Even though Ophelia is not the central character in the play 'Hamlet', she is still an important one. Since Shakespeare wrote the play in the early 1600s, depending on the theatrical performances and director's view, audience's and critics' interpretations of Ophelia have changed dramatically throughout the past 400 years.
Shakespeare, in the portrayal of Ophelia shows how men in a strong patriarchal society controlled women in the 1600s. The influence of men in Ophelia's life is evident throughout by the relationships with the men in her life. It is interesting to note that Ophelia's first scene is in a very domestic setting. Her brother, Laertes is stressing to Ophelia the fickleness of young love showing men's attitudes towards women in the period by assuming that Ophelia cannot think for herself. Ophelia is obviously uncertain or doubtful about Laertes' argument but she is still in awe of him so she answers monosyllabically:
'No more but so?'
She has a small ration of dialogue compared to Laertes's grand lecture suggesting the overpowering control that he has over his sister.
Laertes speaks in a very verbose manner and even begins to sound arrogant and hypocritical.
Ophelia's father, Polonius enters saying
'Yet here Laertes? Aboard, aboard for shame!'
It has been suggested by Elaine Showalter, a feminist critic that Polonius was willing to let his son leave for France without a farewell or wishes of good luck from his father. Therefore, she says there was little hope for a strong father- daughter relationship between Polonius and Ophelia if he had failed with Laertes. Polonius disabuses her of her longing for a relationship with Hamlet and tells here that
'You do not understand yourself so clearly/ as behoves my daughter and your honour'
Rather than sympathising with Ophelia, Polonius almost ridicules...