Get thee to a nunnery
I did love you once.
Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
You should not have believ'd me, for virtue cannot so
inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I lov'd you
I was the more deceiv'd.
Get thee to a nunn'ry, why woulds't thou be a breeder of
In this heartbreaking scene, it's hard to tell how much of what
Hamlet says is sincere, and how much an act [see ANTIC DISPOSITION]. The critics have never ceased arguing this question.
We do know that his mother's recent remarriage has intensified
Hamlet's sexual revulsion—he's recently likened the sexual act to
tumbling in a sty.
Here, the prince denies ever having loved Ophelia, right after
claiming that he did love her once. This may be just a game Hamlet
is playing, but perhaps he means that what seemed like love to him
once now seems false and repulsive. Using a horticultural metaphor,
he casts doubt on his own motives: the "old stock" (original
nature) of man is so corrupt that the grafting of virtue can never
wholly eradicate the "relish" (taste) of corruption. In his famous
line "Get thee to a nunn'ry," he exhorts Ophelia to put herself
away so that she may never breed sinners like Hamlet.
Specialists in Shakespeare's bawdy language are fond of noting
that "nunnery" was common Elizabethan slang for "brothel," and that
therefore Hamlet's command is ironic and even more despairing than
it seems. The pun would accord with the paradoxical nature of the
prince's speech, but there is little evidence elsewhere in the
scene that Hamlet intends a double entendre.