What themes are discussed in Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Polonius, and Ophelia are all discussing Hamlet's condition. He has appeared to be mad or losing his sanity. Of course, the question is one that would doubt whether or not this has been played out to be more than it really is. Is Hamlet pretending to be mad? No doubt, he is under much stress, but he still seems to have his reasoning.

While, the King, Queen, Polonius, and Ophelia discuss Hamlet's condition, the King and Polonius decide to eavesdrop on Hamlet and Ophelia to determine if he is disturbed by his love for Ophelia. During Hamlet's and Ophelia's conversation, he advised her to go to a convent. He seems to be quite aware of what he is saying. Of course, he does caution her that she does not want to birth his disturbed children. While Hamlet is appearing to not be in love with Ophelia, he is preoccupied with thoughts about her and her future children. He claims that he does not want to affect her negatively by giving her children that will be sinners:

Get yourself to a convent. Why would you give birth to
sinners? I don’t care about my sincerity, but I could
accuse myself of such things that it were better my
mother had not had me. I am very proud, revengeful,
ambitious, with more offenses at my command than I
have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them
shape, or time to commit them in. What should such
fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We
are wicked men, all, believe none of us. Take yourself a
convent. Where's your father?

Clearly, Hamlet is concerned for Ophelia's welfare. This indicates that he has feelings for her, even though he tries to prove otherwise. The theme of this conversation is based on Hamlet's troubled mind. He began his speech with troubled thoughts. He was questioning whether he should suffer in his mind or fight to the end. Which act is more noble is his question:

To be, or not to be, that is the question.
Is it nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to fight against a sea of troubles,
And end them by fighting?

Truly, Hamlet is disturbed. He may not be mad or insane, but he is an emotional wreck. He cannot think clearly. He is battling with the idea of killing Claudius, thus avenging his father's death. However, he also considers the fact that he may die in the process. He hopes there is a nothingness in death just in case he does die:

The theme of Act 3, Scene 1 would be that of Hamlet's troubled mind to the point of being clearly disturbed. He may not be insane, but he is emotionally drained. He cannot continue in this state for fear he will go mad.