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In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, all the characters move through the play under the influence of a web of deceit. Knowledge, some true, some false, is constructed from above, and passed down through the levels of power. Few characters have less power than Ophelia, who lives at the bottom of the pyramid, and suffers from layers of falsehood, presented to her as reality, by those with more power…
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. ...
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