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Why does Hamlet tell Ophelia to go "to a nunnery" and what does he give as his reason?

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vladik1 | Student, College Freshman | eNoter

Posted March 4, 2009 at 8:23 AM via web

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Why does Hamlet tell Ophelia to go "to a nunnery" and what does he give as his reason?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 4, 2009 at 8:47 AM (Answer #1)

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When he states "get thee to a nunnery" to Ophelia, he is expressing pent-up anger towards his mother, who he feels has been unfaithful and incestuous when she married his uncle.  At the beginning of the play itself, we see a brooding Hamlet who seems almost more upset by his mother's marriage than by his father's death.  He speaks of it with such bitter disgust:  "She married, O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!" (I.ii.156-7) and is so upset with his mother that he pronounces a curse on ALL women, not just her:  "Frailty, thy name is woman!" (I.ii.147).  So, that curse includes Ophelia, and from that point on, he avoids her.  Then, when she confronts him, he lets out a huge rant on all women in general-it is a way to indirectly vent his rage at his mother, since he suspects she is listening.

So, think of a nunnery.  There, women cannot marry at all; they cannot be under the influence of any men, or influence men in any way.  Hamlet feels that is where a woman has a best chance at being faithful, and where she will cause the least amount of damage.  After all, as he tells Ophelia also, "why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?"; in a nunnery, she won't have children and bear wicked men-like his uncle-that do awful things.  A nunnery will keep her from marrying, but if she were to marry, Hamlet says, "be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow...[or] marry a fool" who doesn't know "what monsters you make of them" (III.i.122-146).

I hope that explanation helps a bit!  Good luck!

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clooless | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted October 22, 2010 at 2:56 AM (Answer #2)

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In my opinion Hamlet tells Ophelia to 'get thee to a nunnery' as he believes all women are deceitful. In particular he is basing his knowledge on his mothers actions- She remarried after one month of his fathers death to his brother. His fury and anger are taken out on Ophelia as she tries to give Hamlet back some 'remembrances'. He berates Ophelia and cruelly tells her not to have children because she would be a

breeder of sinners

This scene is one of the few times we see Hamlet loose his composure. It indeed is dramatic and compelling as it serves a catalyst for much of the plays subsequent action.

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purplepandaress | Student, College Freshman | eNoter

Posted October 27, 2011 at 8:19 PM (Answer #3)

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It is possible that Hamlet tells Ophelia to 'get thee to a nunnery' as a gesture of protection. He may feel that a nunnery would keep her away from the afflications and dangers of this world. However, it is also likely that Hamlet is referring to the nunnery as a brothel in which it shows his disgust for her. Hamlet is an ambigious character <3

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 21, 2012 at 11:45 AM (Answer #4)

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Hamlet has turned against women because of his mother's behavior. He still loves Ophelia but decides against marrying her. When he tells her to get to a nunnery, he is revealing his love for her. He doesn't want to marry her, but he doesn't want her to marry anybody else. His behavior at Ophelia's funeral in Act 5, Scene 1shows how deeply he loved her--more than "forty thousand brothers" could love her.

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kushshah | Student, Grade 10 | Honors

Posted April 19, 2012 at 2:38 PM (Answer #5)

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When he states "get thee to a nunnery" to Ophelia, he is expressing pent-up anger towards his mother, who he feels has been unfaithful and incestuous when she married his uncle. At the beginning of the play itself, we see a brooding Hamlet who seems almost more upset by his mother's marriage than by his father's death. He speaks of it with such bitter disgust: "She married, O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!" (I.ii.156-7) and is so upset with his mother that he pronounces a curse on ALL women, not just her: "Frailty, thy name is woman!" (I.ii.147). So, that curse includes Ophelia, and from that point on, he avoids her. Then, when she confronts him, he lets out a huge rant on all women in general-it is a way to indirectly vent his rage at his mother, since he suspects she is listening.

So, think of a nunnery. There, women cannot marry at all; they cannot be under the influence of any men, or influence men in any way. Hamlet feels that is where a woman has a best chance at being faithful, and where she will cause the least amount of damage. After all, as he tells Ophelia also, "why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?"; in a nunnery, she won't have children and bear wicked men-like his uncle-that do awful things. A nunnery will keep her from marrying, but if she were to marry, Hamlet says, "be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow...[or] marry a fool" who doesn't know "what monsters you make of them" (III.i.122-146).

I hope that explanation helps a bit! Good luck!

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jillyfish | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted March 4, 2009 at 10:37 PM (Answer #6)

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Hamlet suspects Ophelia has betrayed him by being willing 'bait' for her father's spytrap. 

A few minutes before, Hamlet was very close to killing himself, so think about his emotional state, he's feeling a total fragile wreck. Then along comes Ophelia, his much-loved girlfriend. ... and she finishes with him. She returns his love-letters and poems and gifts. Ouch! That's not good timing.

Then, Hamlet realises they are being spyed on. He suddenly suspects Ophelia is a willing accomplice to this covert operation and that she's cheerfully dumped him in public to get a reaction.

He does what many love-sick, unhappy, rejected ex-boyfriends do when they can't have the girl they love. He rages. For some reason, we reserve the worst insults for the ones we love. He calls her names and tries to hurt her feelings.

Also, he may be 'playing to the gallery', aware that they are being spied on, he may be exagerating his 'madness'. But considering he was moments from suicide and his girlfriend just dumped him, he probably didn't need to act too hard.

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anujumairah | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted February 8, 2012 at 3:23 AM (Answer #7)

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Presumably, Hamlet might be referring to a convent, where Ophelia will be cleansed of her sins and to be far away from the 'rotten' state of Denmark. On the other hand, "nunnery" was a euphemism for "brothel" in Elizabethan time, probably Hamlet was underscoring that, because beforehand, he calls Polonius a "fishmonger" which is de facto a slang term for agent of prostitutes.

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katrynagilson1 | Student | eNoter

Posted January 26, 2012 at 3:53 AM (Answer #8)

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Get thee to a nunnery is a play on words. Although a nunnery is a place for pure women who give themselves body and soles to God, a nunnery also means a whore house. NUNNERY HAS A DOUBLE MEANING. Essentially, Hamlet is telling ophelia that she unpure and a whore.

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rice33 | eNoter

Posted February 7, 2012 at 5:43 AM (Answer #9)

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Bit surprised it took six answers to get to the Elizabethan slang definition of "nunnery" (brothel).   That's the one I'm most familiar with.

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cuteness | Student, Grade 9 | Honors

Posted April 18, 2012 at 10:46 PM (Answer #10)

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"Get thee to a nunnery" : a place where Ophelia can remain chaste and not continue the procreation of wicked sinful creatures. Even the most ordinary men are full of sins. Hamlet enumerates his.

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drolmstead | Student | eNoter

Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:59 PM (Answer #11)

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Hamlet feels betrayed on all sides.  When he knows Polonius and Claudius are eavesdropping on his conversation with Ophelia, he point blank asks her "Where is your father?"  To which Ophelia replies, "At home, my lord."  Enranged, Hamlet now tells her to get to a nunnery so as not to breed sin.  The verbal irony here is that "nunnery" in Elizabethan England was a slang term for a brothel.  Hamlet may be protecting Ophelia, wanting her to get away from all the sin in the rotton State of Denmark; however, mist critics agree that he is transfering his anger from his mother, Gertrude, onto all women.  He turns misogynistic, seeing all women as dependent, sexual beings.  None are to be trusted.

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ybrant6712 | College Teacher | Honors

Posted July 21, 2012 at 11:05 AM (Answer #13)

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Both the sources from which we get the tale of Hamlet- SaxoGrammaticus's " Historica Danica" and Belleforest's French translation Ophelia is employed as a decoy by the King and his officials . It is from the beginning that Hamlet's misogynist views already hold sway over his mind . Due to his mother's hasty incestuous marriage,Hamlet's condemns women in general for they are more susceptible to the carnal pleasures and at times mislead by honeyed words. It is not only Hamlet who holds this opinion .Laertus also cautions his sister in Act I ,his opinion is further supported by Polonius. But Shakespeare shows Polonius's true colours as he agrees to use his daughter as a pawn in revealing the true cause of Hamlet's madness; and also furthering his career . It is this duplicity in Polonius that makes Hamlet call him a "fishmonger".Hamlet assumes that Ophelia and Polonius are hand in glove .He admires her before berating her. On the return of love letters and trinkets he further denigrates women for not being able to decide . To a maddened,spurned lover the best place for a woman to be in is the "nunnery" . The pretense of chastity can be dropped in a brothel for deceit and the " paintings" are a part of a wanton's life. This speech shows a moralistic Hamlet preaching the doctrine that man is an inherent Sinner.
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ryekubb | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:38 AM (Answer #14)

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I dont know what these people wrote and i am too lazy to read it, but it's because he is almost calling her a whore, practically anyway. It was in a fit of rage trying to see if she was spying on him or had someone spying on him, he thought she was decieving him in some way.When he says nunnery he means brothel.

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qui-est-ce | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted September 25, 2012 at 3:05 AM (Answer #15)

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he's basically calling her ugly in that scene, inner beauty/honesty reflects outer. Once Hamlet realized that she was dishonest, Hamlet viwed her as ugly..

In that scene he keeps telling her to go to a nunnery, he's mocking her..making fun of her. 

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lsooy | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 18, 2012 at 2:19 PM (Answer #18)

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@rice33, I was also surprised that it took six answers before someone mentioned the double meaning of nunnery in Shakespeare's day. I think this knowledge helps in understanding Hamlet's thoughts and feelings.

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tenrii | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 16, 2009 at 2:30 AM (Answer #20)

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Hamlet is stunned by Ophelia's "duplicity", and already being horrified by his mother's own treachery, sees Ophelia as a typical  "two faced woman". So in a rage he denounces her and all of womankind.

 

Hope that helps.

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