In "Hamlet", does Hamlet really love Ophelia?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even Hamlet himself, in the course of the play, contradicts himself on this matter.  When Ophelia speaks to him early on, to give him his love tokens back, he tells her, "I loved you not"(III.i.120) right after telling her that "I loved you once" (III.i.116).  From this we can gather that he did love her at one time, but is claiming to not love her now.  It is hard to know whether to believe him though, since he potentially knows that her father, and the king and queen are listening in on this conversation.  The entire thing could be staged for their benefit, to throw them off.  After this he rants and raves about the fickle nature of women, and tells Ophelia to get to a nunnery; possibly an indirect hit at Hamlet's mother.

Later, at Ophelia's grave, Hamlet declares, "I loved Ophelia:  forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum" (V.i.292-4).  Here he claims to love her 40 times more than her brother does.  I tend to believe him more here; he is reacting freshly to her unexpected death.  Which makes it all the more tragic that he so harshly rejected her, contributing to her road to madness and death.