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Let’s Explore: Ophelia in Hamlet

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If you haven’t tried out our  techniques of using ‘Parts and Cues’ and ‘Highlit Text’ to explore a Shakespeare character, then you’ll find it helpful to read the detailed explanation we give for the character Hamlet (click on Let’s Explore Hamlet).


You can explore any Shakespearean character in a play  published by Players-Shakespeare.com in a similar way. Here we help you explore Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius and the girlfriend of Hamlet.


Ophelia is young, maybe 14 to 16, and so is often seen as a rather innocent young girl. However there’s some evidence in the play that she may have slept with Hamlet (notably her songs in A4S5). If she has slept with Hamlet, then she may be pregnant. When you’re exploring the character of Ophelia, it might be helpful to explore theses three options: she’s a young maiden who loves and is loved by Hamlet; she’s been Hamlet’s lover; and she’s been Hamlet’s lover and is pregnant.  Sometimes I think she’s an innocent daddy’s girl; sometimes I think she’s Hamlet’s lover; perhaps she’s a bit of both. It can be played any way, and it’s up to the player and director to decide.


It’s certainly worth keeping this in mind when you explore Ophelia’s main scenes:

  • In A1S3  we first meet Ophelia. Her brother Laertes tells her to watch out for Hamlet and not to sleep with him, and then her father tells her to be careful of Hamlet as well. When you read her lines, think of the three possibilities we’ve outlined above and see how they affect how you play the lines. Of course, you may think they say something completely different. Here’s a link to Ophelia’s lines in Parts and Cues format and here’s one to the scene in Highlit Text mode.
  • In the second half of A2S1 Ophelia runs in, all upset by Hamlet’s treatment of her, and tells her father of her upset. How does Polonius respond? Is his bevaviour that of a loving father? What does Ophelia think of what he tells her? Here’s a link to Ophelia’s lines in A2S1 in Parts and Cues format. Once you’ve explored those lines, you can switch to Highlit Text mode, and see his lines in the context of the whole scene. What do you think this scene tells you about Ophelia?
  • In A3S1, we see Hamlet and Ophelia together for the first  time.  Hamlet treats Ophelia rather badly. Why? And how does Ophelia respond? How does she interpret Hamlet’s treatment of her. Check out  Ophelia’s lines in Parts and Cues, and then read the whole scene with Ophelia’s lines in Highlit Text form.
  • There’s another scene (A3S2) where Hamlet and Ophelia interact – in the scene where  ‘The Mousetrap’ is played. Perhaps their interactions are not the focus of the scene, but they’re very revealing about Hamlet and Ophelia. First, check out Ophelia’s lines in Parts and Cues, and then, because they’re quite cryptic without the context, in Highlit Text form (by clicking on the HIghlight Text button in the Setup window (click on the gearwheel at the top of the script to open the Setup window) .
  • Finally, after the murder of Polonius by Hamlet, Ophelia goes mad, and visits the queen in A4S5, and are later joined by first the king, and then her brother Laertes. She sings a number of songs, and her lines and the songs perhaps tell us a lot about her, and her relationship with her father and Hamlet and the complex interplay between all three. What do you make of them? Here’s Ophelia’s lines in Parts and Cues and here’s the whole scene with Ophelia’s lines in Highlit Text.

Of course, when you read the scenes above, you may well see things differently from what I’ve outlined above, but  you should come to clearer view of what you think about Ophelia’s situation and character.


Let’s play!


Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’


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