Why did the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia break down?

Expert Answers
blacksheepunite eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Hamlet and Ophelia are like leaves in a tornado to a great extent. One could argue that Ophelia would have been so regardless of Hamlet's difficulties: She was already in over her head when she fell for Hamlet because of their class difference. Perhaps their love never had a chance.

Both appear overwhelmed by their circumstance. Hamlet doesn't know who to trust, and Ophelia's naivete is almost unbearable (surely she knew when she started the relationship that her father and brother would not approve). 

Yet at the time when talk is most important, neither of them speak honestly or directly. Ophelia allows herself to be used as a pawn; Hamlet talks in code: "are you honest?", "shall I lie my head upon your lap", and "get thee to a nunnery"--all double edged comments dripping with sexual undertones. Such comments honestly reveal his anger and confusion but are too witty to shed light on his feelings for Ophelia. Ophelia doesn't understand.

The sexual innuendos here (a nunnery is code for a brothel) do suggest his mother's behaviour has coloured his view of women, and that he is angry at what seems a betrayal by them both. Yet his sexual insults reveal a deep misunderstanding of Ophelia: She loves him.

Both lovers lack trust. Neither really sees the other, and both are too fixated on their own situations to reach out and support the other. Their love is green, too new for talk and trust.

rtandon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning of Act 1, Scene 3, we find Laertes advising his sister Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet. The reason being given is class status: Ophelia does not belong to a royal family, and during the Elizabethan period, marriages amongst royals were not based on love but on political gain and advancement.

Increasingly, as the play progresses, we find Ophelia being torn between her loyalty to her father and to Hamlet. In the end we find her loyalties clearly tilted towards her father Polonius.

She becomes a victim of her father's political ambitions as well as a victim of Hamlet's feigned madness and his bitterness and suspicion toward women. Hamlet loses all faith in women after having discovered his mother's abominable marriage.

He vents all his anger on Ophelia and uses harsh, bitter language such as asking her to go join a nunnery to protect her virginity. Hamlet feels totally betrayed by Ophelia when he finds that Polonius and Claudius use her to spy on him. Thus we can conclude that Hamlet and Ophelia are clearly the victims of their circumstances.

ssandhu05 | Student

Though Hamlet and Ophelia seemingly loved each other very much in the beginning of the play, there were forces that pushed their relationship to the edge. For example, when Polonius had told Ophelia to stop interacting with Hamlet all together, saying that it is possible that Hamlet does not love her. Ophelia obeys her father and is then forced to stop loving Hamlet, creating one of the reasons as to why their relationship had started to break.

Another reason for the breakage in their relationship is because of Hamlet himself. Because he wanted to investigate and see if his uncle, Claudius, was the one to murder his father, Hamlet pretended that he was going insane. Because of this, he could not love Ophelia and act like he normally would around her. This caused Ophelia to truly believe that he was going insane, and this ultimately led to the widening of the gap in their relationship.

zumba96 | Student

Ophelia and Hamlet were in love with each other, but since Ophelia is not of that royal status as Hamlet, her father and brother warn her to stay away from Hamlet. Also, he is skeptical of women since his mother had married Claudius almost right away and because of that he puts a strain on the relationship that he and Ophelia have. Therefore, becoming untrusting towards her he acts rudely and dangerous and the next second calm yet rude to her. Yet, when he finds out she is dead, he is mad he could not be the one to hold her. It is very complicated. 

dhiya | Student

Because at the beginning of the play Hamlet started to hate all women by the behaviour of his mother against his father, so Hamlet thought that Ophelia also would be like her mother. Because Ophelia's father Polonius and brother Laertes are very close with the new king, King Claudius, so Hamlet suspected that there may be some secret plans against him enacted through the love of Ophelia. As a consequence, Hamlet starts to examine Ophelia if she is an untrusted person. So Hamlet acts as in a mad or in a wild way to both Ophelia and Polonius causing Ophelia to fear and pull away from him.

But on another side, Polonius soon suspected that Hamlet was in love with Ophelia. So Polonius tried to change his daughter's mind as not to love Hamlet. And as always, obediently, Ophelia changed her mind so as not to love Hamlet. In this way their love had become broken.

arjun | Student

In this drama, it is crystal that Hamlet loves Ophelia whereas she avoids declaring her love for him. She is caught up in different serious problems that inhibit her. Hamlet’s love is based on truth and frankness. Before the death of his father he was caught in her love. In his love letters he uses terms of affection. Ophelia discloses it to Laertes and Poloinus.

If we read her words, it seems that she has given her heart to Hamlet, though she may not declare herself, for she had sucked the honey of his vows. Later, her persoanl dejection created a huge reason not to declare her love. For Hamlet and Ophelia, love is changed by the cruel role of circumstance when Hamlet’s father dies and his mother marries his uncle, Claudius.

When the ghost reveals and discloses the truth, Hamlet feels hatred at this nature and transfers his feelings from his mother to all women and hates all women kind. Ophelia betrays Hamlet because Laertes and Polonius were worldly wise and poisoned her mind. Whenever Hamlet comes near to her, she remains silent and then discloses all to her father whatever happens.

Simultaneously Hamlet’s behaviour is very strange. He is depressed and abhors his tragic life, burdened by the choices he has to make: to be true to his religion or his father's culture; to be believe a ghost or to believe it is a demon sent to entrap him. The world to him was "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable."

They both are possessing weaknesses. By virtue of these, they can not join each other in love as happened in Romeo and Juliet. Their love casts strange effects on the audience.