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Does Hamlet truly love Ophelia?

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mahii25 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted May 22, 2009 at 5:02 AM via web

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Does Hamlet truly love Ophelia?

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted May 22, 2009 at 5:43 AM (Answer #1)

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Yes - I think the play makes pretty clear that he does. Firstly, Polonius and Laertes have both heard that Hamlet has been chasing after Ophelia and counsel her to avoid his love - as he, as the heir to the throne, is way out of her social class and therefore not marriage material.

Polonius later reads us a love letter which provides pretty clear evidence that Hamlet is indeed passionately in love with Ophelia:

'Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
'O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers;
I have not art to reckon my groans: but that
I love thee best, O most best, believe it. Adieu.
'Thine evermore most dear lady, whilst
this machine is to him, HAMLET.'

He is, admittedly, pretty horrible to her in the 'get thee to a nunnery' scene which in most texts follows the 'to be or not to be' soliloquy. But then, does he know that Claudius and Polonius are watching him? Is it all an act?

There's an interpretation which argues that Hamlet doesn't really know what he feels and is consumed by grief: Ophelia is simply collateral damage of the other events in his life. But I wouldn't go along with it. At her funeral, Hamlet cries out to Laertes, Ophelia's brother:

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum.

He loved Ophelia forty thousand times more than her brother did. Pretty clear, I'd say!

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