| Quote #7
Hamlet is inexcusably cruel to Ophelia and his verbal abuse leads her to believe he's gone mad as she calls for "heavenly powers" to help him. What's interesting about this passage is the way Hamlet views women and marriage. He claims that women make husbands into "monsters," which is allusion to the idea that cuckolds (men whose wives cheated on them) grew horns. Hamlet assumes that all women are unfaithful and all wives cheat, which is why he orders Ophelia to a "nunnery" (a convent for unmarried women but also a slang term for "brothel").
What causes Hamlet to flip out like this? Ophelia's shock suggests he's never behaved this way toward her before. Does Hamlet know that Claudius and Polonius are using Ophelia as bait to eavesdrop? If so, does he view Ophelia's participation as a betrayal? Does Ophelia's seeming betrayal remind Hamlet of his mother's betrayal of his father? Hamlet seems to be directing his attitude about his parents' marriage at the hapless Ophelia.
| Quote #8
We've already established that Hamlet sees women as deceitful creatures that corrupt men. Here, he uses the artificiality of cosmetics ("paintings") as an analogy for women's deception. Hamlet says fake behavior (playing dumb, walking, talking, and dancing in an affected way) is like makeup that covers a "face" – it makes a woman appear to be something she's not. Hamlet is accusing Ophelia of pretending to be innocent in order to cover up the fact that she's naturally promiscuous and he orders her, again, to a nunnery.
| Quote #9
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
In an article called "Documents in Madness," literary critic Carol Thomas Neely notes that when Ophelia goes mad, her disturbed language gives voice to patriarchal oppression (the oppression of women by men) in the play. Neely's argument makes a lot of sense. This song, for example, is about the loss of a maiden's virginity (she's "tumbled") and a broken promise of marriage, which causes the young woman to regret her relationship with the man. We've already seen how women are defined by their sexuality in the play and we've also witnessed the kind of pressures placed on Ophelia to remain a virgin until she's wed – see 1.3.3 above. Regardless of whether or not this song reflects Ophelia's own personal experience with Hamlet, it's clear that the pressure to be chaste and to live up to her family's expectations and society's rules has a profound affect on this young woman.