Date of Award


Degree Type



Moore School of Business

Director of Thesis

Holly Crocker

Second Reader

Esther Richey


This project examines Ophelia's role in the thematic exploration of the nature of the individual self in Shakespeare's Hamlet. First, I discuss the different models of subjectivity and virtue that Ophelia embodies and by which characters around her judge her actions. Her father, Polonius, espouses a form of Renaissance humanism that Shakespeare counters throughout the play. He believes the imitation of noble qualities can affect inner goodness, and he demands Ophelia's obedience of his instructions regarding noble conduct. In contrast, Hamlet locates moral authority within the individual, and he dismisses Polonius' notions of elite selfpresentation as vulgar performances. Both men privilege the development of the individual as the highest goal in ethical action, and Ophelia counters their ethics in two ways. First, she embodies a different mode of subjectivity that privileges connection with others over self-promotion or self-preservation, and she conceives of natural communion where Hamlet insists on the impossibility of surmounting the barriers of self-interest between discrete selves. Second, her fate registers the potential destructiveness of Polonius' and Hamlets' ethics: Polonius' restrictive guidance fails to secure her a husband or to ensure that others treat her with dignity and respect. Hamlet's single-minded pursuit of his personal conception of justice discards her feelings, her reputation, and father's life as collateral, and her poignant madness undermines his selfconception as a sincere individual suffering at the hands of corrupt others.

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