The Betrayal in Hamlet

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Shakespeare's Hamlet presents many mysteries of human behavior and many clues for the reader to interpret them. Is Hamlet truly insane, and, if so, when did he lose his mind We can point to the murder of his father and the compliance of his mother. The same issues might be attributed to Ophelia: her father is killed, a loved one betrays her, and her resulting madness is sudden.


Hamlet's insanity is philosophical, the result of brooding upon his father's death and learning the truth about it. Ophelia's insanity is often portrayed as the result of being a woman, a person for whom emotion trumps reason, who cannot be held accountable for her actions as a result of her gender. Although this is true as Showalter explains it, modern readers can still create a new picture of Ophelia, as an intelligent woman who defies society's expectations by thinking for herself, even as others manipulate her for their own gain.
Ophelia's first appearance in the play is at her brother Laertes's side; the time and place of her life requires that, if Ophelia is to be a good girl, she will always be governed by trusted men. Her brother engages in the family pastime of giving unwanted advice in long, lofty monologues. He says straight off, "For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor, Hold it a fashion and a toy in bloodnot permanent, sweet, not lasting" (I. iii. 5-8). Laertes anticipates Hamlet's betrayal of his sister, and Ophelia seems to understand what he is saying. ...
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