Ophelia enters the play almost as a fairytale figure. she is the poor or at least lower class girl in love with a prince. However, her story does not continue on these Cinderella-esque lines. Through no fault of her own,Ophelia is caught up in the courtly intrigue, and is one of the first victims of the corruption of Denmark occasioned by Claudius's murderous usurpation.
Ophelia, as a girl of marriageable age would only have been a teenager. Girls were considered old enough to marry at fourteen, though many married when they were even younger. Ophelia's most prized quality was her virginity. In Elizabethan times a girl's virginity belonged first to her father, and then to her husband. At no time was she considered to have sexual autonomy. This is why Polonius and Laertes are so concerned that she does not give herself to Hamlet. they know that firstly, Ophelia would not be considered a suitable candidate for a royal marriage, and if Hamlet look her virginity no other man would ever marry her. Secondly, if Hamlet ever intened marrying her, Polonius and Laertes believe he would not do so if he could sleep with her outside marriage.
Ophelia is a passive, gentle character. She is an obedient daughter and an affectionate sister. She genuinely loves Hamlet, and her only crime is in trying to keep everyone happy. Ophelia is little more than a child, catapulted into a different world by Hamlet's attentions to her, and then just as suddenly, being tossed aside by him. Ophelia is the representation of absolute innocence and her downfall inspires our earnest goodwill, that is, we feel deeply sorry for her.
A mere pawn in the machinations of her father Polonius, Ophelia's ultimate fate is a devastating one. She is rejected by Hamlet, and then loses her father at the hands of her lover. Ophelia's residence at the castle was dependent on her father's employment. With his death her whole world was literally stripped from her. Her rapid descent into...