As Laertes and Ophelia enter their first scene together, Laertes does not call Ophelia by her name, but refers to her by, “And sister” (Shakespeare, 1.3.2). By doing this Laertes refers to her more as an object, than a person. Laertes goes on to say, “do not sleep/But let me hear from you”, (Shakespeare, 1.3.3-4) He shows authority over Ophelia by telling her to stop from what she is doing, to tell him about Hamlet. After she has done so, Laertes warns her about Hamlet, “For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favour/Hold it a fashion, and a toy in
Hamlet has come to see his mother, Queen Gertrude, and ends up stabbing Lord Polonius, which ultimately leads to his death. Lord Polonius’ final words include “O, I am slain!” Even though this provides a slight amount of comic relief to the reader, it has a reverse effect on Ophelia’s mental state. Her father’s death seems to be the potent punch in this fight because she officially goes mad after this final event. This is apparent in Scene IV Act I, when Laertes has come back to visit his sister and check on her well being. He is disappointed to see that Ophelia is displaying irrational behavior when she begins to sing “They bore him barefac’d on the bier; Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny; And on his grave rains many a tear.” She is so mentally ill that she must be locked in a padded room during the day.
Throughout the play is Hamlet quite spiteful toward women. Some would say to a misogynistic extent. He orders Ophelia, for example, to "go to a nunnery" and tells his mother, Gertrude, "frailty, thy name is woman" even though Hamlet is not very strong willed person. He is always split between his decisions and can never make up his mind. Hamlet is not a solid character with a clear path to achieve his goal.
This is encapsulated in Hamlet exclaims, “frailty, thy name is woman!” about his mother’s hasty marriage to her deceased husband’s brother (Shakespeare 1.2.150). In this quote, Hamlet is dismissing all women as weak-willed like he believes Gertrude to be, which affects his interactions with Ophelia also. Hamlet is cruel to her because of this anger he has towards women in general, so when pretending to be mad, he goes “full force in the misogynist rage” when telling her he used to love her, but now she should go to a nunnery (Traub 192). Ophelia can be seen as weak in this scene because she protests little against Hamlet and only hopes that his insanity will end. These crude comments Hamlet says to Ophelia continue throughout the play until Ophelia is being buried when Hamlet asserts that he loved Ophelia.
Ophelia is a dutiful daughter, representing the "fairer sex" perfectly. She is obedient, loyal, and subservient in every way. She is also intelligent and witty, a quality often forgotten by those around her, conscious of the power dynamics around her. Yet it is her submissiveness, her willingness to please everyone, that ultimately seals her fate. She becomes the pawn of her father and the king and doesn 't have the ability to fight back, allowing herself to be taken advantage of.
She is viewed by the audience as a feeble woman, who is hopelessly in love and incapable of making her own decisions. However, her character is much more complex. She is in a constant internal battle throughout the play but is never able to voice her concerns or opinions. All her life, Ophelia was not allowed to think for herself, but her madness--which was the result of cruelty from men in her life--enabled her to express herself at last.
"I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another." (III.i. 6) The dialogue clearly shows that Hamlet views women as vain and superficial beings. Although Laertes, Ophelia’s brother may not straight-out ignore women, he unconsciously treats them as an inferior being to men.
By attempting to leave Hamlet, Ophelia betrays him. This betrayal initially stirs confusion and later sparks anger when she tries to return the letters that Hamlet wrote to her. This anger was then projected into the hurtful insults that Hamlet used to harm Ophelia. This anger shows that Hamlet did, and still loves Ophelia. While Ophelia too has the same tender loving feeling for Hamlet, she is insanely submissive to her father (and other characters for that matter).
In a way, Shakespeare is implying that when women are allowed to make their own decisions and do what they want, it never results in anything beneficial. Gertrude chose her new king and in the process contributed immensely to the downfall of her son, Hamlet. On the other hand, Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover, is the perfect model for a young lady in those days. When her father advises her to steer clear of Hamlet, she immediately obeys him. She does what she is told, not questioning why, but accepting that that is the way that things are to be.