This sample essay on Get Thee To A Nunnery reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.
Hamlet’s true motives are questionable before he even enters into this fierce confrontation with Ophelia and by the time he storms out of it, we, the reader or audience, are left with very few answers. His manner, in particular his melancholy mood, has been affected by so many factors beforehand that it is almost impossible to source his outburst from any one of them in particular.
His mother has remarried too quickly, his father has been recently murdered, he hates his uncle and perhaps most significantly he should be king.
His depressing situation has led him to consider suicide – and it would appear that Ophelia, although not completely free of blame herself, is the unfortunate scapegoat upon which Hamlet has decided to vent his fury. This conversation, closely watched by Claudius and Polonius, is, in fact, a test.
It’s supposed to establish whether Hamlet’s madness stems from his lovesickness over Ophelia or from the death of his father – or indeed from one of the many other tragic elements of his predicament.
The scene centres around one main dramatic element; does Hamlet know that he is being watched and, if so, at what stage of the scene does he become aware of this? Ophelia’s first line – “Good my lord, how does your honour for this many a day? ” – reeks of incompetence and suspicion.
The nature of the greeting and the formal manner with which the line is said would arouse the suspicion of Hamlet instantly. It can also be interpreted as Ophelia’s way of sending a subtle warning to Hamlet or simply an example or Ophelia ‘following Daddy’s instructions’.
Hamlet’s reply on Line 92 is equally formal – perhaps he is mocking her and has already detected the unnatural atmosphere filling the room? Line 93 moves away from the formal tone as Ophelia brings up the subject of returning Hamlet’s love gifts. “I have remembrances of yours that I have longi? d long to re-deliver,” has been clearly rehearsed with the alliterated ‘l’ and the assonance on the ‘o’ sound giving Hamlet a massive indication as to the fact that he is being set-up.
It is at this point that some productions would decide to make this realisation clear; as done in a Russian version film adaptation directed by Grigori Kozintsev which was released in 1962. In this particular interpretation, Hamlet knocks the said ‘remembrances’ out of Ophelia’s hand and onto the floor in a fit of rage as he says “No, not I, I never gave you aught”. In other productions, as in Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 release, the line is said with the simple blunt, dismissive tone with which it is written.
Line 93 also raises the question of Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ – it is possible that he is aware of Claudius and Polonius’ presence in the room and is simply going along with their theory of his madness by denying the fact that he ever gave Ophelia gifts in the first place. If so, this is a canny move to disorientate them. Hamlet may also want to disorientate Ophelia because he is suspicious of her odd behaviour without specifically being aware of the eavesdroppers.
It would appear that the value of these presents has deteriorated due to Hamlet’s lack of love and Shakespeare has emphasised this point particularly well with the use of a rhyming couplet on Lines 100 and 101. This too is ironic because the text suggests that the ‘remembrances’ had been given to Ophelia while Hamlet was reciting poetry, so this is therefore a snide, ‘below the belt’ comment that will have had the desired impact. However, this methodical approach is not something that Hamlet would expect from Ophelia and again it sounds rehearsed.
Line 103 – “Ha, ha, are you honest” – is where the subject and the dramatic dynamics of the scene change. Hamlet goes on the attack – his sarcastic tone has come out of the blue, but with Claudius and Polonius watching on, it is, however, impossible to know whether this is genuine or just another attempt to disorientate and go along with his supposed ‘antic disposition’. He accuses Ophelia of being corrupt like all women, and, suddenly, Hamlet begins to use certain elements of his depressing life to make his point effectively.
He suggests that beauty and virtue are closely linked together and in many productions, as in the Laurence Olivier production of 1948, Hamlet goes on a physical as well as verbal attack of Ophelia – often portrayed as helpless. Hamlet’s disillusion with women almost certainly stems from his mother’s actions with his Uncle Claudius; however it is apparent that he once had genuine love for Ophelia as demonstrated by Line 114. This poignant moment in the scene reveals a sense of regret on Hamlet’s part and leaves Ophelia feeling very vulnerable at this stage.
Hamlet continues to emphasise his distrust of women by claiming Ophelia has betrayed him and that she has given in to temptation. In fact, he goes on to say that he himself is a sinner and that all human beings are born into sin; which is a contradiction to what he has just said. It is fair to say, therefore, that Hamlet’s depressing stance on human beings has been influenced by the corruption in his own life. Ophelia is sometimes portrayed as slightly more aggressive than is described as in the text; as done in Franco Zefirelli’s 1990 version where Helena Bonham Carter stands up for herself when saying the Line “I was the more deceived”.
On the other hand, this could be seen as another feeble comment that has very little significance in the scene. At this point, however, Hamlet is back on the attack again. This change of dynamics leads him to exploit Ophelia’s weaknesses. He tells her to go to a ‘Nunnery’, which could have been interpreted in two different ways at the time. Hamlet could either be ordering his supposedly deceitful girlfriend to a convent, so she will be protected from the horrible world surrounding them, or to a brothel, because she is corrupt like humanity.
Either meaning makes complete sense and is therefore ambiguous; another technique used to tow the line of his ‘antic disposition’ – or indeed his genuine madness. If Hamlet intended to use the latter meaning, he is being extremely insulting to the woman he is supposed to be in love with. It also implies that female sins take the form of sex and that she is weak and open to temptation. This is particularly clever because ‘nunnery’ is common Elizabethan slang. Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ – first mentioned in Act 1 Scene 5 – is a dominant theme in not just this scene but throughout the whole play.
He could actually be mad; he has seen the ghost of his father, he has had suicidal tendencies, his friends are spying on him and there is great pressure on him to carry out his revenge. Ophelia’s betrayal – another key theme – is also very important. Hamlet blames Ophelia for his madness, supporting Polonius’ theory that he is love sick, and this could have driven him to a bizarre mental state. Or, he could be both sane and mad at the same time. His ‘antic disposition’ could be a cover for revenge – but while putting on this guise Hamlet may have even convinced himself that he is insane.
He could also be genuinely divided; there is great conflict in his life and this could lead him to flash in and out of madness. Corruption is something that is clearly playing on Hamlet’s mind throughout this scene and it is clear that the recent murder of his father and the swift replacement of him as King by his uncle is becoming too much to handle. However this sequence of events, or at least similar ones, was not uncommon in the Elizabethan world. At the time, incestuous marriages and relationships were widely debated but not as frowned upon as they are now – although Hamlet clearly takes the latter view.
Hamlet’s rant continues; he has talked himself into a fit of rage and is almost always portrayed as violent by this stage of the scene to the extent that he is coming across as genuinely mad. He says it would have been better if he himself had not been born; further adding to the aura of insanity surrounding him. He talks about how his revengeful thoughts may have made him stoop to the same level as Claudius and that his proud and ambitious personality has contributed to this. Line 125-126: “We are arrant knaves all, believe none of us” sums this up particularly well.
Perhaps at this point in the scene comes the moment where Hamlet finally comes to a self-realization that the conversation if being overheard – unless that happens much earlier on in the scene. Some productions, as in Kenneth Brannagh’s, use loud rustling as a rather unsubtle way of drawing Polonius and Claudius to Hamlet’s attention, whereas in the Lawrence Olivier version, Hamlet is virtually left to pick up on Ophelia’s body language alone to detect their presence. At this point Ophelia lies. She has gone past a point of no return and Hamlet knows this – she has chosen her father and the King over him.
Her response to the question “Where’s your father? ” is “At home my Lord” and although Hamlet knows this is a lie, he decides not to confront her about it. Instead, he uses this as an opportunity to make a bitter, aggressive and public threat to Polonius and Claudius. In fact, Hamlet goes a step further and begins to break off his relationship with Ophelia. He says that bringing more children into the world would be committing more sins and rules out the possibility of marriage – his public threat then comes, with him that he will leave all others alone, except Claudius, who he intends to kill.
A sane Hamlet would perhaps have left things there, and it is clear that one part of him wants to with the fact that he says “Farewell” for a third time. However, he continues his onslaught of abuse on Ophelia by saying that she will not escape malicious lies as it is part of her nature, even if she comes across as innocent and virtuous. He says “Get thee to a nunnery” for the fourth time to emphasise his point further before storming out. Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ was questionable at the beginning of the scene and is even more so by the end of it.
He is clearly love sick because of the frequent contradictions he makes during his ‘break-up’ speech to Ophelia, yet he sees his once virtuous girlfriend being tarnished by the corruption he sees around him and his desperation for revenge. That, however, does not make him a madman and although it is impossible to know for certain, it would appear that the ‘Nunnery Scene’ in Hamlet is where all the depressing elements and themes of his life come to a head and that Ophelia is the unfortunate and convenient scapegoat upon which he releases all of his anger.