Ling AP Lit. and Comp. 2010-11 discussion

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Good and Evil > Hamlet and Family Relationships

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message 1: by Arielle (new)

Arielle Weingast | 22 comments I found the most interesting topic that we addressed in our questions to be the relationships between father-son-daughter. The dynamic is quite interesting. . While Polonius and Laertes seem to have a relatively normal father-son relationship, their relationships with Ophelia seem somewhat troubling. They each assume a position of unquestioned authority over her, Polonius treating his daughter as though her feelings are irrelevant (“Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl”) and Laertes treating her as though her judgment is suspect (I.iii.101). Further, Laertes’ speech to Ophelia is laced with forceful sexual imagery, referring to her “chaste treasure open” to Hamlet’s “unmaster’d importunity” (I.iii.31–32). Combined with the extremely affectionate interplay between the brother and sister, this sexual imagery creates an incestuous undertone, echoing the incest of Claudius’s marriage to his brother’s wife and Hamlet’s passionate, conflicting feelings for his mother.


message 2: by Ada (new)

Ada L | 22 comments Arielle, you bring up a very interesting point. I hadn't realized how sexual and oddly incestuous the relationship between Laertes and Ophelia was. When I was reading their conversation, I initially thought that Laertes was just assuming a "big brother" role, merely looking out for his sister. I had thought that he was concerned about Ophelia getting hurt by Hamlet. However, now that you brought up this point, I wonder if his warning about Hamlet has anything to do with his own feelings toward Ophelia. Does anyone else think this may be possible?


message 3: by Alon (new)

Alon Mazori | 23 comments I agree with Ada and Arielle. At first, it only seems natural for the reader to perceive Laertes as caring for the well-being of his sister; what kind of brother would want his sister to become entangled in an unhappy relationship with the heir to the throne of Denmark? However, the fact that there has already been mention of incest in Hamlet's soliloquy, in combination with the unusually strong sexual diction and imagery, seems to suggest that there is sexual subtext between Laertes and Ophelia.

I wonder how informed Polonius is about the dynamic between his children. Is he aware of its incestuous nature? If he is, do his forbidding of Ophelia to see Hamlet signify his acceptance of such a dynamic?


message 4: by Catie (new)

Catie Cooper | 20 comments Wow, I did not see that either. I just thought that Laertes was trying to scare his sister from doing anything comprimising by using vulgar language. But an incestuous relationship would be quite a plot twist. Although that would be interesting, I don't think that is the case. I think it is an older brother trying to show his sister all the disgusting things in the world by being very forthcoming. And it works. He does get the fact that Hamlet may not have the best intentions in mind across. Maybe he is jealous, but I don't think that is because he wants to have a relationship with his sister. Also, if there is an incestuous relationship it is one-sided because Ophelia does not seem to be interested.


message 5: by Ling (new)

Ling Zhang | 20 comments I agree with Catie. I never thought that there is an incestuous relationship between Laertes and Ophelia. When Ophelia and Polonius die, I see Laertes more concerned about avenging his father than his sister.


message 6: by Park.chunsoo (new)

Park.chunsoo | 11 comments Although this is an interesting analysis, I can't be sure, because this is still an assumption. Also, why is it weird that Laertes is more concerned about avenging his father than his sister? Back then, weren't women considered less important? And wouldn't it be more significant to avenge the head of the family by restoring the family honor? Although Shakespeare makes use of sexual imagery, we should consider that sexual imagery has been plentiful in this act and shouldn't come to such hasty conclusions.


message 7: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Disalvo | 21 comments I actually did spot the incestuous undertone but I didn't read much into it. Then when Laertes was so distraught over his sister's death, it made me think twice. He yells at the priest and jumps into Ophelia's grave so he can hold her "once more in his arms." He then fights with her ex-boyfriend and the two bicker over who loved her more. In the beginning of the play, I wasn't sure either of them, Hamlet or Laertes, cared about Ophelia very much. Now that she is dead, they both begin to profess their undying love for her. Could it be that they are just in competition with the other? Or could it be that they actually have true feelings for Ophelia?


message 8: by Hillary (new)

Hillary (hillaryschwartz) | 21 comments Rachel, you bring up a very interesting point. I also thought that Hamlet and Laertes were fighting over Ophelia not out of true feelings for her but as a form of competition. We know that the both of them feel that a fight is not worth fighting unless a person's honor is at stake. That being said, I would not be surprised if Hamlet is trying to prove that he loves Ophelia more as a last resort of regaining a little bit of honor. I also think that Hamlet and Laertes both knew that, as a result of fighting each other, one or both of them would die and this competition would be a way to achieve one final victory before death.


message 9: by Ada (new)

Ada L | 22 comments Laertes's reaction to Ophelia's death does seem to reveal some strong feelings he has toward her. For example, in Act 4 Scene 7 when Laertes learns about her death, he says "A sister driven into desperate terms,/Whose worth, if praises may go back again,/Stood challenger on mount of all the age/For her perfections." Laertes praises Ophelia as a perfect woman, whose worth is greater than any other. This description seems a little odd for a sister. It sounds more like someone describing a wife, or lover.


message 10: by Catie (new)

Catie Cooper | 20 comments Rachel, Laertes did not even know that Hamlet was there when he jumped into his sister's grave. So I think those original feelings he had as his sister's body was laid to rest were genuine. However, when Hamlet does appear and the fighting begins between Hamlet and Laertes, then it becomes more of a competition. But, I do believe that Hamlet really loved Ophelia and was genuinely upset over her death. He may have been a little dramatic about showing his love, but I do think he loves her. I found Laertes and Hamlet's competition to be funny in a way. It was the two of them fighting over who loved Ophelia more, it was almost like kids fighting over something trivial.


message 11: by Randie (new)

Randie (randiead) | 22 comments Ada, I completely felt the same way while reading Ophelia's funeral scene. For some reason, I can't imagine my brother calling me a "perfect woman" or even referring to me as a woman at all. I think that in Shakespeare's time, it was much more socially acceptable to have sexual feelings towards someone in your family. Still definitely frowned upon, but not illegal. Also, there seems to be an absentee mother in the family, whose absence might have influenced Laertes' feelings towards his sister. Instead of the Oedipal dilemma of being in love with one's mother, perhaps Laertes feels this for his sister, because he never had a mother. Thoughts?


message 12: by Arielle (new)

Arielle Weingast | 22 comments That could explain a lot, Randie. Since Laertes never had a mother, he has these Oedipus-like feelings towards his sister. Yet, we do not know for sure if Laertes does not have a mother. For all we know, she could be living in his house. A reason she is not introduced could probably be explained because Shakespeare wanted to introduce as few women as possible, to keep Hamlet's general attitude toward women as notoriously sexist and stems from his disgust at his mother's sexuality and seeming unfaithfulness to his dead father. This outlook eventually spills over to include all women, especially the hapless Ophelia, who has virtually no power or control, even over her own body. To some extent, the play also considers notions of masculinity (or lack thereof). Claudius warns Hamlet that his grief is "unmanly" and Hamlet notoriously refers to himself as a promiscuous woman when he finds himself unable to avenge his father's death, which, again, circles back to Hamlet's association between women and deception. Thus, maybe it would have been illogical for Shakespeare to introduce a chacaracter whom Hamlet could not have such opinions.


message 13: by Ilana (new)

Ilana | 24 comments That's a really good point, about the absence of Laertes's and Ophelia's mother. But I don't think I agree with the incest theory. As previously said, there have been a lot of sexual metaphors in this chapter (and the entire play), and it seems to me that Laertes is just trying to warn Ophelia about the dangers she may have to face while he's away--some of which might be sexual. Now that her brother isn't there to protect her, there may be more men making advances on her. Judging from the play, metaphors like the ones Laertes uses were fairly common in that time-- one can find sexual metaphors in many other conversations, and not just in a joking or sexual context.


message 14: by Eitan (new)

Eitan Amiel | 13 comments I agree with Ilana. While it is definitly tempting to look deep into Laertes' lines to Ophelia I think it is important to keep a sense of when the play was written and takes place. First of all, the Oedipal complex was first really thought of by Sigmund Freud in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds. To think that Shakespeare correctly anticipated Freud seems unlikely to me. Furthermore I don't think the text supports this view. While Laertes' comments seem strange to our eyes, his comments were not so different from the sexual banter that was littered throughout the play. Obviously these jokes were in vogue at the time and I think that they are more indicative of witty humor than deep seeded psychological issues.


message 15: by Gabe (new)

Gabe | 14 comments I somewhat disagree with Eitan here actually, I feel that Laertes' words here in fact hold a deeper psychological meaning, representing Laertes' remorse for never growing up without a mother. Here Laertes' shows his internal need to avenge his sister.


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