"Get Thee to a Nunnery": Unraveling the Layers of Hamlet's Plea

Categories: Hamlet

Among the rich tapestry of lines from Shakespeare's works that have seeped into our cultural consciousness, Hamlet's exhortation to Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery," stands out as one of the most memorable and debated. At first glance, the phrase appears to be a straightforward directive. However, as with much of Shakespeare's writing, it is rife with nuance, double entendre, and layers of meaning.

The context in which Hamlet delivers this line to Ophelia is crucial to understanding its weight. In Act III, Scene 1 of "Hamlet," the titular character is in a state of existential despair.

He is grappling with his father's death, his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle, and the ghostly revelation of his father's murder. Amidst this emotional turmoil, he encounters Ophelia, a woman he has professed to love. Yet, his words to her are neither kind nor comforting. Instead, he tells her, "Get thee to a nunnery."

On the surface, a nunnery is a place for religious women, akin to a convent.

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If taken literally, Hamlet seems to be advising Ophelia to seek refuge and protection in such a sanctuary. Perhaps he's implying that the world outside is corrupt and that the only way for Ophelia to remain pure and untouched by its vices is to withdraw into a religious life.

However, Shakespeare was a master of wordplay, and "nunnery" had a slang connotation in Elizabethan times as a brothel. With this interpretation, Hamlet's words become biting and sarcastic, suggesting that Ophelia, and women in general, are deceitful and promiscuous.

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This dual meaning allows Hamlet to express his distrust of women, a theme that runs deep throughout the play, especially in his relationships with Ophelia and his mother, Queen Gertrude.

This sentiment of distrust is further accentuated when Hamlet declares, "If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny." Hamlet believes that women, whether they remain pure or not, will always be subjected to slander and criticism. By telling Ophelia to go to a nunnery, he may be attempting to shield her from the inevitable judgments of society, or he may be sarcastically condemning her to a life of defamation.

Furthermore, the scene in which this line is delivered is tinged with irony. Hamlet, unbeknownst to him, is being watched by Polonius and King Claudius as he converses with Ophelia. The latter two are attempting to ascertain the cause of Hamlet's erratic behavior. Ophelia, too, is not entirely genuine in this interaction, as she has been instructed by Polonius to return Hamlet's love letters and tokens of affection to further provoke him. In this web of deceit and surveillance, "Get thee to a nunnery" can also be interpreted as Hamlet's plea for honesty and transparency in a world where he feels perpetually surveilled and deceived.

Whether Hamlet's declaration is a genuine plea for Ophelia's safety, a scathing indictment of her perceived deceit, or a comment on the broader themes of duplicity and betrayal in the play, it serves as a pivotal moment in "Hamlet." It underscores Hamlet's complex relationship with women, his disillusionment with the world around him, and his yearning for truth in a landscape filled with shadows and mirages.

In conclusion, "Get thee to a nunnery," much like the play "Hamlet" itself, is a masterclass in ambiguity. Its layers of meaning and the depths of emotion it evokes serve as a testament to Shakespeare's unparalleled ability to delve into the human psyche. With just five words, he encapsulates the complexity of love, trust, and societal expectations, leaving readers and audiences pondering their significance for centuries.

Updated: Oct 04, 2023
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"Get Thee to a Nunnery": Unraveling the Layers of Hamlet's Plea. (2023, Oct 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/get-thee-to-a-nunnery-unraveling-the-layers-of-hamlets-plea-essay

"Get Thee to a Nunnery": Unraveling the Layers of Hamlet's Plea essay
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