Tainted by the Mother


After reading Act III, Scene I, I believe that the reason for Hamlet’s outbursts against Ophelia were due to his seething hatred for his mother’s actions. Hamlet sees Ophelia as a woman who has yet to be corrupted by men and marriage, and wishes to keep her from being with evil men. When Hamlet says “be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny, Get thee to a nunnery”(Shakespeare 66), he is clearly showing he’d rather have Ophelia be celibate than married, a sacred bond Hamlet now views as a tainted by his uncle. Hamlet’s contempt with marriage is understandable, as his mother now shares the bed with Claudius. This has left Hamlet with a feeling of disgust and distrust for womankind, as how could his own mother betray his father in such a grievous manner? While Hamlet may not love Ophelia, he views her as one of few people still not tainted by Claudius’ treachery. And what Ophelia doesn’t seem to understand is that it isn’t her presence that angers Hamlet, but her mentioning of love in general. At this time in Hamlet’s life, love has lost the meaning it once had and only serves as a reminder of what he must accomplish; revenge.

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2 comments

  1. I think your argument is pretty spot on. Hamlet seems to be a pretty moody guy, letting his situation at the moment determine his outlook on life. In fact, later in the act in scene 2 on page 72, Hamlet starts getting pretty flirty with Ophelia. This may seem strange at first that he would be sexual to a woman who he had just earlier stated he had no love for and who he had basically called a whore until we recognize the context of the situation. Hamlet had been planning this play the night before with some actors in which he would basically reenact the murder of his father. He took so much pride in creating this, even imagining the reaction that Claudius would have. Throughout the reenactment, Hamlet can’t contain his excitement. He recites line after line of the play. This then explains the switch in attitudes towards Ophelia. His situation and mood was simply more favorable at the time. When he accosted Ophelia, he had just finished talking to his mother, the wound of her misdeeds still fresh in his mind. There are other examples of this type of moodiness and why he seems so clever at one point but then extremely emotional in another. He is after all a human being. I’m sure there will be many more times in the play where his situation will determine his mood or actions.

  2. I meant to post on this a while ago when, in class, you first touched on the idea of Gertrude tainting the idea of love for Hamlet. I agree completely, and I wish we could have discussed it a little more in one of our “Hamlet” discussions. We were so busy talking about our interpretations of other relationships in the story (Hamlet and Claudius, Hamlet and Polonius, Claudius and Gertrude, Gertrude and Hamlet, etc.) that we never had a discussion that was specifically about whether or not Hamlet loves Ophelia. I remember in class a few people touched on the fact that Hamlet was not upset when he killed her father and how that seemed strange, and I also remember debating whether or not Hamlet was being offensive when he said “get thee to a nunnery.” I guess my interpretation on the Hamlet-Ophelia relationship is that he does not love her anymore. I think he may have loved her at one point, before the story began and before Claudius and Gertrude tainted his views on love, but I don’t think he loves her anymore. At the beginning of the story, we hear part of a letter he had written to her and it appears as though he loved her; “Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love” (Act 2). After his mother and uncle are married, though, I think Hamlet’s feelings have changed. The scene at the play shows Hamlet saying rather vulgar phrases to Ophelia, which I don’t think a person in love would do. At the end of that scene, Ophelia says, “Heavenly powers, restore him!” which shows that Hamlet has not always treated her this way. I think at that point, she may have realized that he no longer loves her: all because Gertrude and Claudius tainted his ideas of love.

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