She is not fortunate enough to control the political power of Queen Gertrude; the Queen has the power to command Ophelia, but so does almost everyone else in the play. In his essay, "Hamlet and the Nature of Reality," Theodore Spencer explains that Shakespeare lived in "a world in which the fundamental assumption was that of hierarchical order. a cosmological hierarchy, a political and social hierarchy, and a psychological hierarchy" (Spencer 32). This same assumption applies to the characters living in Denmark. For some characters, such as Claudius, there exists the possibility of personally adjusting ones position in the hierarchy through the control of knowledge and events. Ophelia, however, is helpless, subject to the whims of those higher up the ladder. Although we can see in her speech that she is intelligent, her position makes her "a talent gasping in an airless household" (Pennington 73). At no time does she have the power to create knowledge and pass it on. She can only receive it.
This is our first glimpse of Ophelia, in act I, scene iii. We meet her as her brother Laertes, about to go away to school, imparts to her what understanding he thinks she needs. His speech is entirely meant to tell her how to construct knowledge. Although it is Ophelia who has engaged in a relationship with Hamlet, it is Laertes who has the power to interpret it and pass this understanding on to Ophelia. In explaining what Hamlet's attentions mean, he literally commands her mind, telling her "Think it no more" (1.3.10). In a long speech, he ascribes his own meaning to Hamlet's actions, until his ideas become Ophelia's facts, and she agrees, "I shall the effect of this good lesson keep As watchman to my heart" (1.3.45-6). Here we see a stark reminder of the layers of hierarchy governing Ophelia's existence. Despite what Michael Pennington, in "Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven," calls "Laertes failings as a human being" (Pennington 72), Laertes's place as a male gives him the right to tell Ophelia what to think and feel, despite his lack of expertise on the subjects of women, relationships, Hamlet, and any combination of the three.
No sooner has Laertes exited the stage, Polonius picks up the thread of his argument. As her father, he is assumed, to an even greater extent, to possess an undisputed power over Ophelia. According to Shakespeare's understanding, "the order of the stars was reflected in the order of the faculties of man. The Ptolomaic heavens revolved around the earth, and as the sun was the largest and most resplendent of the planets, so the king was the center of the universe" (Spencer 32), and so on, down through the different levels of power, so that in the universe of a family, the father took the place of the king or sun as the center of order and the owner of knowledge, which he bestowed upon the lesser entities he ruled. Like Laertes, Polonius tells Ophelia not only what to think, but also that the things she thinks on her own are wrong. His accusation is that "You do not understand yourself so clearly As it behooves my daughter and your honor" (1.3.96-97) and goes so far as to call her a baby for presuming