Ophelia says "What we are" & "What we may be" (4.5). Is the meaning relale to the Hamlet & other characters struggle through the play?In what way?

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akasha124 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The exact quote is, "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be."  Basically, this quote relates to the struggle of some of the key characters in Hamlet in that it means that each character knows who they are, but as the future unfolds and tragic events happen, they don't know what they're capable of. 

In Hamlet's case, he starts out as a typical prince but when he finds out that his uncle murdered his father, he feigns madness to find proof of his father's ghost's claim, but as he goes deeper down the spiral, he starts to become mad himself and finds himself so deep in deception and murder that there's no hope for redemption for him.

Ophelia starts out in the play as a sheltered, innocent young girl in love with Hamlet but once Hamlet feels she's betrayed him, her mind snaps and she becomes mad.  After her father's death by Hamlet's hand, she decided to take her life into her own hands and drowns herself.

Gertrude marries Claudius because she wants to keep her luxurious life and she wants to keep her sexual needs filled, but she had no way of knowing that Claudius killed her brother.  When Hamlet confronts her, her world is shattered.  She had no idea that her shallow ways would lead to her accidental death by her son's hand.

Laertes starts out as a fairly happy go lucky rakish kind of character, but after the death of his father and his sister's madness and then death, he schemes with Claudius to kill Hamlet and duels with Hamlet.  Both are killed with the poisoned blade.

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