What do we learn of Hamlet's feelings for Ophelia in Act II, Scene 1?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In truth, we don't learn that much about Hamlet's feelings for Ophelia. It raises more questions than it answers. We know from her conversations with Polonius and Laertes that Hamlet has expressed his love for her (both men tell her to reject his advances). In Act II, Scene 1, Ophelia tells her father about an encounter she had with Hamlet where the prince entered the room in a state of distress, clothing unkempt, wild-eyed, and "with a look so piteous inpurport/As if he had been loosed out of hell..." Polonius thinks this erratic behavior is because Hamlet is distressed and "mad" because Ophelia has spurned his love, and resolves to tell the King about the incident. Hamlet's "mad" behavior is a choice, however; it is one of many examples of dramatic irony in the play. The audience knows Hamlet has already, as part of his plot to avenge his father's murder, planned to "put an antic [i.e., mad] disposition on." He said as much in the final scene of Act I, so we do not really know at this point if Hamlet is really mad for Ophelia's love or if he is feigning insanity in order to carry out his plot.