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
Polonius on Ophelia's love
On the same day that Laertes went back to France, Polonius ordered Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet. Approximately two months later, Polonius sends Reynaldo to France to spy on Laertes. Clearly, Reynaldo who has been in Elsinore, could have been used to spy on Ophelia to check if she and Hamlet were meeting secretly. As will become evident, Polonius did not bother employing Reynaldo for that purpose, despite his ready availability on the spot. But why not? Likely, Polonius was sufficiently a man of the world to believe that one cannot keep lovers apart. Lovers will always find a way to meet. So, did he expect Ophelia to abide by his order? No! To him, therefore, it would have been a waste of time to spy on her.
Only minutes after Reynaldo's departure for France, an extremely frightened Ophelia runs to Polonius. She says that, only a few minutes earlier, Hamlet had come to her room. He was dressed in a crazy fashion and acted very strangely. Polonius instantly tries to think of a reason for this strange behavior. He does not know their actual relationship, but assumes Hamlet's disturbing actions have arisen from a lover's passion. Although he had ordered Ophelia not to speak to Hamlet, he seems, nevertheless, to assume they have had amorous meetings.
Polonius: Mad for thy love?
Polonius, in seeking to know the actual cause of Hamlet's mood, asks a question:
What, have you given him any hard words of late?
That is a tremendously revealing question! It tells us, quite clearly, that he believes they have been meeting! 'Of late' even suggests that that he thinks there have been frequent recent meetings. And if recent meetings, then why not meetings all the time, that is, over the previous two months? His question also implies that he wonders whether Hamlet's violent mood may have arisen from lovers' tiffs. But it takes time for lovers' tiffs to develop, hence, his question poses the possibility of many meetings.
Ophelia: No, my good lord; but, as you did command,
This reply must have stunned Polonius! Obviously, he has not spied on Ophelia and Hamlet for he is unaware of them not meeting. He has, simply, assumed they have been meeting. But with no meetings there can be no arguments and no passion. Ophelia's revelation that they haven't met would have come as a shock. "That hath made him mad!" Polonius says, instantly believing that Hamlet really does love Ophelia and that her rejection of him, and not lovers' quarrels, is the cause of Hamlet's odd behavior.
Polonius: That hath made him mad.
What, too, would surprise Polonius is that Ophelia, by her deliberate rejection of Hamlet and absolute intention never again to meet him, shows that she does not love him. Polonius knows full well that a lover cannot reject the beloved but will, as Hamlet appears to have done, do anything to be with the beloved.
Polonius declares Hamlet's madness as having been caused by the enforced separation from the person whom he loves. Given that this is his way of thinking, why doesn't he have the very same concern for Ophelia's sanity? He never worries about her, nor need he. Ophelia is not upset, nor in tears, nor broken-hearted by the termination of her romance with Hamlet. Thus, with no emotional attachment to Hamlet, Ophelia is able to assist Polonius and Claudius in trying to find the cause of Hamlet's malady. If Ophelia had loved Hamlet it would have been heartless of them to use her. Under the ordeal of Hamlet's lost sanity she would have risked losing her own. As that possibility was never considered by Polonius, Claudius or Gertrude, it can be safely assumed they all realised she did not love Hamlet. At the end of the nunnery scene, Ophelia is not emotionally upset for the king shows no concern for her, nor does her father when he says:
How now, Ophelia?
Movies present this scene differently, tending to follow the lead of Olivier's 1948 "Hamlet", being Olivierian rather than Shakespearean!
Without a doubt, there are no expressions of love in the nunnery scene. Polonius hears Hamlet's negative comments yet persists in believing that neglected love has driven Hamlet insane. Despite this, he gives not a moment's consideration that this same neglected love might have harmed Ophelia or caused her grief, or threatened her sanity. Thus, there seems little doubt that he doesn't believe Ophelia loves Hamlet.
Polonius: yet do I believe