Summation of Vulgar Innuendo from Hamlet

William Shakespeare

Summation of Vulgar Innuendo from Hamlet

In keeping with Hamlet's vow to put "an antic disposition on" and act crazy (or perhaps in actually becoming insane in reality), Hamlet spends the latter half of this scene yelling at Ophelia with words full of double meaning.  As a result, the latter half of Act III, Scene 1, is a perfect summation of Hamlet's intelligence in regards to language and wording.  I will look at the specific dual meanings of three words:  "honest," "fair," and "nunnery."  First, look at the following lines:

Hamlet. Ha, ha! Are you honest?

Ophelia. My lord?

Hamlet. Are you fair?

Ophelia. What means your lordship?

Hamlet. That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.

The two words "honest" and "fair" have a definite double meaning.  Of course, one must look at their literal meaning first.  Hamlet's less vulgar insinuation is in asking Ophelia if she is truthful ("honest").  In regards to the second word, Hamlet's less vulgar insinuation is in asking Ophelia if she is either beautiful or weighing her thoughts equally (in other words, the two general denotations of the word "fair").  In both instances, it is the secondary and hidden meaning that puts Hamlet's speech over the line of vulgar innuendo.  Why?  Because asking Ophelia if she is "honest" and "fair" can be taken as asking Ophelia if she is chaste.  In other words, Hamlet is asking Ophelia if she is a virgin.  To put it more bluntly, Hamlet is insinuating that Ophelia is, in fact, not a virgin.  Therefore, due to her disgusting lack of integrity, he is no longer obligated to woo her.  Ophelia, to complete her naivete, is unsure about what Hamlet means.  Finally, let's take the word "nunnery" and analyze it for its obvious and hidden meanings.  A nunnery is another word for a convent.  (A convent, if the reader is unfamiliar, is a place where Roman Catholic nuns both reside and live their entire lives in service to Christ.)  Hamlet's obvious meaning here is to tell Ophelia to go ahead and become a nun, because neither he nor any other man will ask for her hand in marriage.  To take the hidden or more vulgar meaning, Hamlet yelling, "Get thee to a nunnery!" is a reference to the very kind of girls who are sent to convents.  Are some of them young, fair, and virtuous?  Of course.  Many of the girls sent to convents during this time period were the girls who were wonton and shamed their families.  Thus, by committing Ophelia to a nunnery, Hamlet is making the insinuation (similar to the dual meaning of "honest" and "fair") that she has shamed her family with pre-marital sexual behavior.