Romantic Love in Hamlet Essay

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Hamlet out of Love

When Hamlet arrives home from school, he finds his father dead and his mother remarried to his uncle. Hamlet caustically remarks that “the funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” (1.2.87-88) to express his displeasure with his mother’s hasty re-marriage: Hamlet loved his father and believed his mother had as well. He expected there to be a longer period of grieving and was disappointed not to find one. A sense of his mother’s own fickleness and infidelity leads Hamlet to reject romantic love in general and to spurn his betrothed Ophelia specifically. “Get thee to a nunnery!” (3.1.131) he commands Ophelia before ranting about the knavishness of man (and woman). In many ways, his rejection of romantic love is the real tragedy of the play. It leads to Ophelia’s death and to the stack of corpses that litter the stage at the end. Had Hamlet simply found a better way to cope with his mother’s quick re-marriage, the events of the drama might have unfolded differently. For even in the midst of avenging his father’s death, Hamlet berates and lectures his mother on her infidelity towards his father’s memory before slaying the spy Polonius and entering into his downward spiral. This paper will explore Hamlet’s trauma with regard to eros and show how this trauma is the source of his main troubles. Because Hamlet has been disappointed with love by his mother's actions, he does not believe that romantic love is important for human relationships.

As Tenney Davis points out, it is Hamlet’s mother’s re-marriage so soon after the funeral of his father, that derails Hamlet from the beginning: “the young intellectual, sorrowing for the death of his father, very naturally developed a psychosis under the influence of his mother’s unseemly second marriage” (629). This psychosis is of course exacerbated by the appearance of the ghost of his dead father, which urges the young man to take action against his murderer—his mother’s new husband. So what was already a knife in his heart is now urged to become a knife in his hand, which is a sure burden to his already grief-stricken mind: as a Christian, Hamlet would upon principle be opposed to revenge—yet in justice he would be opposed to doing nothing. Thus, Hamlet is doubly anguished: longing to love (which is why he turns briefly to Ophelia) yet finding romantic love to be sorely limited by his own inability to rise out of the depths, where his father’s ghost waits for him, pushing him to blood.

The fact that Blackmore emphasizes the revengeful entreaty of the ghost shows that appearance of the specter is a catalyst in Hamlet’s downward trajectory, which is set in motion by the mother’s faithlessness. Blackmore suggests, however, that “Hamlet as a Christian knew that evil spirits may at times assume various forms, the better to beguile to evil, and, therefore, he doubted [rightly] whether this spectre-like form of his father were really his ghost or a demon” (130).
This doubt aggravates his sensibilities—and so seeking stability he turns to Ophelia for support, only to find that she has been enlisted by her father Polonius (the spy for his uncle) and that her allegiance is divided: one the one hand, she loves Hamlet—but on the other she feels she must obey her father and spurn Hamlet, which she does (and which adds to his cynical…

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…between a man and a woman that could potentially lead to the begetting of children. In his line, Hamlet acknowledges at last the veracity and validity of romantic love—that which he has denied for virtually the whole play. But now having returned from his brief expulsion from the state and finding that Ophelia is dead, the fog in his mind clears away in an instant and the light of the sun shines through: he admits the truth and stands up for the truth though all now think he is mad, since he has done such a compelling job of convincing them so.

Thus, there occurs a reversal in Hamlet in the final act of the play. Having lost Ophelia to the other world, he has a moment of clarity in which he finally admits that romantic love is meaningful and it is for this that he stands up and challenges Laertes at the funeral procession of Ophelia. What he could not admit before when she was alive, he admits now that she is dead. It is too late, of course—for having denied romance a chance, he is left with nothing and the final scene is an opportunity for the King to further enact his treachery, which leads to more death. Had Hamlet managed to hold and remain convinced in the efficacy of love, he might not have been so quick to spurn Ophelia or hold his mother in such harsh contempt. However, because his mother set the tone and essentially set the stage, Hamlet’s rejection of romantic love as a meaningful part of life is understandable. Ultimately, the fact that he comes back to accept the meaningfulness of romantic love is what gives Hamlet some hope….....

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Works Cited

Blackmore, Simon. The Riddles of Hamlet and the Newest Answers. Boston: Stratford Co., 1917.

Davis, Tenney. “The Sanity of Hamlet.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 18, no. 23 (Nov. 10, 1921): 629-634.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet.

Vyvyan, John. The Shakespearean Ethic. London: Shepheard-Walwyn.

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