Ophelia is a minor, but haunting, character in Shakespeare's Hamlet - a tale of tragic deception, madness, death, and suicide. She lives to please the men in her life; men who never accept or return her love.
Hamlet was kind to her for a time but became cold and cruel. She returns that cruelty with love but, in the end, Hamlet humiliates her after they are intimate.
Unable to cope with his cruelty, Ophelia begins the descent into madness. She wanders to the river, singing love songs and twirling flowers in her hair. Finally, she drowns herself.
Ophelia was a popular subject for Victorian painters - though most chose to romantic portrayals of her innocence and beauty. Sir John Everett Millais shocked Victorian England with his painting of Ophelia (1851). Here she is - hands stiff; mouth ajar; skirts floating.
If you are interested in the story of Hamlet, you might try renting one of the film productions. Screen adaptations of Shakespeare's work are often easier to follow than trying to read the plays. Probably the best place to start is with Director Franco Zeffirelli's version. Zeffirelli cast...wait for it...Mel Gibson as Hamlet. Ophelia is played by Helena Bonham Carter.
Mel Gibson...I know...but Zeffirelli's version is set in Shakespeare's time and gives amazing castle visuals. You could also try the not-as-grand Kenneth Branaugh/Kate Winslet, or Ethan Hawke/Julia Stiles; versions. Up to you. If you see all three you'll be able to see how each actress chose to play Ophelia - and there are important differences.
Modern adaptation of the story can also be a great introduction to Shakespeare. Did you know that one of the most familiar treatments of Hamlet is the Disney movie, The Lion King?