Was There a Child?

May 6, 2008
By Domenic Cella, Braintree, MA

One incredible trait of critics is being able to read a novel, see past what is actually written, interpret what the author is trying to say, and then delve even deeper into the text to find things that may have just been put in to see if the reader was able to figure this out. One notable author always thought to have deeper meaning, naturally, is Shakespeare. He is known for his symbolism and deeper meaning in his plays and many debates have risen over the years over almost every aspect of all of his plays. One such point that is brought up occurs in Hamlet and involves whether Ophelia is pregnant with Hamlet's baby. Yet there is quite a bit of proof that she is carrying Hamlet's child. For one, it is quite clear that they have had sex and have been together for quite a while. Further proof also shows up in his speech, in which he tells her to become a nun, and finally the scenes leading up to her death, including the death itself.
Hamlet and Ophelia have indeed had sexual relations and are, although this fact may be disputed, in love with each other. Their love, in fact, has driven Ophelia's father Polonius and her brother Laertes to greatly dislike Hamlet. Yet at first, Polonius asks Ophelia what exactly there is between the two lovers. When speaking to Ophelia about the matter, he states that Hamlet has "Given private time to [her], and [she her]self/ [Has] of [her] audience been most free and/ bounteous" (I.iii.100-102). When he finishes by asking what is specifically going on between them, she replies, "He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders/ Of his affection to me" (I.iii.108-109). Polonius' reaction to this puts even more emphasis on the idea that she may be pregnant. Normally, a father wants to believe that his little girl would never admit to having sexual relations with a man and that they are the greatest little girl in the world. Yet he says that she speaks "like a green girl" almost as if he knew that she had sex with Hamlet (I.iii.110). Also, this means that he probably knows that something happens, if he says that she acts like a green girl, meaning that she acts innocent, though she is not. If she in fact was a green girl, she would be innocent. In addition to this scene, more proof that they have had intercourse occurs a little later. She talks about how she was sewing in the closet, when Hamlet came rushing in, clothes all half done up or put on, and hair rustled, as if something had indeed happened. Naturally, this implies something occurred prior to this ill meeting. Similar to this scene of the possibility of Hamlet actually loving Ophelia, he later tells her to get herself to a nunnery.
Just prior to the play, Hamlet is talking to Ophelia, while being spied upon by Polonius. Hamlet is talking to Ophelia about his undying love for her and how he could not go on without her. He suddenly switched his mood rather hastily, denying he ever said such things, as well as telling her that she should go to a nunnery. He does not want that she be a "breeder of sinners," this possibly being a reference to himself (III.i.131-132). He does not want her to have to mother children who are like him. This being the fact, there is no way she could breed sinners, unless they in fact came out of her womb. This statement made by Hamlet may reference that he does know that she is pregnant. He goes on further, asking the question, "What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven?" (III.i.138-140). It is almost as if he knows that there is a baby on the way and he does not want it to make the same mistakes that he, himself made. He wants her to live the rest of her days as pure and chaste as possible, whether she actually go to a nunnery or marry a fool, which Hamlet says is better to marry, "for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them" (III.i.150-151). Following this, the play ensues and not long after, Hamlet is sent to England. During this period, Ophelia is thought to be insane, as she randomly breaks out in song.

Everyone in the castle notices that Ophelia may have gone off the deep end. She seems to have taken rather a liking to singing. It is assumed, and rather likely that she is singing about Hamlet and her love for him. One verse is about Valentine's Day and that the first girl a man sees on this day will be his true love. There are also quite a few hints in here about sexual intercourse and a baby. She sings, "Then up he rose and donned his clothes/ And dupped the chamber door,/ Let in the maid, that out a maid/ Never departed more" (IV.v.57-60). This line basically says that the man put on his clothes to open the door for the maid, which he did not let out, presumably to mate with her. The next lines of her song say that "Young men will do 't, if they come to 't" which is saying that given the chance, all men will gladly have sex (IV.v.65). The final verse of Ophelia's song states that "They bore him barefaced on the bier," probably indicated that "they" are the parents and that they bore their child (IV.v.188). Her song is only able to be stopped by her death. In her final hour, she drowns herself, only after making crowns of flowers. Still in song mode, she sings until her final breath. As this is not much later, it is likely that she is still singing songs along the same lines as before, meaning that she was still singing about her love and her possible future child. She dies "As one incapable of her own distress," for she would not be able to handle all that life would send her way (IV.vii.203). She dies, pregnant with Hamlet's child.
While there is much dispute over whether Ophelia actually is pregnant, there really is enough proof to confirm such facts. Not only have they had sexual relations during their time together, but Hamlet seems to hint that he knows of her pregnancy, and Ophelia sings of lovers and bringing a new life into this world. Whether Shakespeare meant to put this it as a blatant fact or as one of those things that the reader needed to delve a bit deeper to understand, he does a great job of masking it up, yet giving some good hints at this fact. Ophelia was indeed pregnant; it was just a shame that the unborn child never got to see the light of day.

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