Why does Hamlet tell Ophelia to go "to a nunnery," and what does he give as his reason?

Hamlet is directing all his misogyny toward Ophelia when he tells her to go "to a nunnery." She has just given him back all of his tokens of love, and he feels betrayed. In his anger, he curses the fickleness of all women and tells Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery." If Hamlet really means "nunnery," then he is saying that Ophelia should preserve her chastity. If Hamlet means "brothel," then he is criticizing Ophelia for not being chaste enough.

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Though the precise meaning of Hamlet's outburst is by no means clear, particularly owing to the double meaning of "nunnery," there is no denying that his words are positively dripping with misogyny.

It's fair to say that Hamlet has a major problem with women. Ever since his mother, Gertrude ...

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Though the precise meaning of Hamlet's outburst is by no means clear, particularly owing to the double meaning of "nunnery," there is no denying that his words are positively dripping with misogyny.

It's fair to say that Hamlet has a major problem with women. Ever since his mother, Gertrude, married the man Hamlet now knows to have killed his father, the sensitive young prince has become thoroughly disillusioned with women, including Ophelia, as well as with humanity in general. Hamlet has become so eaten up with contempt for those around him, and even for himself, that he doesn't want any more "sinners" to be born—hence his ordering Ophelia to a nunnery.

Whether Hamlet means the word "nunnery" literally or as Elizabethan slang for a brothel, the import of his remarks is much the same: Hamlet is cruelly dashing any hopes Ophelia may have had of marrying him and, at the same time, is expressing a sense of disgust and loathing for the world.

Hamlet also resents Ophelia's role in Polonius and Claudius's cunning plot to spy on him. Telling her to get to a nunnery, whether meant literally or figuratively, is an extreme way of expressing his contempt for Ophelia. He doesn't just want her out of his sight for the moment; rather, he tells her she ought to leave and never return.

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Hamlet has lost faith in humanity at the point when he meets Ophelia in this scene. His uncle has allegedly murdered his father. His mother has married his uncle. His old friends have come, supposedly to see him, but he has already figured out they were "sent for" by Claudius to scope out Hamlet's state of mind. And now, here comes Ophelia, the girl he is deeply in love with, to give him back the letters he has given her.

The dialogue also implies that Hamlet knows he's being listened to, and if he has figured that out, by the time he utters the line "Get thee to a nunnery" toward the end of the scene, he probably suspects that Ophelia has taken part in the plot against him.

Everybody looks pretty bad from Hamlet's perspective. So why should Ophelia get married and have children, or, in other words, make more people like Claudius, Polonius, his mother, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Ophelia?

Hamlet wants her to shut herself off from the rest of the world—which, in a convent, she would have to do. However, you could argue he still loves her and is saying this out of jealousy: if she's a nun, no other guy will be able to pursue her. Either way, he wants her to be punished for breaking his heart and being the tool of Claudius.

On a small side note, the word "convent" or "nunnery," in Elizabethan England, was a slang term for a house of prostitution. So, Hamlet may be calling her a rude name for breaking up with him (while at the same time expressing a deep-seated misanthropy).

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Hamlet has turned against women because of his mother's behavior. He still loves Ophelia but decides against marrying her. When he tells her to get to a nunnery, he is revealing his love for her. He doesn't want to marry her, but he doesn't want her to marry anybody else. His behavior at Ophelia's funeral in Act 5, Scene 1shows how deeply he loved her--more than "forty thousand brothers" could love her.

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When he states "get thee to a nunnery" to Ophelia, he is expressing pent-up anger towards his mother, who he feels has been unfaithful and incestuous when she married his uncle.  At the beginning of the play itself, we see a brooding Hamlet who seems almost more upset by his mother's marriage than by his father's death.  He speaks of it with such bitter disgust:  "She married, O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!" (I.ii.156-7) and is so upset with his mother that he pronounces a curse on ALL women, not just her:  "Frailty, thy name is woman!" (I.ii.147).  So, that curse includes Ophelia, and from that point on, he avoids her.  Then, when she confronts him, he lets out a huge rant on all women in general-it is a way to indirectly vent his rage at his mother, since he suspects she is listening.

So, think of a nunnery.  There, women cannot marry at all; they cannot be under the influence of any men, or influence men in any way.  Hamlet feels that is where a woman has a best chance at being faithful, and where she will cause the least amount of damage.  After all, as he tells Ophelia also, "why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?"; in a nunnery, she won't have children and bear wicked men-like his uncle-that do awful things.  A nunnery will keep her from marrying, but if she were to marry, Hamlet says, "be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow...[or] marry a fool" who doesn't know "what monsters you make of them" (III.i.122-146).

I hope that explanation helps a bit!  Good luck!

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