The Tragedy of Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, is considered one of the greatest plays of all time. The play presents many themes, a central one being love. The two central characters, Hamlet and Ophelia, are used to illustrate this theme. Their relationship is distorted when they both experience hardships and difficult circumstances. It is possible to presume that Hamlet never stops loving Ophelia, even when he denies it. Hamlet’s love for Ophelia is ever-changing, as the play progresses. The play begins with Hamlet truly but secretly, loving Ophelia and being inseparable. As the plot advances, Hamlet becomes rather hateful and distrustful of Ophelia. And in eventuality, the play ends with Hamlet’s true feelings revealed and emoted.
In the beginning, Hamlet genuinely cares for Ophelia, and loves her more than any girl could wish for. Hamlet’s love for Ophelia is proven when a love letter pertaining “to the celestial, and soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia” (2.2.108-109), is read out to Claudius and Gertrude by Polonius. This was one of Hamlet’s secret love letters to Ophelia, describing her as a beautiful and divine woman; the only girl right for him. The letter reads,
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love (2.2.115-118).
Through this letter, Hamlet tells her that she can doubt truths, such as the stars to be fire, the sun to be movable, and truth to be lies, but their love is eternal and true. Polonius uses this letter as evidence to persuade Claudius and Gertrude that Hamlet is mad for Ophelia’s love. If these major characters assume Hamlet to be crazy for love, then there most definitely has to be truth behind their assumptions. Therefore, it is safe to presume that there was a great deal of love between them, before the death of King Hamlet. In addition, Laertes also recognizes Hamlet’s fondness of Ophelia, when he states “Perhaps he loves you now; and now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch the virtue of his will” (1.3.14-16). His words reveal Hamlet’s love for Ophelia and his best intentions for her. On the other hand, Laertes’s words also foreshadow the potential dissociation between them. Laertes tells his sister that he may love her now, and may have the best intentions for her now; the short infatuation hinting at the relationship’s later collapsing. In continuation, there is further use of foreshadowing of their disconnection:
For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute.
No more (1.3.5-10).
Through these lines, one can see that Hamlet is affectionate of Ophelia, but also foreshadows the ensuing decline of their relationship when Laertes lectures his sister, “Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute. No more” (1.3.8-10). Laertes describes his affection more as an infatuation; sweet but not lasting. Furthermore, when Ophelia is having a heart-to-heart talk with Polonius, she describes Hamlet to be passionate, “He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders of his affection to me” (1.3.99-100), and to be heartily devoted to her, “And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, with almost all the holy vows of heaven” (1.3.112-114). This suggests that Ophelia and Hamlet are engaged and near marriage. In the beginning, their love for each other is at the highest point and cannot be denied. It is safe to say that their relationship starts out well; but will it end well too?
On the contrary, Hamlet and Ophelia’s positive relationship will not be sustained. When Polonius feels that his daughter is making herself too available for Hamlet, he decides to isolate them from each other. As a consequence, Ophelia is prohibited from seeing and talking to Hamlet in order to proclaim herself as a precious commodity, “From this time be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence, [Ophelia]. Set your entreatments at a higher rate than a command to parley” (1.3.120-123). It is because of these restrictions placed by her father, that there is a distance of disconnection between Ophelia and Hamlet, initiating the fallout between them. Their relationship is further conflicted when the ghost enters the plot. One can say that if the ghost did not make its appearance, Hamlet’s mindset would not be as unglued as it was. Because of the ghost, Hamlet becomes more hateful of his mother than he originally was. During their brief discussion, the ghost says:
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen.
O Hamlet, what a falling off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine (1.5.47-53).
As a response, Hamlet immediately jumps to the conclusion that his mother is harmful, “O most pernicious woman!” (1.5.106) The hatred for his mother is continuously building up throughout the story. It first began when Gertrude married Claudius in a short span of two months after King Hamlet’s funeral. But now, it is growing into something more vengeful, especially when she is later of accused of having a part in the murder of his father. As this hostility towards his mother grows in time, so will his hostility towards Ophelia. Hamlet often releases his bottled-up anger as verbal insults towards Ophelia. He blindly uses the same perception to paint Ophelia with the same brush as his mother. This means to say that Hamlet believes all women are reflective of his problematic mother as having bad qualities, and treats every female accordingly. Another moment that causes Hamlet to dislike Ophelia more is when she returns the “remembrances” (3.1.94) back to him. Upon the return of the remembrances, there is a noticeable shift in his attitude. He retaliates by telling her that he never truly loved her, “You should not have believed me: for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not” (3.1.117-119). This abandonment on Ophelia’s part activates a sudden attitude and personality change from Hamlet. He suspects of her father putting her up to this, proven to be so when he says, “Let the doors be shut upon [Polonius], that he may play the fool no where but in ‘s own house” (3.1.112-113). Ophelia’s obedience to her father’s wishes is viewed as betrayal by Hamlet, reminding him of his mother’s betrayal of his father. Therefore, he is directing his attitude about his parents’ marriage at the hapless Ophelia. On top of that, his rampage clearly illustrates their detachment of each other, “If thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too” (3.1.138-140). He claims that women make husbands into "monsters," which alludes to the idea that cuckolds grew horns. This means to say that, since men are the last to know of their wife’s infidelity, the men wearing horns can only be seen by everybody but themselves. Hamlet assumes that all women are unfaithful and all wives cheat, which is why he orders Ophelia to a "nunnery," a house of prostitution (“Hamlet Gender Quotes”). Furthermore, during the mousetrap, one can see the significant changes in their relationship, as his attitude towards her is more aggressive. This is portrayed when Ophelia says, “’Tis brief, my lord” (3.2.149), in which Hamlet rebuttals, “As woman’s love” (3.2.150), showing his current perspective on their relationship; being brief. Hamlet furthers his indecency towards her by saying, “I could interpret between you and your love, if I could see the puppets dallying” (3.2.243-245). He says this to portray her as a child’s doll that is predictable and is constantly controlled by others, unable to think or act by her own will. Hamlet’s now views his love interest as nothing more than a manipulated puppet, and very well finds her to be untruthful.
Ophelia's darling Hamlet causes all her emotional pain throughout the play, and when his hate is responsible for her father's death, she has endured all that she is capable of enduring and goes insane. Her frailty and innocence work against her as she cannot cope with the unfolding of one traumatic event after another, leading to her consequential drown. Although it is not expressed explicitly, it is implied that Ophelia’s death was not intentional, as the queen said the death was resulted from “an envious sliver broke” (4.7.175) which means a broken branch. It would not make sense for Ophelia to be up in a tree when she would decide to drown herself. Thus, she did not commit suicide because of her father’s death, or the fact that the murderer is her old lover, but instead, it was accidental. Ophelia’s sudden death leads to Hamlet leaping into the grave and proclaiming his true feelings, “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her” (5.1.263-265)? This reveals that he has always loved Ophelia, and his hatred for her was momentary, or even acted out, so he can better trick people to thinking he was mad. As the wise Polonius had said, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as t he night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” (1.3.78-80). The tragic outcome of Hamlet and Ophelia is the result of opposing these wise words.
The whole action of this play sweeps us like a torrent which hurries along in its dark and tragic course, causing the drama into a catastrophe. In his ploy to make those around him believe that he was mad, or because he could not manage his temperaments, Hamlet sacrificed his love for Ophelia as a result. It is very tragic to see how a relationship, so loving and caring of each other, could fall into an abyss of trouble and heartache. It was clearly described how Hamlet was affectionate to Ophelia in the start. But the circumstances surrounding their relationship caused it to collapse in an unfavorable manner. Although, it is shown at the end how Hamlet never stopped loving Ophelia. Thus, the love between Hamlet and Ophelia was always in continuous change. The dramatic shifts in situations and the mysteries of Hamlet’s character allow the reader to better understand and relate to his complexity of love. If Hamlet did not become overwhelmed with his plans on revenge and hate, their love would have blossomed into something fruitful.
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