English Literature » Notes » The Relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia
Hamlet and Ophelia

The Relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is by all means a troubled young man. He seeks revenge for the murder of his father and has to deal with the incestuous relationship between his mother and uncle. In order to hide his motives, he pretends to be mad. Is it under such circumstances possible for him to return Ophelia’s feelings for him?

And in what way does Hamlet’s struggle with himself affect Ophelia? This paper deals with the relationship between the characters of Hamlet and Ophelia. More specifically, it tries to find an answer to the question whether or not Hamlet loves Ophelia and how this is connected with his actions throughout the play that ultimately lead to her death. 2. Body 2. 1 “I did love you once” – How Hamlet shows affection That Ophelia is in love with Hamlet is rather clear and undoubted throughout the play.

And there are many reasons to believe that Hamlet feels similar about her. In Ophelia’s first dialogue with Polonius, she tells him how Hamlet has made “tenders/ Of his affection” to her. This must have taken place sometime before the play starts, before Hamlet learns of the murder of his father and decides to feign madness and is therefore likely to be a true act of affection. Even stronger and clearer his Hamlet’s declaration of his love for Ophelia in Act 5, Scene 1, at Ophelia’s burial.

He verbally attacks (and physically struggles) with Laertes, actually claiming that he loved Ophelia and that “forty thousand brothers/ Could not with all their quantity of love/ Make up [his] sum. ”This is a true outbreak of passion by the phlegmatic Hamlet, to attack a man he respects (“That is Laertes, a very noble youth. ”) and whose father died at his hands. 2. 2 “I loved you not” – Hamlet’s denial Although he claims to love Ophelia, no one in the play is crueler to her than Hamlet.

When Polonius and Claudius decide to test Hamlet’s madness through Ophelia, he confesses he once loved her; only to immediately contradict himself claiming her never loved her. Fuelled by his detestation of sinful mankind and his low opinion of women in general as a result of his mother’s incest, he furthermore repeatedly orders Ophelia to “Go [her] ways to a nunnery”. More crudeness on Hamlet’s behalf is shown during the play-in-play, when he tortures Ophelia with a series of rude sexual comments. So, Hamlet hurts Ophelia as much as he confesses his love, how can he do that if he truly loves her?

All those encounters with Ophelia happen under unfortunate conditions. Claudius’s test takes place right after Hamlet delivers his ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy, voicing suicidal thoughts. Additionally, he cannot be honest with Ophelia as he must know of her obedience to her father Polonius and has to maintain his madness-cover. With regard to this, one could argue that Ophelia joining a nunnery would keep her safe and away from the court, as Hamlet does not and cannot know how his plans for revenge will play out.

His hostile attitude towards her can thus be seen as an attempt to alienate her, again, to have her out of the way for his more imminent goal of avenging the murder of his father. 2. 3 “This is I, Hamlet the Dane” – Why Hamlet is responsible for Ophelia’s death If it was Hamlet’s goal to alienate Ophelia in order to keep her safe, he absolutely fails in that respect. She seems to have accepted her father’s theory that the cause for Hamlet’s madness is her, that he is “Mad for [her] love” so that instead of turning away from him, she feels sorry for him. She believes to have lost Hamlet to madness, reversing the effect intended y him. To make things worse, she loses him also physically when he is sent to England as a result of him killing Polonius, her beloved father. Now bereft of two dearly loved persons, her mind cannot cope with the loss and she drifts into madness. 3. Conclusion The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is certainly one of the most tragic aspects of the play and full of bitter irony. Hamlet is disgusted by the impurity and falseness of mankind in general and the gentry he is part of specifically, yet he destroys the life and sanity of the most pure and innocent character in the play.

When he seems to finally have found insight, he speaks his wisdom on life and death over the grave of his love for whose madness and death he is responsible for without being able to acknowledge it. Hamlet loves Ophelia. But in his inner struggle with his melancholy and inability to act, he sees it necessary to sacrifice his love for his revenge with disastrous consequences.

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