Is Ophelia Hamlet's "dream," or "goal," and why? Does he love her?

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet's main problem is that he is not in touch with his own feelings. He doesn't know whether he loves Ophelia or not. He doesn't know whether or not he loves his own mother. I believe we understand that he really does love both of them deeply. Hamlet doesn't even know whether he hates Claudius. Sometimes he hates him, while at other times he analyzes him. C. G. Jung in his great book Psychological Types emphasizes that people whose dominant conscious function is thinking are not in touch with their feelings and that people whose dominant conscious function is feeling are not much good at thinking. Thinking and feeling, according to Jung, are mutually exclusive. We can think of example of both types in real life. Samuel Taylor Coleridge says that Hamlet thinks too much. He is obviously extremely intelligent and also extremely well educated. He has been burying himself in books at Wittenberg for years and would like to go back there and read still more, in German, Latin, French, Italian, and a few other languages--but Claudius won't let him. When it comes to intellectual matters, Hamlet is in his proper element. But when it comes to emotional matters he is confused. His feelings break through when he isn't thinking. But then he seems mad, or almost mad. This is because his feelings are unfamiliar to him. He doesn't have them under control. He can't be guided by his feelings; he doesn't understand them well enough. Laertes, his foil, is a "feeling person" and he is thoroughly acquainted with his feelings. But Laertes is not much good at thinking, as shown by the way he is so easily manipulated by Claudius. We like Hamlet in spite of his faults. We don't understand the guy but we like him. Maybe he is like ourselves. 

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At Ophelia's funeral, Hamlet jumps into her grave and shouts, "I loved Ophelia!" I think we should take him at his word, but he did have difficulties that strangely affected the way he related to her; he began to doubt her love in return to his.

  • He burst into her room, frightens her, then leaves without saying a thing.
  • He insults her and tells her to "get to a nunnery."
  • He he teases, entices and mocks her.

At The Mousetrap, a play he schedules to watch for signs of Claudius's guilt, he both teases and mocks Ophelia. After violently rebuking his mother, in alarm at the cry for help coming from behind the tapestry (arras), while in a frenzy, he inadvertently kills Ophelia's father, Polonius.

To keep of the ruse that he is mad, he doesn't console Ophelia but instead makes a joke out of what he's done with Polonius' body. Certainly Ophelia has a right to doubt his love, even though she has been manipulated into betraying him by testing his madness. The manipulation of these two young lovers by circumstances and by Claudius and Polonius causes rifts between their feelings, the expression of those feelings, and the stability of those feeling. Nonetheless, Hamlet, tossed and torn by strife, does love Ophelia as he declares in anguish that he does at her graveside.

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think Hamlet loved Ophelia in a way. Had everything been rosy in Denmark and had his father not been murdered and his mother not married to the murderer, he and Ophelia probably could have had a lovely life together.  But he didn't feel that he could really trust her. 

He knew she was manipulated and used by her father, Polonius, to ingratiate himself with the king.  Polonius had complete control over his daughter, which meant that Hamlet felt he secret his fears and concerns from her.

I am sure he felt painful loss when he realized she had drowned. [And it's not indicative in the text that she drowned herself; the priest in V.ii says it was determined to be an accident because of her loss of sanity and Gertrude's description does not accord with a suicide.]  

She may have been Hamlet's "dream," as your question asks, but she wasn't his "goal."  His goal was to understand how to sin against mother while taking revenge for sin against father.

    O my prophetic soul! My uncle!


    O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?
    And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart;
    And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
    But bear me stiffly up.

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The real question is "If Hamlet loved Ophelia, how deeply, and did he stop?"  It is hard to know much about their relationship before the play; it certainly insinuates a romance, with proclaimed emotions on Hamlet's part.  Ophelia seemed upset about his rejection of her, so she was certainly under the belief that he loved her.  

His rejection was either because his sentiments for her were not deep enough to tie him to her through a very difficult time or because he didn't want to taint her with "things rank and gross in nature" that he felt were all around him.  If the first, then no, he didn't truly love her. If the second, then yes, he did. His love was strong enough--even if a bit misguided and naive about the nature of female happiness--for him to act in a protective noble manner toward her.

If she was his "dream," I feel she represented all that was happy and loving before the harsh reality of conniving uncles, fickle mothers, and murders tipped his world upside down.  She remained the pleasant dream of what might have been had he not been infused with wild grief, melancholy and bitterness from his circumstances.

zumba96 | Student

Some would say he is in love with her while others would be skeptical if it is really true. Hamlet scares Ophelia as he bursts into her room and spouts nonsense at her while shaking her shoulders. Some would say this was an act so Ophelia could believe he has turned mad. However, because of his objectification of woman and judgmental approach, he characterizes Ophelia in the same boat as his mother and causes her to be scared of him. When Polonius uses Ophelia as a chance to draw out Hamlet, once he finds out someone is watching, he immediately changes his demeanor. He manhandles her and calls her the worst names possible. Post drama, when everyone is about to watch the play, Hamlet is simply inappropriate with her and does things that would not be deemed appropriate to do in public, like being touchy or putting his head in her lap. But in the near end scene when Laertes leaps in the grave to hold Ophelia, Hamlet thinks it is an outrage that HE is holding her when Hamlet should be the one holding on to her. Some would say he really did love her, but others would say, his madness drove him to crazy heights and he drifted from her. 

lizadoll | Student

I do believe Hamlet loved Ophelia. But I am wondering if anyone feels the same way about Act II Scene I, when Ophelia comes to Polonius terrified at the situation that just occured between Hamlet and her (when he comes into her room disheveled and wildly unkept and that whole "mad" scene ensues). To me, I felt as if this was when he was making his first move to plant the seed of his maddness into the minds of the other characters. He knew that Ophelia would tell her father and from there he would tell Claudius. However, I feel as if this was Hamlet's final time with Ophelia where he could express his love for her. I feel as if behind his craziness there was a hidden sincerity, for instance, " [h]e falls to such perusal of my face As he would draw it [...] he rais'd a sigh so piteous and profound As it did seem to shatter all his bulk". To me this just seems so heartfelt, as if he is finally resigning his fate, that even though he loves her, he loves revenge more, or rather it is his duty in life to fufill his father's revenge and so he must give up on it. Does anyone else see this scene with this significance behind it??

zales90 | Student

Hamlet loved Ophelia- but he was so damaged and jacked up himself. He could let himself trust her and be completely venerable with her. He just choose not to give her a chance to hurt him, and at the funeral he regretted it.

I think it is like those guys and girls who come from a troubled past so now, they don't let anyone in( Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting).