William Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has various types of loves displayed throughout the text. There is the love between Horatio and Hamlet, probably the only true love in the play; it is firmly planted in loyalty and trust. There is the love between Gertrude and Claudius. There is the love that comes from family as we observe Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia. There is even the narcissistic love that Claudius has for himself, as he seeks to get what he wants regardless of the cost to others. This analysis focuses on the love between Hamlet and Ophelia. Their romance suggests themes that we face in relationships today. This would fall under the category of the “ugly” side of love, as Ophelia ends up one of Hamlet’s victims of vengeance. Those we love the most often carry the burden of our own personal battles. Likewise, Hamlet’s love for Ophelia becomes her burden as he pushes her away while he deals with his own personal demons and plans of vengeance. Poor Ophelia had no clue as to why Hamlet had his sudden change of heart, nor has she any clue as to what Hamlet is personally going through. She fell victim in numerous ways throughout the play, which drives her to insanity, and even further, to her own demise.
Our main character Hamlet is going through a lot as we first endeavor into the pages of this classic piece of literature. There are multiple factors to consider which affects Hamlet’s behavior, and treatment of Ophelia. He is facing the death of his father, whose ghost wants him to avenge his death. In act 1 scene 5, the ghost clearly tells Hamlet, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” (Delbanco, 1127) This was shortly after the ghost confirmed his identity to Hamlet, and informed him that because he was murdered he had no chance to say penance for his sins. In the beginning of act 1 scene 5, the ghost states, “I am thy father’s spirit, doomed for a certain time to walk the night and for the day confined to fast in fires, till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away.” (Delbanco, 1127) This must have been especially hard for Hamlet to deal with, knowledge that his father was not resting in peace due to his murder, leaving him in purgatory. Shortly following having to deal with the loss of his father; is the marriage of his mother, Gertrude, to the brother of his deceased father, Claudius. In act 1 scene 2, Claudius informs us of even his mixed emotions on the matter, “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green, and it us befitted to bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe, yet so far hath discretion fought with nature that we with wisest sorrow think on him together with remembrance of ourselves. Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen, Th’ imperial jointress to this warlike state, have we-as ‘twere with a defeated joy, with an auspicious and a dropping eye, with mirth in funeral and with dirge inmarriage, in equal scale weighing delight and dole- taken to wife.” (Delbanco, 1117) Hamlet feels that his mother’s love for the former King was insincere. Considering she married Claudius after such a short period of time, following his father’s death; we have to carefully consider what may have played into her decision. This may have been the only way Gertrude could keep her status of queen. However, the betrayal that Hamlet feels is the beginning of how we see Hamlet’s views on women. Hamlet reveals to his mother how he feels about her deeds in act 3 scene 4, and it’s evident that his words hit a nerve as she responds, “O Hamlet, speak no more! Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grained spots as will not leave their tinct.” (Delbanco, 1161) Gertrude seems to have inadvertently destroyed Hamlet’s views about women, which he later exhibits in his encounters towards Ophelia. The fact that he sees his own mother as tainted makes him question the qualities that a woman has, and recognizes the potential for a clever woman to attain whatever it is that she desires.
In the play we see that Hamlet had gone through great lengths to woo Ophelia, as is evidenced throughout the text. Hamlet’s love for her seemed to have been genuine. In act 3 scene 1, Hamlet divulges to us his feeling on women and his love for Ophelia in his statement, “Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometime a paradox, but now time gives it proof. I did love you once.” (Delbanco, 1147) In a time where women were completely dependent on men, Hamlet seemed to be doing what was best for Ophelia. In the same scene where he had confessed his love to her he says, “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not bore me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.” (Delbanco, 1147) Hamlet shows us his internal conflict; recognizing his own personal sin and the potential of acting on his wicked imaginations. Yet, he is partially showing Ophelia some honesty, and by pushing her away may have in his own manner been protecting her. Considering all the internal challenges he was faced with; his options were either to avenge his father, or to live with the dishonor of doing nothing. Hamlet would have likely had to face consequences for avenging the death of his father. Dishonor on his mind, resulting from doing nothing would have also left him debilitated as a man and protector. Either choice left Ophelia prey to Hamlet’s actions. Consequently, Hamlet pushes her away, knowing that he could no longer be the man that she fell in love with.
Another aspect that we have to consider is Ophelia’s simple minded state, as she is naive and innocent. She was a young lady, who promptly obeyed her father’s advice to no longer receive Hamlet’s advances towards her affections. Polonius’ intentions may have been to protect his daughter; not wanting her to fall prey to the dishonorable intentions of men. This proved to be unfavorable for Ophelia in Hamlet’s views towards her. Further in the play, Polonius believes that this was the source of Hamlet’s madness. Polonius does show some regret at having his daughter turn Hamlet away. In act 2 scene 1, “That hath made him mad. I am sorry that with better heed and judgment I had not quoted him. I feared he did but trifle and meant to wreck thee. But beshrew my jealousy!” (Delbanco, 1133) The timing of Polonius having Ophelia turn Hamlet away may have also contributed to the treatment she received. Often times when something is troubling we seek comfort from the ones that we love and trust. Hamlet may have sought her for comfort, which she declined due to her father’s bidding. Combined with the distorted view Hamlet now had on women due to his mother’s actions, Ophelia was doomed.
Ophelia was definitely, at one point, the object of Hamlet’s affections. He openly declared his love for her during her burial, which he happened to witness. Furthermore, he declared his love for her in a very dramatic way in front of her brother, Laertes. In act 5 scene 1 at Ophelia’s burial Hamlet states, “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?” (Delbanco, 1183) This leads us to believe that he had true feelings for her throughout the play, regardless of the incidences that occurred. However, Ophelia was a victim to Hamlet’s love. Her sincere affection for Hamlet, combined with the death of her father at the hand of the man that she loved drove her to insanity. She fell in the river and died, which is presumed a suicide. She was so innocent, unable to cope with everything that she ends up a victim, even with Hamlet’s actions to try and protect her.
In real life when we are facing terrible situations or circumstances, the people we love that are closest to us often suffer the consequences. Like Ophelia, they do not know or fully understand the frame of mind that we are in. This falls under the “ugly” category of love because it was terrible for the innocent Ophelia to fall victim to everything that had transpired. She had no understanding, much less any control of the situations that encompassed her. This tragedy is something that people deal with on a daily basis. Whether we are hurting someone we love because we are going through personal problems, or we are being hurt because someone we love is facing something we don’t know about or understand. It can be protection from the ones we love so we are not also burdened, or vice versa. Hamlet didn’t want to burden Ophelia with the challenges he was facing. Although, considering Ophelia’s innocence it’s easy to understand why. She likely may not have even been able to handle it. Ophelia never had the chance to fully comprehend the situation, since nothing was ever told to her or explained to her. Ophelia’s demise was a tragedy caused by Hamlet. Love is the culprit of Ophelia’s death. This “ugly” version of love is categorized by anyone who receives or gives consequences to those whom they love, because it is often unmerited. It’s not fair to the individual who is on the losing end of it, as Ophelia was.
Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." Literature: Craft and Voice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. 1112-193. Print.