Ophelia is a tragic Shakespearian character whose twisted father asks her to reject her lover, Hamlet. Ophelia’s father exploits her misguided loyalty to him and manipulates her into agreeing to reject Hamlet.
Ophelia’s father also had been spying on her while she was seeing Hamlet.
Tormented by conflicted loyalties, Ophelia eventually goes mad. Ophelia represents the too many women (and men) pushed into insanity by a misguided sense of loyalty to an unscrupulous parent or parents.
Mary Pipher reflects on this dynamic in her book, Reviving Ophelia (1994):
Psychologist Mary Pipher named her non-fiction book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (1994), after Shakespeare’s Ophelia. In it, Pipher examines the troubled lives of the modern American adolescent girls. Through her extensive clinical work with troubled young women, Pipher takes a closer look at the competing influences that lead adolescent girls in a negative direction. For example, Pipher attributes the competing pressure from parents, peers, and the media for girls to reach an unachievable ideal. Girls are expected to meet goals while still holding on to their sanity. These pressures are further complicated when young women undergo physical changes out of their control, like the biological developmental changes in puberty.¹
Actor Jean Simmons provides a classic performance of Ophelia in Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version of the play. Simmons’ vacant stare and melodious voice give Ophelia a mystical, ethereal quality just before her demise.
Related » William Shakespeare