Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Get Thee To A Nunnery!

"Get thee to a nunnery." I was kind of confused by the phrase when I first read it, so I googled it and found a discussion forum that talked about the meaning of the phrase. There were multiple interpretations. One person brought up that in Shakespeare's time the word "nunnery" had two meanings: 1) a convent 2) a brothel. Well, those were two very different meanings. So either Hamlet was telling Ophelia to turn to a life of chastity or he was degrading her and calling her a common prostitute. Either way, the phrase means that Ophelia should never marry and have kids. Another person talked about how Hamlet had realized that Ophelia was deceiving him for the sake of her father and the king, and he was enraged at her for siding with his enemy. Insulting Ophelia by telling her to go to a nunnery (I'm assuming this is the brothel interpretation) is the offended and betrayal Hamlet lashing out at Ophelia. Then, another interpretation said that Hamlet was seeing his mother (who married her husband's brother and murderer) reflected in Ophelia. His rage against Ophelia is actually his rage against his mother. Also after seeing his mother's remarriage, Hamlet loses all respect for marriage and now has no desire for his beloved Ophelia to marry him or anyone else. 
There are so many interpretations of that line that I wasn't sure which one was right. I think it is a mixture of all the factors that causes Hamlet to say this. What do you think?


Michell D said...

"Get the to a.....punnery?"
We have all seen the multiple puns that Hamlet uses, so why not consider this to be one. Shakespeare was a master of language and was able to skillfully weave webs of puns to confuse whoever he is talking to. Although if I had to say, I would think that he was talking about covenant, mostly because she did not seem to be offended like he was calling her a whore. Basically I think Shakespeare meant to do this and it is meant to be interpreted either way.

Ben Bonner said...

This scene gives us some insight into Hamlet's world view, which I personally find really interesting and a little confusing. In this scene, Hamlet advises Ophelia against having kids because they would by nature be sinful. He then says that while he himself is moderately virtuous, he is still pretty messed up, and that there is therefore no purpose in having children because they would be so messed up (hence the suggestion that she go to a "nunnery" - whatever he means by that). Earlier in the play, I think in the first act, we see another example of Hamlet's pessimistic world view. He laments the futility of life and states that everything is pointless and that there is no structure to the world. This passage really surprised me, particularly after just having read Tillyard, who talks extensively about how important the perception of order and structure was to the Elizabethan world view. Given this context, Hamlet's view seems almost heretical. Reading Hamlet say these things, I felt like I was reading something written by Camus. Is this just Hamlet's depression talking? Or is Shakespeare trying to say something about life?