There are a number of reasons why Hamlet has remained a classic and one of these reasons is due to the wonderful portrayal that Shakespeare does in embedding the theme of love in the play; the love Hamlet so unusually manifests yet undoubtedly has for Ophelia. In order to arrive at a better understanding of how this theme is manifested in the play, it is first important to discuss some of the important characters and their personalities. The relevance of this lies in the fact that it is because of these characters that the play comes alive and the reason why the audience is able to laugh, cry and smile along with the characters.
The words of Shakespeare breathe life into the characters as they dance and move in the reader’s imagination and even more so as it is brought to life on stage. The witty dialogue and timeless themes that are embodied in the play make Hamlet a pleasure to read over and over again as with each reading another side of the characters is brought to life. The first character is Hamlet. Hamlet, the main character, for example, comes across as an enigmatic personality. A careful scrutiny of the dialogue of Hamlet in the play reveals that whether consciously or unconsciously, he always seems to be saying something important.
It is as if his charisma comes to life and one is focused on his words and deeds as the play progresses. This soliloquy that Shakespeare so masterfully employs in most of his plays is most visible in this play. The philosophical and contemplative nature of Hamlet draws his character and the readers into difficult scenarios that pose questions that are nearly impossible to answer with any certainty. In the same breath, Shakespeare is able to turn this contemplative and intelligent young man into a madman as when Hamlet unhesitatingly stabs Polonius who is hidden behind the curtains.
The mania that consumes the character of Hamlet as caused by the death of his father soon brings the young man on the brink of insanity, or so it seems. Ophelia, on the other hand, has been shown to be the most quiet and immovable. She has possess a character that has the probability to turn into a catastrophic and heartrending heroine who is able to outshine and transcend the tests and challenges presented to her through the smashing of her own life into insanity.
This shows that Ophelia was not weighty and significant and her distinctive intention and purpose was to squeeze out the distorted perception of Hamlet towards women as heartless sexual slayer and incorruptibility and morality of women. Through Ophelia, the audience is given a chance to observe Hamlet’s evolution and de-evolution into a man that perceives each woman as nothing more than a whore; thus, believing that every woman may look decent and pure within is a kind of a woman who is despoiled and besmirched within and has many erotic and voluptuous desires.
This portrayal, however, does not completely do justice to the character of Ophelia because, as this brief discourse will show, she was a woman considered as worthy of love and devotion. While Hamlet may not have been consistent in showing his love for her, there is no doubt that he indeed cared for Ophelia more than anything in this world to the point that he nearly abandoned his quest for revenge just to reveal to her how much he loved her. The play is not without another balancing theme and this is filled in by the love that Hamlet feels for Ophelia.
While it has been argued that there is no love, Act 3, Scene 2, and at Ophelia’s grave in Scene 1 of Act 5 clearly show otherwise. As is shown in the characterization of Hamlet, he is indeed a cynical and bitter person. The discovery of the murder of his father and the adulterous nature of his mother has hardened him against any tender emotion. “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His cannon ‘gainst self-slaughter … how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.” (1. 2. 131-134), as Hamlet declares.
It is this sentiment which has led many to believe that Hamlet would have no love for any woman. Yet, despite this bleak outlook in life and general distrust for women, it can be seen that Hamlet does indeed acknowledge his need for women in his life. A perfect example would be the scene directly after the Hamlet learns of the death of his father and proceeds to act in a very uncharacteristic and perhaps “insane” manner.
In this scene, he seeks out Ophelia, who is shocked to see the immodest way that Hamlet is attired and immediately tells her father; “and with a look so piteous in purport as if he had been loosed out of hell to speak of horrors-he comes before me” (2. 1. 82-84). From this, it can be seen that while this may seem as a front to veil his plans for revenge, Hamlet shows that he indeed adores and values Ophelia. The death of his father and the knowledge of the treacherous nature of his mother and uncle have left him with very few loved ones in his life, Ophelia as one of them.
As the story progresses and Hamlet begins to ponder the alternatives that he has, the people around him begin to notice his true feelings for Ophelia. In fact it has become so clear that certain members of the Nobles of Elsinor have even begun scheming on as to how they would be able to benefit from the love the Hamlet has for Ophelia. Shakespeare uses this love as a device to further enrich the already entertaining and compelling plot. In Act 3 Scene 1, the love of Hamlet for Ophelia is clearly shown as he begins to launch into his “to be or not to be” soliloquy.
At this point in the play, the revenge that has been the one of the most powerful driving forces of Hamlet begins to turn him into a miserable and cynical person. Yet despite this melancholic mood, Hamlet’s spirits lighten up as Ophelia enters; “The fair Ophelia! Nymph in thy orisons be all my sins remembered (3. 1. 88-89). ” The role that Ophelia plays in the life of Hamlet becomes relevant once again as he utters fair words towards her; “That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty” (3. 1. 107-108).
He further adds to this by declaring that “Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd that the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness (3. 1. 111-114). ” While this may show that Hamlet does indeed have genuine feelings of affection for Ophelia, other parts of the play show why it also became important to the cause of Hamlet to ignore and perhaps remove all such feelings. The scene where Polonius reads a love letter that Hamlet had written for Ophelia in which he declares that “But that I love thee best, O most best, believe it” (2. 2. 121-122) is one of the more pivotal scenes in that it uses the love of Hamlet against him.
In this same act, the other characters of the play such as Queen Gertrude and Claudius realize that Hamlet does indeed have genuine feelings for Ophelia and each of them plots at using that love against Hamlet; Queen Gertrude planning to use it to bring Hamlet out of his “feigned” madness and Claudius to save himself. It does not take long before both characters speak with Ophelia and persuade her to have a talk with Hamlet.
This act becomes crucial as it leads to the realization of Hamlet that in order for him to be able to carry out his plans he must choose between his love for Ophelia and his thirst for revenge. It is clear to all that Hamlet eventually chooses revenge. The talk with Hamlet does not stir him from his madness but instead fortifies his resolve for revenge. He feels threatened by the knowledge that his mother and stepfather possess regarding his love for Ophelia and decides that they might decide to use it against him.
In dealing with this situation, Hamlet eventually decides to forego the feelings that he has for Ophelia. This is more clearly shown by the characterization of Ophelia as a very obedient and a very good daughter because she was more than willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her beloved father and brother even though it was painful on her part; in other words, she was a very family-oriented young lady. There is no other event in one’s life that brings out the truest of all emotions.
This is certainly true of Hamlet during the scene in Act 5 at Ophelia’s funeral. It is here that Hamlet confronts Laertes and declares his love for Ophelia by saying that “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum” (5. 1. 271-273). It is here that one sees that despite the mistrust that Hamlet had for women, he did have a special place in his heart for Ophelia. In fact, this declaration is made even more dramatic by the fact that the same woman who brought Hamlet into this world betrayed him.
For Hamlet to be able to say that he loved Ophelia so much is a testament to the feelings that he did have for her. Love and Revenge have been made collaborators, partners in this wonderful play that is able to intertwine these often conflicting themes. The manner by which Shakespeare is able to use revenge as an outlet for love and how he uses love as the antithesis of revenge is clearly shown in this play. The characters all comprise the rich tapestry that forms this play.
While it may sometimes leave the audience in doubt as to the real meaning of certain scenes, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind and heart that whatever it may have meant it surely did leave an impact. This beautiful interplay of themes is what has made Hamlet a timeless classic. Every reading brings a new understanding, a new theme and the readers and audience are treated to another previously undiscovered facet of the enigmatic personality of Hamlet and the other supporting characters.
Courtney from Study Moose
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