Essay on Ophelia's Death in 'Hamlet'

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The ghost of the King of Denmark tells his son Hamlet to avenge his murder by killing the new king, Hamlet's uncle. Hamlet feigns madness, contemplates life and death, and seeks revenge. His uncle, fearing for his life, also devises plots to kill Hamlet. The play ends with a duel, during which the King, Queen, Hamlet's opponent, and Hamlet himself are all killed.


Hamlet: The Prince of Denmark, the title character, and the protagonist. Hamlet is the son of Queen Gertrude the late King Hamlet, and the nephew of the present king, Claudius. Hamlet is melancholy, bitter, and cynical, full of hatred for his uncle’s scheming and disgust for his mother’s sexuality.

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Claudius: The King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle, and the play’s antagonist. The villain of the play, Claudius is a calculating, ambitious politician, driven by his sexual appetites and his lust for power.

Gertrude: The queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother marries Claudius.

Horatio: The loyal, supportive, and faithful friend of Hamlet whom he trusts.

Ophelia: Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love. Ophelia is a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeys her father and her brother, Laertes. She later drowns in the river amid the flower garlands she had gathered.

Polonius: The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, a pompous, conniving old man. He is the father of Laertes and Ophelia.

Laertes: Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play in France.

Fortinbras: Young Prince of Norway, whose father the king (also named Fortinbras) was killed by Hamlet’s father (also named Hamlet). So, he is also on the way to avenge his father’s honor, by attacking and seizing Denmark which he accomplishes.

The Ghost: the specter of Hamlet’s recently deceased father. The ghost, who claims to have been murdered by Claudius, calls upon Hamlet to avenge him.

Plot & Context:

Late at night, guards on the battlements of Denmark's Elsinore castle are met by Horatio, Prince Hamlet's friend from school. The guards describe a ghost they have seen that resembles Hamlet's father, the recently deceased king. At that moment, the Ghost reappears, and the guards and Horatio decide to tell Hamlet. Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, married Hamlet's recently widowed mother, becoming the new King of Denmark. Hamlet continues to mourn his father's death and laments his mother's lack of loyalty. When Hamlet hears of the Ghost from Horatio, he wants to see it for himself.

Elsewhere, the royal attendant Polonius says farewell to his son Laertes, who is departing for France. Laertes warns his sister, Ophelia, away from Hamlet and thinking too much of his attention towards her. The Ghost appears to Hamlet, claiming indeed to be the ghost of his father. He tells Hamlet about how Claudius, the current King, and Hamlet's uncle, murdered him, and Hamlet swears vengeance for his father. Hamlet decides to feign madness while he tests the truth of the Ghost's allegations (always a good idea in such situations).

According to his, Hamlet starts to act peculiarly. He dismisses Ophelia, while Claudius and Polonius, the royal attendant, spy on him. They had wanted to discover the justification for Hamlet's abrupt change in conduct but could not. Claudius gathers Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, old companions of Hamlet to discover what has into him. Their arrival coincides with a group of traveling actors that Hamlet happens to know well. Hamlet writes a play that includes scenes that mimic the murder of Hamlet's father. During rehearsal, Hamlet and the actors plot to present Hamlet's play before the King and Queen.

‘At the performance, Hamlet watches Claudius closely to see how he reacts. The play provokes Claudius, and he interrupts the action by storming out. He immediately resolves to send Hamlet away. Hamlet is summoned by his distressed mother, Gertrude, and on the way, he happens upon Claudius kneeling and attempting to pray. Hamlet reasons that killing the King now would only send his soul to heaven rather than hell. Hamlet decides to spare his life for the time being. Polonius hides in Gertrude's room to protect her from her unpredictable son. When Hamlet arrives to scold his mother, she hears Polonius moving behind the arras (a kind of tapestry). He stabs the tapestry and, in so doing, kills Polonius. The ghost of Hamlet's father reappears and warns his son not to delay revenge or upset his mother.

Hamlet is sent to England, supposedly as an ambassador, just as King Fortinbras of Norway crosses Denmark with an army to attack Poland. During his journey, Hamlet discovers Claudius has a plan to have him killed once he arrives. He returns to Denmark alone, sending his companions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths in his place. Rejected by Hamlet, Ophelia is now desolate at the loss of her father. She goes mad and drowns.

On the way back to Denmark, Hamlet meets Horatio in the graveyard (along with a gravedigger), where they talk of the chances of life and death. Ophelia's funeral procession arrives at the very same graveyard (what luck!). Hamlet confronts Laertes, Ophelia's brother, who has taken his father's place at the court.

A duel is arranged between Hamlet and Laertes. During the match, Claudius conspires with Laertes to kill Hamlet. They plan that Hamlet will die either on a poisoned rapier or with poisoned wine. The plans go awry when Gertrude unwittingly drinks from the poisoned cup and dies. Then both Laertes and Hamlet are wounded by the poisoned blade, and Laertes dies.

Hamlet, in his death throes, kills Claudius. Hamlet dies, leaving only his friend Horatio to explain the truth to the new king, Fortinbras, as he returns in victory from the Polish wars.

Morals & Understanding:

The question of life and death is introduced when the play opens. throughout the play, Hamlet ponders the complexity of life and considers the meaning of life. Many questions emerge as: what happens when one dies, Will someone directly go to heaven, if he/she is murdered? etc. Hamlet is extremely uncertain about the afterlife which causes him to quit suicide. The death of just above all major characters of the play, towards the tip of the play, doesn’t fully answer the question of mortality. The character of Hamlet represents the exploration and discussion disregard of true perseverance.

In the drama, Shakespeare’s Hamlet contains a very conclusive moral order. Each crime committed is punished, and each morally wrong action is balanced by one that is right. Claudius’ murder and plots are balanced by Hamlet’s internal struggle with his conscience and morals as he tries to right the wrongs committed against him. Hamlet’s indecisiveness throughout the play is because of his morals even with the murder of his father he could not kill Claudius in prayer. This shows the opposite side of the moral issue and helps to ensure that in the end, there is no imbalance.

The impossibility of certainty, complexity of action, mystery of death, madness, and doubt are the themes presented in the drama. Throughout the play, various life lessons can be learned.

“Stay, Illusion!” Illusion is the only means to action. The only thing that can save us in this distracted globe is theatre. The only truth is found in illusion.

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Essay on Ophelia’s Death in ‘Hamlet’. (2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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