Hamlet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In Hamlet, why does Ophelia return the letter and presents Hamlet gave her?

In Hamlet, Ophelia returns Hamlet's letters and presents because she is acting according to the wishes of her father and Claudius. The two men hope to use this staged interaction to determine the true nature of Hamlet's sanity.

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Ophelia is being used as a pawn by Polonius and Claudius, who hope to discover the true state of Hamlet's mind. They stage a scene for Hamlet to encounter Ophelia as if "’twere by accident" so that the two men can spy on the former couple. Ophelia brings "remembrances" Hamlet had given her as further proof of her resolution in ending their relationship. She would be justified by anyone's standards. Hamlet hasn't been treating her with respect lately, and even Gertrude hopes aloud that Ophelia's beauty is the reason for her son's strange behavior.

When Ophelia tries to present the mementos, Hamlet denies ever giving them to her. Ophelia asserts that Hamlet knows that he did gift her these items and sweet letters, but they are now meaningless to her:

Take these again, for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
There, my lord. (III.i.110-112)

Hamlet undoubtedly realizes the truth here: Ophelia, the woman whom he seemingly loved once, has sided with Polonius and Claudius and...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 829 words.)

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She tells us the reason she is returning these "remembrances". "...their perfume lost, Take these again, for to the noble mind Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind." The "perfume lost" comes from her brother in 1.3 when he told Ophelia that the trifling of Hamlet's favor toward her should be taken as "The perfume and suppliance of a minute, no more." She suggests, given her father's and her brother's life-lesson, that Hamlet's "tenders" and his "words of so sweet breath composed" were not borne of love but of lust. Later in this scene Hamlet admits as much. He acknowledges that no amount of civility or nobility can change the deeper nature of men. So, Ophelia feels justified in her  conclusion that she "was the more deceived."