Hamlet's Problematic "Celestial Bed"

To understand Hamlet's insecurities, we must understand Ophelia's point of view. It is she who makes him most uncomfortable over the course of the play, and it is her rejection of him that drives Hamlet closer to insanity. Her reasons for this rejection are as important to Shakespeare's greatest masterpiece as Hamlet's own reasons for his babyishness, his insecurities, and, of course, his sexual impotence.

Ophelia's first words in Hamlet amount to an admission of insecurity. By asking Laertes if he "doubts" whether he will "hear" from her in France, she reveals a fear of his not believing in her constancy, in her willingness to write letters (1.3.4). Shakespeare therefore implies from the first that Ophelia would like to be seen as trustworthy. Barring a duplicity for which there is absolutely no evidence in the play-as Ophelia is ever-faithful to the requests of her brother and father-it follows that she would like to conceive of herself as faithful too.

Just as the concept of faithfulness has profound sexual implications for Gertrude as widow and lover, so too does Shakespeare carefully suggest that Ophelia's faithfulness to her brother's admonitions is a matter of monogamy:


Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 725 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4217 literature essays, 1406 sample college application essays, 171 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in