Throughout the Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet, the main character’s words and actions seem to portray his two-sidedness when it comes to his relationship with Ophelia. At first, he loves her, then doesn’t want anything to do with her, but after she dies, he claims to have been infatuated with her all along. His sudden changes in personality leave the readers wondering whether his love for Ophelia is true, or if she is simply an object used to fulfill his physical wishes. On the surface, it may seem as though Hamlet simply uses Ophelia for his own selfish desires, but upon looking deeper, one can see that Hamlet did indeed truly love Ophelia, and wanted to protect her from the turmoil going on in the castle.
At the beginning of the play, Hamlet and Ophelia are engaged in a budding romance, full of love and desire, much like that of Shakespeare’s other plays. Through their hidden correspondence of letters, Hamlet and Ophelia declare their forever lasting devotion for each other. In one such letter, Hamlet tells Ophelia to “Never doubt I [his] love” (2.2.127). Through this phrase, one can see that no matter how distraught Hamlet may be, he still has a place in his heart for Ophelia. When he sent this letter, Hamlet foreshadowed the disorder that would take place in the castle and wanted Ophelia to know that no matter what happened, she shouldn’t worry about him and his affection towards her. It was evident that Polonius disapproved of his daughter running off with men and engaging in relationships without his consent. Someone would have figured out about their secret relationship eventually, and this line from Hamlet’s correspondence was insurance that no matter who found out or what happened afterward, he would always keep Ophelia in his thoughts.
As the trouble throughout the kingdom started to arise, Hamlet’s unwavering love and commitment begin to fade. He realizes that he cannot support Ophelia as he promised to do previously. He wants to protect her from the all-out destruction that lies ahead. When he meets Ophelia, he tells her that he “did love you [Ophelia] once” (3.1.125). Looking at this remark, it may seem as though Hamlet has given up, that the flame that once ignited him and his passion was gone. Considering it closer, however, it can be seen that Hamlet knew more than he may have let on. Despite this comment, Hamlet tells Ophelia to “Believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where’s your father” (3.1.140-141). He is suspicious that someone may be watching, and showing his true affection for Ophelia would give away everything they tried so hard to keep secret. It is evident that Hamlet is still fully in love with Ophelia, but the situation and the tumultuous events going on are stopping him from expressing his desire to be with her.
When one may think that Hamlet has finally become satisfied with life without Ophelia, he surprises by expressing his hidden passion for her to everyone present at her funeral. Observing her funeral procession, Hamlet can see the disappointment in everyone, especially Laertes. Hamlet proclaims to Laertes that he “loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my [Hamlet’s] sum” (5.1.248-249). He is showing everyone that he cannot hide his affection anymore and that he wishes he hadn’t done so in the first place. No matter how disappointed Laertes may be, Hamlet will always be more sorrowful. He had lived a lie, pretending to despise Ophelia and be completely insane, but he isn’t able to hold up his act any longer. It is evident that though his love may have appeared to waver throughout the play, in his heart, Hamlet always believed in their desire to be together.
As one progresses through the story, it is easy to see how Hamlet and Ophelia’s promising relationship may be falling apart. However, analyzing it further, one realizes that Hamlet is simply trying to protect Ophelia and making sure that his feelings for her do not get in the way of his father’s plan for justice. On the surface, it may seem as though Hamlet’s affection for Ophelia is slowly disappearing however it is actually growing stronger with his desire to keep her safe from the trouble brewing in the castle and his determination to preserve their secret relationship.
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