A Hamlet timeline – chronicle of events
Setting the Timeline – considerations
Claudius – planning my foul murder
King Hamlet's funeral – where was Hamlet?
Gertrude & Claudius – adultery or not?
Horatio – Hamlet's friend?
Horatio – is he passion's slave?
Polonius – the evil that men do
Ophelia's love? – did she love Hamlet?
Ophelia closetted – Polonius on love
O help xxx ....... – Olivier's version
Ophelia's change – is Hamlet suspicious?
Hamlet feigns madness – protective "cover"
Is Hamlet mad? – Polonius's opinion
The Trial of Claudius – Hamlet's prosecution
Hamlet kills Polonius – stabs the "Voice"
Laertes v Hamlet – poisoned foil
Ophelia's death – a recipe
Hamlet's age – digging up the past
Yorick – something rotting in Denmark
Betting on Hamlet – the fencing match
Hamlet's fencing skill – better than Laertes
Hamlet's revenge – the rest is silence
Did Ophelia love Hamlet?
For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favours
Does Ophelia ever say or show she loves Hamlet?
Which of the two opposing possibilities, namely, Ophelia loves Hamlet or Ophelia does not love
Hamlet, is true? The answer can only be found by examining the evidence and her responses in the
circumstances. There are things that a lover will do. There are also things a lover will not do.
Ophelia repeatedly responds the opposite way to that of a lover. At no time does Ophelia ever give
a sign of loving Hamlet nor does she say to anyone that she loves him. Nor does anyone else say
she loves him. It is argued, therefore, that Ophelia does not love Hamlet and evidence is
presented to show why that appears to be the case.
Hamlet says he loves Ophelia but how serious is she? The prospect of becoming a queen might be
sufficient reason for Ophelia to marry Hamlet even if she did not love him. He has given her love
tokens and has written love-letters to her. This suggests he has maintained contact during his
absence, perhaps while at Wittenburg. The relationship has been going for some time, sufficient,
in fact, for Gertrude to believe they will marry, and with her approval. Hamlet's interest in
Ophelia seems to have increased of recent times. Ophelia says Hamlet has been more attentive of
late and Polonius has heard the same.
She tells her father of Hamlet's affection for her but he orders her to break off the
relationship and keep away from Hamlet, and she keeps away! If she loved Hamlet she would not keep
away, simply because she could not keep away! No girl can deliberately repel the man she loves,
her love being an irresistible force to drive her to him. If she loved Hamlet she would ignore her
father's order and find a way to meet Hamlet secretly. She makes no effort to see Hamlet and
rejects his entreaties to see her and returns his letters.
Ophelia: I did repel his letters
That is not entirely so because she retains one letter. This is the one she hands to her father
and that he reads to the king and queen. This is a love-letter, but no woman would ever give up
love-letters from the man she loves. This raises a serious doubt that Ophelia loved Hamlet.
Why did she retain this particular letter? What is there that is special in this letter? It is
hardly to be a mere random choice, so there must be something of particular interest in its
content. Presumably, then, Ophelia read some, if not all, of Hamlet's letters before selecting
this one and returning the rest. So why did she choose this letter? It would not be because of
Hamlet's expression of love for he very likely stated that in every letter. If she really loved
Hamlet she would have kept more than one letter. It is, therefore, unlikely to be Hamlet's love
that has caught her attention but something else that takes her fancy, namely, poetry! This letter
includes a poem, and Ophelia is very susceptible to poetry. She writes poetry and, what is more,
learns it by heart, for, as she clearly demonstrates later when mad, she is able to recite poems
she has written about her dead father and poems and ditties she has known for years.
Further evidence of her susceptibility to poetic words can be found in two places in the nunnery
Ophelia: My lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have longed long to re-deliver.
I pray you, now receive them.
Hamlet: No, not I!
I never gave you aught.
Ophelia: My honour'd lord, you know right well you did,
And with them words of so sweet breath compos'd
As made the things more rich.
Ophelia: And I, ...... that suck'd the honey of his music vows.
For several weeks, in fact, approximately two months, Ophelia refuses any contact with Hamlet
but he eventually goes to her. He holds her by the wrist for a few minutes while he studies her
face. He doesn't speak, but neither does she. If she loves him, why doesn't she say she is sorry
for rejecting his letters and avoiding him, or fall into his arms, or kiss him, or tell him she
loves him or give some sign of affection? She does none of these things and only becomes
frightened, which is something that would never happen if she loved Hamlet. He is possibly
wondering, "What is this woman that I love? Why has she been ignoring me? Am I nothing to her?
Can't she speak a word? It's her turn. I think I get the message - she doesn't love me." In
despair, Hamlet sighs and walks away. Ophelia, is completely bamboozled and extremely
frightened and runs off to tell her father, yet again. Where there is love, the beloved is
first in a lover's thoughts, a father is insignificant. Note Rosalind's true love for Orlando in
"As You Like It":
Rosalind: But what talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando.
Hamlet and Ophelia only meet in two scenes: the nunnery scene and "The Mousetrap" scene. In the
nunnery scene, the first thing Ophelia does is give back to Hamlet all the love tokens he had
given her as though they were just a heap of junk, whereas a true lover would treasure every gift
and never part with any. She says she has wanted to return them to him for a long time. This makes
it abundantly clear that she does not love him. The jilted lover, Hamlet, responds with a
tit‑for‑tat. "I never loved you," he says. Most spurned lovers will say something
like that; it is a normal thing to do.
Following Hamlet's visit to Ophelia in her closet, her father, the King and the Queen believe
Hamlet to be mad. Undoubtedly Ophelia believes it, too, when she participates in the nunnery scene
the following morning. During this episode she gives clear indications, a few times, that she
continues to think he is mad. Hamlet has been acting his antic disposition for weeks and he speaks
to Ophelia in similar vein, making outlandish remarks about marriage and telling her to get to a
nunnery. Does Ophelia comment on Hamlet's ridiculous remarks? No! Does she say or indicate that
his harsh words affect her on a personal basis and that she is upset by his idiotic comments and
takes them to heart? No! Ophelia ignores Hamlet's ravings. She only prays for his recovery from
madness, "O, help him, you sweet heavens!" and a little later, "O heavenly powers, restore
Those who think Ophelia loves Hamlet are likely to select two lines from her final speech as
proof, but they prove nothing! Many a girl would wish to be wooed by a prince and have him whisper
such sweet nothings in her ear.
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
As noted earlier, Ophelia likes poetry. We may, therefore, assume her susceptibility to the
sweetness of Hamlet's music vows, but that does not mean that she loves him. She loves the
poem, not the poet. Ophelia likes Hamlet immensely but only as a true friend, not as a lover. She
is the female equivalent of Horatio, except she knows Hamlet far better than Horatio does. That
final speech, except for the two lines relating to herself, could have been spoken by Horatio and
had just the same effect. Ophelia and Hamlet had a big romance and, even though she does not love
him, it is only natural that she would be very deeply affected by his apparent madness. Now,
everything has gone radically wrong with her friend. Of course, she is upset. The others are
upset, too, though to a lesser degree. Who wouldn't be?
At the very end, after Hamlet walks out, she says, "O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!" as
a final indication that she still thinks he is mad. So, throughout the entire nunnery scene she
believes him to be mad! Then the king says Hamlet will be sent to England to restore his sanity.
Presumably, Ophelia was pleased to hear of that positive step. It raises a simple question: If you
listened to the insane rantings of a madman and were then told he would be absent for a while to
regain his sanity, do you believe it could drive you mad or suicidal? It seems most unlikely.
That night, only a few hours after the nunnery scene, she goes to a performance of "The
Mousetrap." She is relaxed and carries on an animated discussion with Hamlet, firstly about the
dumbshow and, later, about the play. Despite claims that Hamlet's words during the nunnery scene
cause Ophelia intense anguish, she shows not the slightest sign of being upset or emotionally
stressed or the onset of madness. There is certainly nothing wrong with her mind. She chats away
happily with Hamlet, talking about the play, enjoying the entertainment, and obviously
concentrating on its details and what is happening.
When Hamlet starts to talk nonsense it seems that she still considers him to be crazy:
- What means this, my lord?.......
- Belike this show imports the argument of the play.......
- Will he tell us what this show meant?.......
- I'll mark the play.......
- 'Tis brief, my lord.......
- You are a good chorus, my lord.......
- You are keen, my lord, you are keen.......
- The king rises.
Ophelia: Will he tell us what this show meant?
When Ophelia is mad, she talks only of her father and never once mentions Hamlet's name. This
hardly suggests she ever loved Hamlet. Did she? I don't think so.
Hamlet: Ay, or any show that you'll show him: be not you
ashamed to show, he'll not shame to tell you what it means.
Ophelia: You are naught, you are naught: I'll mark the play.