In this essay I will consider how Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship evolves throughout the play of “Hamlet” and whether their love was real and true. I will be looking at Act 2 Scene 1, Act 3 Scene 1, Act 3 Scene 2 and Act 5 Scene 1. I have chosen these scenes because in these four scenes, Hamlet and Ophelia are either talking to each other, or they are talking about the other. I think Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship is essential to the plot because if Ophelia hadn’t gone mad and died, along with Polonius being murdered by Hamlet, then Laertes wouldn’t have poisoned Hamlet. The poisoning of Hamlet also leads to Claudius, Gertrude, and Laertes dying.
In Act 2 Scene 1, Ophelia goes to find her father. She has been frightened by Hamlet, she describes how he came into her room. He didn’t say anything, but he was obviously upset. In the lines, “Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other, and with a look so piteous in purport” Ophelia seems worried for him, like she pities him. The way Ophelia describes Hamlet’s clothing, “Lord Hamlet with his doublet unbraced, No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled, Ungartered, and down-gyved to his ankle” is the stereotype of the lover that has been cast aside. This indicates that his main objective in visiting Ophelia is to use Ophelia to convince others that his insanity was not due to any mysterious unknown cause, i.e. Old Hamlet’s murder but to his disappointment of Ophelia returning his gifts and letters and refusing to see him. Ophelia’s purpose in this scene seems to be to back up the idea that Hamlet never loved Ophelia at all, but merely used her. If so, then Hamlet is as guilty of deceptiveness as are those he judges.
Polonius asks “Mad for thy love?” To this Ophelia replies “My Lord, I do not know but truly I do fear it” she speaks as if she is trying to convince Polonius that she doesn’t love Hamlet anymore, as it was him who told her to end the relationship. It seems she is not fond of the idea that Hamlet is mad because of love for her, making his madness and all the disruption her fault. I think Ophelia feels resentful towards Polonius for asking her to sent back his letters and denying Hamlet seeing Ophelia. I think this because she chooses the words, “But as you did command, I did repel his letters and denied his access to me.” This shows it was not something she wanted to do., but something she was made to do.
“He falls to such perusal of my face, As ‘a would draw it. Long stay’d he so.” Hamlet was carefully looking at Ophelia’s face, he could have been looking for signs of change. Or he was looking into her eyes to try and see whether she still loves him. Hamlet must have been feeling confused because he thought Ophelia loved him but all of a sudden she doesn’t want to see him. He could have thought he’d done something wrong to offend Ophelia.
In Act 2 Scene 1 I think Hamlet and Ophelia show love for each other but one is being forced out of the relationship and the other is using the relationship as a decoy. This shows that their relationship at this stage did not have good foundations, and I think it is Polonius’ fault that these foundations have broken down. Ophelia and Hamlet are both grieving for their relationship but in different ways. Hamlet is using his grief, whereas Ophelia is silently grieving.
In Act 3 Scene 1 Ophelia, Polonius and Claudius set up Hamlet to observe his behaviour. Personally I think Hamlet saw or heard them and “played up to his part.” I think this betrayal of Hamlet is wrong of Ophelia but I think she feels an obligation to Polonius as his daughter. The effect on the modern audience would be that people would think wrong of Ophelia as she betrayed her love. But, in Shakespeare’s time women belonged to their fathers until they married.
When Ophelia wants to give Hamlet back the gifts and letters Hamlet replies “No, not I, I never gave you aught.” Hamlet is no longer the same man as the lover Ophelia fell in love with, he denies he ever gave her them. This could signify that Hamlet doesn’t want the gifts back as he is offended and hurt that Ophelia is returning them. He may not want them as they bring back memories.
Ophelia sounds as if she misses the gifts and the kind things Hamlet used to say by saying, “And with them words so sweet breath compos’d.” She sounds as if she still holds onto the memories and holds those words in her heart. Although, as if she is comparing the memories to that moment she says, “Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind” Ophelia uses the phrase “when givers prove unkind” in the sense that now Hamlet has changed and is not a loving person anymore, the gifts mean nothing. Hamlet seems to be unsettled by what Ophelia has said about him changing. Now he changes the subject by being quite rude and mean, he questions her virginity by asking, “Are you honest?”
Out of the blue Hamlet says that he did love Ophelia once. Ophelia replies with “You made me believe so.” Hamlet is saying that he doesn’t love her anymore and Ophelia seems at this point to give very short answers, this may be due to not wanting to talk about whether they loved each other. Hamlet then turns back on his word by saying she shouldn’t have believed him and now saying that he doesn’t love her. I think that by going back on his word, he was expecting a reply of words to the effect of “I loved you too.” Hamlet seems to doubt that Ophelia ever loved him. But, because she didn’t reply in this way he doesn’t want to feel (or for her to think) he was the only one in their relationship with love for the other.
By changing his mood constantly I think Hamlet is trying to reinforce his act of being mad. By changing the subject and contradicting himself he doesn’t make any sense which is one of the characteristics of a stereotypical mad person.
In Act 3 Scene 2 Hamlet sits by Ophelia and asks to put his head in her lap, a question that is demeaning in public while at the same time showing that the two have a far more intimate relationship than has been shown so far. She seems insulted as she says “No, my lord” yet Ophelia seemed pleased is with his attention and says, “You are merry, my lord.”
Hamlet says, “That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs" a very vulgar remark, imagery shows Hamlet has no respect for Ophelia who he sees as a prostitute for selling her soul to Claudius and using his affection for her for profit in spying on him. Hamlet lost respect for Ophelia when she turned her back on him at her father’s will.
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When Ophelia says “I think nothing, my lord” a modern female audience would show a lack of respect for Ophelia because she displays an act of low intelligence by stated she does not think. The public of Shakespeare’s time wouldn’t think anything of it because a woman was not expected to express their intelligence or put their point across.
The prologue is recited and Ophelia tells Hamlet that it is brief, Hamlet replies with cold words, “As woman’s love” a clear insult to Ophelia and Gertrude who quickly transferred her love from one man to another, Gertrude shifting love her from Old Hamlet to Claudius and Ophelia her loyalty from Hamlet to Claudius.
Hamlet seems still hurt that Ophelia cast his love away. The manner in which Hamlet says this, only referring to a woman’s love may symbolise that he still loves Ophelia. She, from either being too unnerved or shy to answer, does not reply to this comment. I believe she is offended by this remark but also worries that any reply she may give may lead Polonius to think Ophelia and Hamlet are still in love, which would anger him.
By Act 5 Scene 1, Ophelia has turned mad and committed suicide. Hamlet has returned from England to find a burial ceremony, he then finds out it is Ophelia’s. In this scene Hamlet finally admits that he loves Ophelia. I feel that this is the first time Hamlet has spoken about Ophelia and his feelings honestly, without the act of madness. He talks of “forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum.” Hamlet states, “I’ll rant as well as thou." And, this makes me doubt for a moment of Hamlet's own love. Has he just been "ranting"? Claudius and Gertrude try to “defend” Hamlet by insisting that he is mad. Throughout the play Hamlet is always drifting in and out of the act of madness, I think its shines a new light on Hamlet, of romance and passion. Hamlet and Laertes seem to challenge each other on what they would do, or sacrifice, for Ophelia. This reflects on when Ophelia sacrificed Hamlet’s love for her father.
Did Hamlet Love Ophelia? Yes, I think he did. I think his love was real, true and passionate. I think Hamlet has just used this love to his advantage to distract Claudius from his suspicions. When Hamlet said “I’ll rant as well as thou" I think he meant that him and Laertes were talking angrily not foolishly. Therefore I believe that in Act 5 Scene 1 when he said he loved Ophelia I think he was speaking truthfully. I think Hamlet really did love Ophelia but became so involved with plotting his revenge, and when he declares at her funeral that he loved her all along he jumps into the grave showing his true feelings.
There is the debate whether Hamlet did love Ophelia and I have chosen opinions and statements from others on the subject. Helena Faucit Martin said, “I cannot, therefore, think that Hamlet comes out well in his relations with Ophelia. I do not forget what he says at her grave: But I weigh his actions against his words, and find them here of little worth. The very language of his letter to Ophelia, which Polonius reads to the king and queen, has not the true ring in it. It comes from the head, and not from the heart.” I understand that Hamlet has acted cruelly and nastily to Ophelia over the course of the play yet, Hamlet’s father had recently died so his mind would not be typical of Hamlet’s normal character. Hamlet is a thoughtful character that needs to work situations out and weigh them out in his head so his words may sound like they are from the head but they still mean the same and are meant with as much passion just in a discrete way. “I do think, with submission, that the love of Hamlet for Ophelia is deep, is real, and is precisely the kind of love which such a man as Hamlet would feel for such a woman as Ophelia” was said by Anna Jameson. By this I think she means Hamlet is a thoughtful person and Ophelia is slightly reserved and naïve. So for these two characters it would not be right to create an open, extremely passionate relationship because it does not suit their personalities.
Personally, I think Ophelia did not love Hamlet because I do not think she is capable of such open, ardent feelings. I think she holds herself back to much to ever let herself get that involved or that emotionally attached. Throughout the play Ophelia has not once stated she loved or had any romantic feelings for Hamlet. I think that she does feel romantically attached to Hamlet but doesn’t let herself show it. I find this quite aggravating for the reason that if she had told Hamlet or shown Hamlet in someway that she did care for him, then he would not have played the “lovesick” act as often because he would have known what her true feelings were. Yet I feel this way because as part of a modern audience it is now acceptable for women to show their love and feelings, but in Shakespeare’s day an audience would be shocked to see Ophelia showing any affection as it was unseemly to do so.
Throughout the play Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship evolves throughout the play. After Polonius and Laertes have warned Ophelia, Hamlet seems too caught up and involved in the murder of his father to dwell on his and Ophelia’s relationship. But, after a while, when he is stalling the revenge, Hamlet seems then to acting up around Ophelia to offend and embarrass her. I think this is because he is hurt but also because I think he would Ophelia to know what it feels like to be hurt. I feel Hamlet doubt whether Ophelia ever loved him so he tries to test her, by telling her he used to love her and asking to “lie in her lap.” As Ophelia does not respond in the manner Hamlet wished for, Hamlet returns to thoughts of his revenge. It is only when he returns from England shocked to find Ophelia dead that he realises and remembers how much he loved her. So Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship goes through hurt, offence, lack of respect and it’s only when one of the couple dies that their love finally becomes true.
Helena Faucit Martin, “Shakespeare’s Female Characters”, Blackwood and sons, Edinburgh, 1888, Page 19 - “I cannot, therefore, think that Hamlet comes out well in his relations with Ophelia. I do not forget what he says at her grave: But I weigh his actions against his words, and find them here of little worth. The very language of his letter to Ophelia, which Polonius reads to the king and queen, has not the true ring in it. It comes from the head, and not from the heart.”
Anna Brownell Murphy Jameson, “Shakespeare’s Heroines: Characteristics of Women, 1889 AMS Press, New York, 1967, Page 161 - “I do think, with submission, that the love of Hamlet for Ophelia is deep, is real, and is precisely the kind of love which such a man as Hamlet would feel for such a woman as Ophelia”