In act 3, scene 1 of Hamlet, Hamlet has a conversation with Ophelia while Claudius and Polonius listen in to try to figure out the source of his madness. How does Hamlet use language in order to reveal his complicated thoughts about Ophelia?

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At this stage of the play, Hamlet is possibly pretending to be mad, in order to trick Claudius into thinking that he is no threat. Hamlet indicates, in act one, scene five, that he shall put on a show of madness when he tells Horatio : "I perchance hereafter shall...

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At this stage of the play, Hamlet is possibly pretending to be mad, in order to trick Claudius into thinking that he is no threat. Hamlet indicates, in act one, scene five, that he shall put on a show of madness when he tells Horatio: "I perchance hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on." When he speaks to Ophelia in act three, scene one, he may know that Claudius and Polonius are spying on him, and, therefore, what he says to Ophelia may partly be said to maintain his pretence of madness for Claudius. Anything he says to Opehlia must be considered in this context.

When Hamlet speaks to Ophelia he attacks her for being dishonest, exclaiming "Ha, ha! are you honest?" In an example of dramatic irony, the audience of course know that Ophelia is not dishonest at all. Hamlet uses a rhetorical question in the above quotation to imply, however, that he is certain of Ophelia's dishonesty. He phrases it as a rhetorical question because he means to convey that the answer, being no, is abundantly obvious. The exclamatory repetition of "ha" suggests that Hamlet is incredulous (or at least pretending to be so) that Ophelia should even claim to be honest.

Later in the scene, Hamlet tells Ophelia, repeatedly, to "Get thee to a nunnery." The imperative sentence suggests that Hamlet is ordering Ophelia to do as he says, and this way of speaking to her of course is very domineering and very dismissive. The implication is that Hamlet does not care for her at all. One could, however, read this quite differently. Hamlet's rationale for ordering Ophelia to a nunnery seems to be that men, including himself, are all "arrant knaves." Hamlet seems to be telling Ophelia to get to a nunnery for her own protection, and if this is the case, then he is here revealing a more caring attitude towards Ophelia.

Later in the scene, Hamlet uses hyperbolic, misogynistic language to dismiss Ophelia because of her gender. He tells her that "wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them." The word "you" here seems to be referring to all women collectively, and Ophelia is dismissed as just another typical representation of her gender. Hamlet also tells Ophelia that "God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another." The plural of "yourselves" here makes it very clear that Hamlet is attacking all women collectively, and Ophelia individually simply because she is a woman.

Hamlet also tells Ophelia, subsequently, that if she should marry, he will "give (her) this plague for the dowry." This hyperbolic language makes it difficut to believe that Hamlet has anything but hate for Ophelia at this moment, whether that be because she is a woman, or because she knows that Polonius and Claudius are spying on them, or because Hamlet genuinely is mad.

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