In Hamlet, we are introduced to the complexities of a man who is struggling to murder his uncle while trying to understand his mother's motives. His inner turmoil has left him emotionally unavailable and completely disenchanted with humanity in general.
Hamlet seems to be at his best when he is cruel which could reveal a deeper method for self-medication in which he hurts those he loves most - especially his mother & Ophelia. However, while we can clearly discern his reasons for rejecting his mother, we are left with a sort of bitterness when it comes to Ophelia. Why does he treat her so cruelly? Through the very text in which he scolds her, we can uncover some answers that reveal that the contempt he exhibits for her is not really hatred but true love. I will also examine how this interpretation facilitates the understanding of other issues in Hamlet.
Queen Gertrude is the first woman in Hamlet's life and as such she remains the yardstick by which Hamlet measures the other sex. Undoubtedly we have read the references made to his mother's infidelity and how this has made Hamlet bitter toward the prospect of marriage and children (3.1. 120-139). So, for Hamlet, Gertrude proves to be a pivotal representation of what a woman becomes when she is left to her own devices. Hamlet's displacement of his mother's actions falls then on the next woman in his life - Ophelia!
Interestingly enough, it is through Hamlet's harmonious use of the phrase "get thee to a nunn'ry that we see his love for her. In his encounter with Ophelia in act 3, he delivers his dia...
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...the future holds but through his method of cruelty to be kind he comes across as less than lovable. Yet as we have seen, it is a deeper love that forces him to push her away, as if by doing so she will remain pure & untainted. With this in mind, we can see that it is not his hatred of Ophelia but his unhappiness with mankind -more specifically- his mother's betrayal - that has him believe that Ophelia would be better off without him.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Faucit, Helena. On Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters. 6th ed. London:
William Blackwood and Sons, 1989.
Pennington, Michael. "Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven." Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of "Hamlet": A User's Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. T. J. B. Spencer. New York: Penguin, 1996.
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