Does Hamlet love Ophelia or not?Does Hamlet love Ophelia or not? Is he mad or not?

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the variety of answers to these two questions below demonstrate, there is no definite answer to either of them, and directors in the theatre, as well as readers of the play, have made convincing arguments in both directions.

Hamlet writes to Ophelia, that though she could doubt that 'the stars are fire' or that the 'sun doth move', she should never doubt that he loves her: and Ophelia later corroborates his claim by admitting that he made her believe that he loved her. But does he love her now?

Well, the place to look is the nunnery scene (Act 3, Scene 1) where Ophelia gives him some love-tokens (she calls them 'remembrances' - are they letters? jewellery?) back. Is he simply hurt and upset when he tells her he doesn't love her? Or does he really mean it? You can argue both ways.

As for Hamlet's madness, he warns his friends in Act 1, Scene 5, that

I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on

'Antic' means 'mad', and 'meet' means 'appropriate': so might we read Hamlet's 'madness' as completely 'pretend'? Certainly yes when he is mocking Polonius, with his 'words, words, words' - but what about when he murders Polonius? Are these the actions of a genuine madman? When he apologises to Laertes at shortly before their fight, it is 'Hamlet's madness' which Hamlet blames for Polonius' death. But is this just an excuse, another pretence?

You could - in both cases - convincingly argue both ways.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A little, and a little. ;-)By that I mean, he was very fond of her before this all happened. He might have thought it was love, and it was possible that it would turn into love…but it wasn't really love yet, or else he would have trusted her more (even if it cost him).Is he mad? He's so upset by loss, grief, and the need for revenge that he's a bit off-balance, but he's not really crazy. Angry, and under pressure, even haunted, but not crazy.

alaska | Student

I think Hamlet, before he learned of the murder of his Father, DID love Ophelia - "I did love thee once." Up until the murder, Hamlet had had no reason to distrust women. Now he was aware of women's capabilities - his Mother remarried Claudius in haste - he begins to resent women, and tells Ophelia - "get thee to a nunnery!" However, I think he constantly tests Ophelia's love -"I did love thee once", she replies with something like "You made me believe it were so." As soon as she doubts his love, he contradicts himself and says "I loved you not." I think he wanted Ophelia to tell him she loved him instead of following Polonius' words - we are not sure Hamlet overhears Polonius' conversations, but when Hamlet later slains Polonius, he calls him an "intruding fool" - implying that he is aware of Polonius' meddling.

Again, Hamlet's "madness" is a complex thesis - I, personally, think Hamlet's madness was feigned: he says in Act III - "for I am essentially not mad, but mad in craft." His madness is ironic - the other characters' in the play believe he is "mad as the wind and the sea", whereas Hamlet speaks the truth throughout the entire play - he says something like "it is not madness that I mutter". He tells the truth - and it is the "sane" characters' in the play who do not realise this.