In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the extent of Hamlet's and Ophelia's relationship?  William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Shakespeare's Hamlet (aside from his delay in killing Claudius) is Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia.

Hamlet's feelings for the others are clear. Hamlet is disgusted with his mother for her hasty remarriage to her former brother-in-law. It happened so fast that his dad's funeral food could also have fed wedding guests.


Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables. (I.ii.185-186)

Hamlet laments their union. (The Elizabethans saw such a "close" marriage as incestuous.) Hamlet says Polonius (Ophelia's father) is fool:

Indeed, this counsellor...was in life a foolish prating knave. (III.iv.230, 232)

Hamlet loved Laertes like a brother. Hamlet knows that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are spies for Claudius. Hamlet only trusts Horatio. He is surrounded by some who do not wish him well, but Ophelia is a one he never comes to terms with.

Hamlet's reaction at Ophelia's grave seems to prove his love.


I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers

Could not, with all their quantity of love,

Make up my sum. (V.i.270-272)

If he did love her, he must have been deeply conflict within. He knew that Claudius and Polonius were using Ophelia to learn what was ailing him. His anger with her over this is unfair—what choice does she have before King and sire? Hamlet is unkind—and she is confused. In fact, if anyone believes he is truly mad, it must be Ophelia, as Hamlet dismisses her on one hand and insults her with ribald innuendo on the other.

Two Victorian actresses shared their opinions of the two. Anna Brownell Murphy Jameson noted:

I do think...that the love of Hamlet for Ophelia is deep, is real, and is precisely the kind of love which such a man as Hamlet would feel for such a woman as Ophelia.

On the other hand, Helen Faucit Martin thought that Hamlet and Ophelia had little hope of love. Acknowledging Hamlet's pain at Ophelia's grave, she still believed he was too much a man of thought and not enough of action.

I disagree. Hamlet is torn.

Hamlet appears before his "love" with clothes askew—"confused." He has said he will act crazy only to trap Claudius, so his distrust of Ophelia is evident in appearing to her in such a state (II.i).

But in Act Two, scene two, Hamlet's love letter to Ophelia is beautiful— but perplexing, based on his behavior:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;

Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;

But never doubt I love. (123-126)

In Act Three, scene one, Hamlet dismisses Ophelia, telling her to join a convent—and therefore, not marry him. He says he never loved her; but did she believe him?


Get thee to a nunnery! Why wouldst thou be a

breeder of sinners? (130-131)

His erratic behavior and his murder of her father drive Ophelia mad.

Hamlet had just told Ophelia at the start of the play that he loved her (I.iii.17). However, evil and the ripples of the havoc it wreaks leave no one untouched. Claudius murders his brother and the universe is disrupted, seen by the presence of Old Hamlet's ghost. Gertrude had hopes that her son and Ophelia would one day marry—she says this at Ophelia's grave (V.i.240-242). Gertrude did not make the best choices, but I believe she loves her son and Ophelia. We can assume that despite what Laertes and Polonius thought, the two could have been happy under other circumstances. Innocent at the start, they are not worldly-wise enough to withstand Claudius' evil.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is complicated by Hamlet's relationship to his mother and by hers with her father. In Act III after Ophelia has been instructed by Polonius, her father to disassociate herself from Hamlet, she greets Hamlet, telling him she has "remembrances" of his to return to him.  Suspecting that she is under the influence of her father, Hamlet asks, "Are you fair?" meaning "Are you being honest?" for he senses subterfuge.  Then, in disgust for this deceit, Hamlet denies having given anything to her, denying that he ever loved her knowing that Polonius listens to their conversation.

Further, Hamlet harbors ill feelings towards Ophelia for the licentious act of his mother's having married Claudius, the brother of his father.  This projection of one known experience onto another is know in psychology, as "supposition of the similitude." Now he generalizes about women, thinking Ophelia, too, is unchaste.  This is why he insults her so during the performance of "The Moustrap."  In addition to these insults which Hamlet does not really mean, he is pragmatically cruel to her, as he is cruel to everyone who spies on him, ordering her to a nunnery:

Why wouldst thou be abreeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet
I could accuse me of such things that it were better my
mother had not borne me. (3.1.130-133)

Later in the play, it cannot be doubted that Hamlet truly loves Ophelia in Act V, Scene 1, he dissembles madness no more, declaring,

What is he whose grief
Bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow
Conjures the wandering stars and makes them stand
Like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I,
Hamlet the Dane. (5.1.252-255)

I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?(5.1.270-272)

Critics concur that Ophelia represents the ideals of innocence and youth that are corrupted by the Danish court, and Hamlet becomes a part of this corruption as he cruelly abuses her.  But, in Act V, "I, Hamlet the Dane" emerges from this corruption, demonstrating his love for the ideals in life.  He vows to rid Denmark, then, of that which is "rotten" and avenges Ophelia's victimization by putting away the corruptors. He, too, pays for his sins with his death, but he bequeaths his kingdom to the righteous Fortinbras.