One of the basic themes in Hamlet is the failure of love. Where and why do the normal relationships of love break down?

The failure of love in Hamlet is not just between Hamlet and his mother and Ophelia but also between Hamlet and his best friend, Horatio. The play focuses on the relationship between Hamlet, Horatio, and Laertes. At first, it seems as if their relationship is strong, but this friendship turns out to be weak when they all grieve in different ways.

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There is love in Shakespeare's Hamlet, but I think it is accurate to say that it all goes wrong in some way. We know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, yet there is something always rotten with human relationships. Although much criticism focuses on Hamlet 's...

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There is love in Shakespeare's Hamlet, but I think it is accurate to say that it all goes wrong in some way. We know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, yet there is something always rotten with human relationships. Although much criticism focuses on Hamlet's famous indecision, perhaps less attention is given to his intense vulnerability and how we feels wronged by everyone he trusted. The plot is kicked into motion by love: the love he has for his dead father and the need to avenge his death. Love (or lust) has also lead his mother, Gertrude, to marry Claudius soon after the death of her first husband. Hamlet sees this relationship as deeply unsettling, and he confronts her in her bedroom, showing a somewhat unhealthy interest in her sex life. Gertrude and Hamlet do seem to genuinely love each other, even if they have a conflicted relationship, and I would argue that this is the only relationship to endure throughout the play, even if they both end up dead.

Another relationship the ends badly is that of Hamlet and Ophelia. While it's clear they have a history, the details can be a little fuzzy. His treatment of her is erratic, moving from flirtatious (in the play scene) to belligerent when he tells to go to a nunnery. In fact, in this rant he basically declares war on love and marriage. Ophelia is one of the most mistreated characters in the play, and both her father and brother treat her in a rather condescending manner. Hamlet's rejection, the machinations of the king, and the death of her father lead to her madness and death.

There is, of course, no love lost between Claudius and Hamlet, yet Claudius's effect on Hamlet, aside from the obvious, is that he poisons everyone against him, including his supposed friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are enlisted to spy (not very well) on him. Like the hero of a film noir, Hamlet can trust no one and can't count on love to save him.

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Normal relations of love in Hamlet break down between Hamlet and his mother and Hamlet and Ophelia.

These relationships deteriorate because of the death of Hamlet's father. Hamlet returns to the court in Denmark to find his secure world shattered. Not only does he have to cope with his beloved father's death, he has to come to terms with his mother's very rapid remarriage. Hamlet believes his mother remarried in undue haste, and he thinks little of her choice of partner, his uncle Claudius. It seems to him she must never have loved his father as he thought she did.

This sense of deep betrayal—of his father and of himself—alienates him from Gertrude and raises his anger at her. His disillusionment, his confused Oedipal desires (he is a bit obsessed with the idea of his uncle having sex with her), and his sense that he never really knew her interferes with Hamlet's ability to behave in a loving way towards her. When he does finally confront her over marrying Claudius, his state of frenzy frightens her to the extent that she fears for her life.

When Hamlet receives the news that Claudius murdered his father early in the play, his sense of trauma increases, as he is now faced with having to avenge his father's death. His disillusionment with his mother and his increasing distrust of the courtiers all around him, including Ophelia's father, spills over to poison his relationship with Ophelia, a woman he once loved in a far less complicated way. His erratic and sometimes cruel behavior towards her as he deals with his own inner turmoil pushes her away and ultimately leads to her suicide.

The play shows how the family dynamics of an unexpected death can wreak havoc with once loving relationships as family members and friends struggle to cope with new realities, grief, and pain.

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