Please provide convincing evidence that Hamlet truly loves Ophelia in William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, has several points of ambiguity for the reader or audience, such as whether Gertrude was privy to Claudius's plan to kill King Hamlet or if the two of them were involved before he died. One lingering question of the play is whether or not Hamlet loves Ophelia.

There is little doubt that Ophelia loves Hamlet, for she ultimately commits suicide because Hamlet has told her he does not love her. The question is whether he was toying with her affections or if he really loved her. All directors of this play grapple with this issue. In the most recent film version of Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh makes it clear that Hamlet and Ophelia were lovers and that Hamlet did love Ophelia. Here is the evidence.

None of it is explicit enough to eliminate all doubt, obviously, or you and others would not still be asking this question. First, we know that Hamlet has offered Ophelia many tokens of his affection. She tells her father that "He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders / Of his affection to me."

When she and Hamlet meet alone later in the play, she tries to return those tokens to him: "My lord, I have remembrances of yours,/ That I have longed long to re-deliver; / I pray you, now receive them." Hamlet refuses to take them.

His response and the resulting conversation in Act Three scene one is where things get a little confusing, as Hamlet makes conflicting statements. Hamlet is a natural actor who has already warned his closest friends that he may start exhibiting odd behavior so he can pursue revenge for his father. In this scene with Ophelia, it is likely he knows, at least at some point in their conversation, that Claudius and Polonius are listening; this knowledge would obviously affect what he says to Ophelia.

He tells Ophelia he loves her and does not love her, thinks she should never have trusted him but wants her to go away to a nunnery (presumably for her own protection). He calls himself a liar (says he is "indifferent honest"), but when he discovers Ophelia is dead, Hamlet's reaction suggests that he did, indeed, love her. 

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum.

Hamlet does not always tell the truth, but there is enough evidence to suggest that Hamlet probably did love Ophelia.