How does Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship evolves throughout the play of 'Hamlet'?

Authors Avatar

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.

Join now!

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 ...

This is a preview of the whole essay