] may be seductive, highstrung, neurotic, even hysterical, up to her madness, which she may seem almost to choose. A main problem: how to match her to Hamlet's temperament and world view? With this kind of Ophelia, mutual worthiness has not necessarily been a goal; critics have proposed a mutual unworthiness, she even a courtesan, using Hamlet. But all Ophelias have a subtext, as this one must, or there would be nothing repressed to emerge in her madness: some love for the father and sweetheart she resists, some memories of innocence and perhaps shame, some conditioning that influences her so often to call on the religion she grew up in. As the sweet Ophelia will sometimes rise to force, the strong Ophelia sometimes melts.

MARVIN ROSENBERG, The Masks of Hamlet

Ophelia, who is all but forgotten by the end of the play by Hamlet in his search for truth and the movement of the action of the play towards resolution of the triangle involving Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius, resides in the shadows of the evils suggested by the deed of Claudius, the hasty marriage of Gertrude, and the words of the murdered king's ghost.

COURTNI CRUMP WRIGHT, The Women of Shakespeare's Plays

Although she is not over-present in the play, Ophelia is the character that problematises best the impossibility to represent the human subject, even more than Hamlet himself. She is the real thing that tragically undermines Hamlet's failed endeavours to see the situation clearly. Hamlet's roles are self-imposed, whereas Ophelia's secrets remain locked up in the prison-house of her mind until she discloses them in her delirium. As the repository of all possible questions one can raise about the self, she is also the living proof of the impossibility of answering them.

NICOLE BOIREAU, "To Hamlet and back with Humble Boy," Refracting the Canon in Contemporary British Literature and Film

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