Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is complicated. The prince had genuine feelings towards Ophelia before his father’s death. Following his mother’s second marriage, he develops trust issues. These factors, combined with progressing madness, leads to his anger and misogyny. Yet, at Ophelia’s grave, Hamlet proclaims his love to her again.
Hamlet is a complicated character. So is his love for Ophelia. It is obvious he truly loves her at first. Evidence of that is shown by many love letters they share. In his first letter (Act 2, scene 2, 116 – 119), he asks Ophelia to “never doubt I love.”
However, Hamlet’s feelings toward Ophelia change. From love, he moves to a complete denial of love. He suffers from his father’s death and Gertrude’s haste remarriage. After these events, Hamlet transfers his frustration and aggression towards his mother onto Ophelia. It is revealed in his dialogue with his friend Horatio. The prince complains about how bad women are at making their love choices, calling it frailty (Act 1, scene 2, 146).
When Ophelia rejects Hamlet, he develops profound feelings of anger and misogyny. The prince becomes cynical in his perception of women. He identifies women’s sexuality with immorality. Hamlet attacks Ophelia, claiming that all women have a deceitful nature. He is vicious when he tells Ophelia to “marry a fool.” That’s why he repeatedly sends Ophelia to a nunnery. The reader can interpret the scene in two different ways. Nunnery means both a convent for unmarried women and a brothel. Thus, it suggests that Hamlet views Ophelia as impure.
Regardless, Hamlet is enraged and full of mistrust towards Ophelia. In other words, he accuses her of promiscuity and fake innocence when, in fact, she is a cheater. Hamlet’s sexual objectification of Ophelia is shown in Act 3, scene 1, when he asks her, “Are you honest?” Here’s why: honesty has a double meaning in the play. Besides representing a person’s ability to be truthful, it also means a female’s virginity. Hamlet is playing double meaning here. He asks Ophelia about her honesty in her feelings to him and her chastity.
After becoming convinced of Ophelia’s betrayal, Hamlet uses her in his vengeance acts against Claudius. His mistreatment and vile verbal abuse are explicitly shown in Act 3, scene 1. He tells her, “I loved you once,” meaning the love is now gone. Hamlet pretends he is consumed by madness, making Ophelia distrust his feelings. He retreats to resentment, misogyny, and ultimately, his passion for Ophelia fades away.
During the final scene between Ophelia and Hamlet, he poses several sexual references to her. Hamlet’s sexually objectifies Ophelia when he asks her if he can lie on her lap (Act 3, scene 2, 105). This behavior is Hamlet’s attempt to transfer his frustrations about his mother.
Hamlet reconfirms his sincere love for Ophelia at her death bed. He calls her “Fair Ophelia” (Act 5, scene 1, 228), implying he sees her as pure and virtuous. A real madness replaces a fake one. Hamlet proclaims that “forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum.”
Hamlet’s aggression towards Ophelia, his sexual references towards her can be viewed as his disguised attempt to protect her.