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Shakespearean Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s Relationship

Introduction

Shakespeare’s Hamlet transcends time and generations as it illuminates universal themes, with love and revenge being among the prominent ones. The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia serves as an example of the theme of love in the play, with its complexities illustrating the ups and downs as well as how the inner struggles the protagonist experiences affect their connection. The relationship between two characters has often been placed in a similar category as Romeo and Juliet as young and inexperienced lovers whose relationship is cursed by circumstance and fate. However, in contrast to Romeo and Juliet, the love between Hamlet and Ophelia is often implied in the play as the dominant theme is for the protagonist to achieve revenge for the death of his father (Skulsky 79). Moreover, the circumstances of their relationship drive its development, and the final term as the romance between the two characters fails because Ophelia and Hamlet share different perspectives on love and romantic relationship. Thus, the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia develops based on the main character struggling with his inner turmoil and negative emotions, which shape the nature of their connection.

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Exploring Hamlet’s Personality

To his very core, Hamlet is an idealistic person that has abstract ideals and aspirations. He perceives himself as a poet and philosopher even though his role in the play does not allow him to fulfill this aspiration. From his first appearance in the novel, Hamlet presents as a moody and troubled young person who is mentally tortured by the thoughts of his father’s death and the marriage of his mother to his uncle (Nasrin et al. 84). Even though Hamlet’s mother tries comforting her son and encourages him to let go of the grief, he rebukes the mother and suspects her of betrayal. Such an exchange between Hamlet and his mother paints an image of the protagonist as someone experiencing emotions in the superlative, feeling them deeply and indiscriminately.

For example, in Hamlet’s first soliloquy, his expressions are deeply poetical, particularly about the pain he endured due to the loss of his father. The character speaks about the ghost of his father and his “sallied flesh” as something that contributes to the deepening conflict inside him (Samons 13)). Hamlet’s speech as a whole is ridden with metaphors and references to Greek mythology, which points to his royal education and intelligence. However, despite this, he rarely applies rational thinking to explore and analyze the situations in which he finds himself. Instead, he retreats inward in his deep emotions, refusing to think clearly and rationally, which wraps his mind in mental torture that prevents him from moving on from grief.

Using his wallowing as a tool for literary development, Hamlet makes attempts to present himself as a theorist and philosopher with the brooding melancholy of a romantic. If one considers Hamlet an individual who is prone to paving the way for modern philosophy, the conflict associated with his father’s ghost instructing him to take action is unsurprising. Being a thinker encouraged to take the role of a doer, Hamlet’s fate is already pre-determined. He is unable to transform his introspection into action when trying to get revenge for his father. As suggested by Javed, “Hamlet is an unwilling instrument in the gradual drift toward disaster […] a perfect example of an idealist who shrinks from accepting the role forced upon him” (327). Thus, the complex character of Hamlet makes him an idealist riddled with continuous self-exploration, which negatively influences his relationship with Ophelia.

Exploring Ophelia’s Personality

As a juxtaposition to the psychological intellectualism regularly exhibited by Hamlet, Ophelia’s character is much calmer and more practical as she is more in tune with reality. She gets attention from Hamlet, and she takes note of it, stating to her father that he “hath importuned me with love / In honorable fashion…And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, / With almost all the holy vows of heaven” (Shakespeare 109). However, the young woman is not only concerned with love as a positive and warm emotion that any person desires. She also highly values courtship as a crucial element of a relationship between a man and a woman, which must be adequately expressed and displayed by her admirer. Nevertheless, she obeys her father’s wish to deny the attention that Hamlet exhibits toward her, which may point to her passivity. After all, her social mobility as a woman was highly limited by the power that the patriarch of a family exerted.

It is quite surprising for a Shakespearean character to renounce a lover to please her father. In contrast to Juliet, who went against the wishes of her entire family to be with her beloved Romeo, Ophelia is unique in her choice. Thus, her actions may speak more directly about her character rather than her position in society as a woman. It seems that Ophelia finds value in predictability and stability, which she expects to establish when building a relationship with a man. She does not allow herself to be in continuous pondering of her existence, which is quite the opposite of how Hamlet approaches life. In contrast to the lengthy soliloquies in which Hamlet expressed his thoughts and desires, Ophelia is short and concise in her expressions: “I think nothing my lord” (Shakespeare 105), which is evidence of her unassuming character.

Relationship Analysis

Thus, Ophelia is different from Hamlet in her character, and she does not soliloquize her feelings, nor does she question what others tell her. As mentioned by Camden, Ophelia is a “tender-hearted, delicate-minded young girl, well reared in proper obedience to her father, and experiencing what is her first introduction to the bittersweet delights of love” (249). Moreover, Ophelia is more aware that love goes beyond fantasy and the emotions that two starry-eyed young people experience.

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At the start, she attempts to protect the sincerity of Hamlet when he expresses his feelings toward her while also considering the warning that her father made regarding the future of such a relationship. By considering both perspectives, Ophelia can make informed decisions drawing from the wisdom of her father, who has had more life experiences than her. Although her belief in the father’s authority is naïve, it is understandable as there is no other figure that can give her guidance. Thus, while Ophelia’s perception of love is rooted in tangible and observable actions, Hamlet’s view is much more abstract (Olivas 6). As a result, the different personal qualities and opinions on love and relationships hinder the communication between the two lovers. Besides, Hamlet’s intense desire to avenge the death of his father only contributes to misunderstandings.

The interaction between Ophelia and Hamlet at the start of Act III of the play is illustrative of the differences between them, which, unfortunately, cannot be reconciled easily. While Hamlet views his beloved Ophelia as a romantic entity, which is quite an abstract perception, Ophelia views Hamlet as her potential caretaker and provider, which is an expectation that he cannot fulfill. Living deep in his philosophical thought, Hamlet does not separate love from any other concepts that he ponders in the great question “To be or not to be?” (Shakespeare 55). As Hamlet agonizes over whether to commit suicide to end the pain of his existence, Ophelia enters at the end of his monologue, and the young king acknowledges her presence.

He compares Ophelia to a nymph, which is another reference to Greek mythology, suggesting the youthfulness and divinity of his beloved. Earlier, Hamlet already named the young woman “the celestial and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia” (Shakespeare 115). Such a characterization of Ophelia by Hamlet entails that he does not view her as a lover or a life partner. Rather, to him, the young woman is an object of admiration and a vessel into which one can pour ideas about a romantic relationship. Perceiving Ophelia as someone who should be receptive to his philosophy of love, Hamlet believes that she can offer him an opportunity to interact with the embodiment of abstract thoughts. It is possible that Hamlet loves Ophelia because she has become his self-developed representation of the highest love form or because he sees that she may conform to his relationship standards. Even though such perceptions do not align with reality, they are not insincere or unkind. They represent Hamlet’s overall propensity to detach from reality, which is also explained by his inaction toward Ophelia in the first part of the play. The love that Hamlet has for Ophelia aligns with his perceptions of romantic relationships, which are different from hers.

Unsurprisingly, the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet does not work out in the end because the young woman’s ideas and perceptions of love are more practical. She follows the advice given by her father and abides by the social rules of conduct when writing letters back to Hamlet. She writes, “My lord, I have remembrances of yours / That I have longèd long to redeliver; / I pray you now receive them” (Shakespeare 92). This behavior shows that Ophelia finds deep value in the gestures of affection, the courtship, which used to be highly important in the Elizabethan period.

Being a young woman without significant social standing and living under the influence of a family patriarch, Ophelia expects Hamlet to fulfill her desire for security. She longs for the safe transition from the care of her father to the care of a husband, which will establish her in the role of a loving wife. When rejecting Hamlet in her letters, she does not directly deny him but rather the course of action that he takes. Ophelia wants her admirer to take the traditional and socially-anticipated route of relationships between men and women, which ends in matrimony (Balestraci 28). Hamlet, however, mocks Ophelia’s obedience to her father and societal standards because he sees their relationship as something higher and transcendent.

The behavior that Hamlet exhibits toward Ophelia is somewhat self-destructive and can be explained by the emotional terror that he experiences when grieving the loss of his father and planning revenge. Therefore, it seems that the young king never wanted his relationship to develop into something serious as he acts in a self-destructive way and with deep emotional intensity, which does not allow his connection with Ophelia to deepen. While his love is deep, it is the love of a poet that thinks in abstract superlatives. When Ophelia rejects him, Hamlet perceives the rejection with the same level of depth, denouncing her. In the end, Ophelia exclaims, “Oh, what a noble mind is here overthrown,” suggesting that her former beloved may have gone mad (Shakespeare 147). Because Ophelia’s understanding of love and relationships is different, she cannot grasp the emotions that Hamlet experiences, which drives them apart.

Conclusion

The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia teaches the readers and viewers of the play about the importance of a similar worldview for building meaningful and lasting connections. From the very start, Hamlet is deep in his existential inquiry and views the world through intangible phenomena. He is broken after losing his father and is preoccupied with the desire to avenge him, and his love for Ophelia presents an outlet for his emotions and the poetic underpinnings of his personality. For Ophelia, love is defined by measurable acts of kindness and a promise of stability as she is grounded in reality and desires to become a wife. The difference in the lovers’ perceptions of a romantic relationship does not allow them to stay together as they are unable to communicate their expectations regarding love effectively.

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Works Cited

Balestraci, Mary. “Victorian Voices: Gender Ideology and Shakespeare’s Female Characters.” Repository Library, 2012. Web.

Camden, Carroll. “On Ophelia’s Madness.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 2, 1964, pp. 247-255.

Javed, Tabassum. “Perfect Idealism in Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet.” Dialogue, vol. 8, no. 3, 2013, p. 327.

Nasrin, Farzana, et al. “William Shakespeare: Soliloquies and Asides in Hamlet.” International Journal on Studies in English Language and Literature, vol. 4, no. 10, 2016, pp. 82-92.

Olivas, T. A. “Who is Ophelia? An Examination of the Objectification and Subjectivity of Shakespeare’s Ophelia.” Digitalscholarship, 2015. Web.

Samons, Loren. “Noble Minds and Nymphs: The Tragic Romance of Hamlet and Ophelia.” CLA Journal, vol. 6, pp. 12-21.

Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Norton Shakespeare, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016. pp. 1764-1853.

Skulsky, Harold. “Revenge, Honor, and Conscience in “Hamlet”.” PMLA, vol. 85, no. 1, 1970, pp. 78-87.

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