A tragedy is a serious story presented in dramatic form whose purpose is to accomplish the catharsis of emotions. William Shakespeare's Hamlet is widely considered to be the greatest tragedy ever written because of its depth, contributed in part by its secondary characters, such as Ophelia. Shakespeare suggests innocence and virtue cannot exist in a world of corruption and evil through Ophelia's innocence and virtue, her decline into madness, and ultimately her death.
Ophelia's goodness and purity conflicts with the corruption and evil in Denmark. Her guileless nature is demonstrated in the following conversation with Hamlet:.
Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?.
Ophelia: No, my lord.
Hamlet: I mean my head upon your lap?.
Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?.
Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.
Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
Ophelia: What is my lord?.
(III, ii, 111-119).
Ophelia will not accept Hamlet's lewd advances. Her last reply suggests she may not even be aware of the sexual undertones in Hamlet's remarks. Ophelia's innocence is shown in her many conversations with her father:.
Ophelia: He hath, my lord, of late made many tendersOf his affection to me.
Polonius: Affection! Pooh! You speak like a green girl,Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?.
(I, iii, 104-108).
Polonius continues on about Hamlet's false love, but the personality of his character suggests his true intentions are so his daughter's relationship does not interfere with his pursuit for power. This reveals Ophelia's nave belief that her father will provide her with the best advice for her life, instead of his own. It also reveals the corruption of the nobleman in his abuse of his child's trust in order to obtain power. The evil in Denmark is also reflected in the evil of its ruler Claudius, who murders his brother to obtain the crown and then tries to murder Hamlet, his nephew, stepson and heir to the throne, in order to solidify his hold on power.