How does Gertrude interpret Hamlet's letter to Ophelia in Act 2, Scene 2?

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In act 2, scene 2, Queen Gertrude is quick to interpret Hamlet's letter to Ophelia as proof of his passionate love and to accept Polonius's opinion that Hamlet's madness is caused by Ophelia's rejection.

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By the second act of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the title character is pretending to be crazy to buy himself some time as he decides whether and how to avenge the murder of his father. No one can figure out Hamlet at this point, and they are searching for some explanation of his odd behavior.

Polonius thinks that he may have found a possible answer. He has a letter that Hamlet wrote to Ophelia, and he now reads it to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude. The letter appears to express Hamlet's passionate love for Ophelia—or at least, this is how Polonius interprets it.

Polonius then explains that he has told Ophelia to lock herself away from Hamlet and his advances. Hamlet is, after all, a prince, and Polonius does not want Ophelia to build false hopes that she would marry him. Polonius now thinks that Ophelia's rejection has driven Hamlet into madness.

King Claudius turns to Queen Gertrude and asks what she thinks. She responds briefly: "It may be, very likely." Polonius suggests that they hide and watch as Ophelia talks to Hamlet in order to see if the theory is correct.

We might well ask ourselves if Queen Gertrude really believes that Hamlet's madness stems from unrequited love. Earlier in the same scene, she tells King Claudius that Hamlet's difficulties arise from "His father's death, and our o'erhasty marriage." Perhaps the queen is trying to rid herself of her own guilty conscious about her son's struggles by latching onto Polonius's theory. It would be much easier for her to think that Hamlet is disappointed in love than angry and hurt by his mother.

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