Characters / Relationships
When studying Hamlet students will discover that the relationships between the characters can be complicated and confusing. With each production of the play, the director must decide how each character is interpreted. It is important to remember there are no ‘right' or ‘wrong' explanations. The following notes lend a few thoughts on some facets of Hamlet's and Ophelia's relationships with other characters.
Hamlet, the central character (played by Daniel White) is the most explored yet it is difficult to determine his true feelings towards other figures in his life. It is obvious that he holds disgust and loathing for Claudius, his uncle who has murdered his father and married his mother. Finding the King in prayer, Hamlet delays his murder due to the superstition that Claudius will go straight to heaven rather than suffer the torture of hell. As Claudius plots against Hamlet, all words of kindness towards the prince are only attempts to deceive. In the line of fire is Gertrude who remains blind to the truth of the situation. Her belief that Hamlet is mad due to "His father's death, and our o'erhasty marriage" (Act 2 scene 2: line 57) is rather easily altered by influential Polonius who reports on the sadness brought by Ophelia's dismissal of the young man's love tokens and messages. Hamlet's attitude towards his mother and Ophelia is not so black and white. The ‘love tokens' that Ophelia attempts to give back to Hamlet are suggestions of a past attraction to each other. Whether or not this attraction still exists for Hamlet is subject to controversy.
Ophelia has a very connected relationship to her father and brother. These male figures have a lot of control over her, which she allows. You'll note in the play that Ophelia obeys all that Polonius asks of her including the withdrawal of her involvement with Hamlet. They advise her that his confessions of love to her are merely words of youth with no lasting substance. Despite being warned, the distress Ophelia feels over Hamlet's denial of his affection and his decline into madness is not evaded. The loss of his love continues to be destructive as it means she will remain under the control of her father and chances of becoming future Queen are unable to be fulfilled. The teen then deals with the murder of her father which sees her submit into deep depression entering a state of ‘madness'.
Are Hamlet's harsh words toward Ophelia during the first scene of act three attempts to conceal his love? Is he ‘mad' or acting so, consider whether he is aware of being watched by Gertrude, Claudius and Polonius? Is his slander toward women attributed only to Ophelia's denial of love (as instructed by her father and brother) or is there a sense that there is resentment held toward Gertrude?
In the Elizabethan age, while woman were not allowed to attend school or vote, they were generally respected citizens and most urged to fulfil their role as the ‘child bearer'. Women born into royalty were the only class that was permitted to heir their father's title. Discuss what implications this society had on Ophelia's sense of self-worth considering her relationship with Hamlet.
Daniel White plays Hamlet in USQ's production. How has he interpreted this character and how does this effect Hamlet's relationship with other characters? Put yourself in Hamlet's shoes . . . what would you have done . . . do you believe Daniel's portrayal to be genuine? Is Hamlet a character that modern young men (or just young people in general) can relate to easily?
Polonius and Laertes both speak to Ophelia about her relationship with Hamlet in Act 1 Scene 3. Read through the scene and note how Ophelia answers to each her father and brother. As a teenager, report on how you would feel if you were ‘lectured' in such a way. In groups of 3 take a character each and improvise the scene, translating the dialogue into your own words.
For each major character of the play create a chart with three columns. The first column should be the names of other characters. The second should be titled ‘Attitudes and Relationships' and the third should be labelled ‘Quote'. Have students complete the charts, with the second columns being filled with the attitudes and relationships of the selected character to others, and the ‘Quotes' column being filled with a quote from the play that encapsulates their relationship or characterisation (hint: look to see what characters say about each other).