"rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind"

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When Ophelia returns Hamlet's love tokens she says "rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind". Why? It is Ophelia who has, since two months ago, refused "to give words or talk to the Lord Hamlet". (ActI, SceneIV, line 134), and again in ActI, SceneI lines 108-109 she says "I did repel his letters and denied his access to me". Can anybody help draw light onto these lines by Ophelia?

-- Patrick Walker (criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), September 25, 2002


Poor Ophelia, always the victim. Yes, she did cut Hamlet off, but that was upon instruction from her father. As a young woman, she has little say in how her own life is to progress. No doubt Hamlet knows that her dad is behind her every move, but it still hurts him when she betrays him to her spying father.

Hamlet, however, is a man and can choose for himself, so his "unkindness" to her is his own doing, whereas her transgressions aren't really her fault (at least for that time period - it's a tough argument to make these days).

Ophelia is little more than a pawn, and everyone knows it (even she).


-- Casey (mikken@neo.rr.com), September 26, 2002.

Erm, that hasn't helped me at all, Casey. Thanks anyway.

-- Patrick Walker (criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), September 26, 2002.

Hope that the private email cleared things up.

-- casey (mikken@neo.rr.com), September 27, 2002.

I haven't recieved one, Casey.

-- Patrick Walker (criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), September 27, 2002.

Ug. My server sometimes thinks it should be making toast. Here's a copy of what I sent -

Well, he's gone "mad", hasn't he? He's been generally weird to everyone around him and she needed an excuse to be there and talk to him. "Unkind" may not indicate any "meanness" on his part, just that his feelings towards her have changed - he's "unkind" - meaning different than he was, uncharacteristic. Unlike the kind of person he was when he gave her the tokens in the first place. She fears that he no longer loves her (and probably thinks that it's all her fault for following her dad's orders). In a way, it may also be her way of letting him know that she doesn't intend to hold him back from a court romance that is more appropriate to his position. Sort of like saying, "Ok, you don't love me anymore, so here's everything back. I am holding nothing in our past over you to let people know that you slummed with the commoners, go find a royal chick and marry her." But I digress - I just think that it's the "different" form of "unkind" rather than "cruel or mean".

-- Casey (mikken@neo.rr.com), September 29, 2002.

In bulk I agree with Casey. That is the meaning of 'unkind', here as so often in the play. 'Kind' in Elizabethan-speak means 'natural' as well as being able to have our modern meaning of gentle or nice or whatever. So Ophelia says that Hamlet has grown changed in the two and a bit months since I.ii. And that's merely the point everybody is making about Hamlet around this time in the play: he's not like he used to be, nor like he would be if he were in his right wits.

The simple answer to the scene is that both Hamlet and Ophelia don't say what they mean. Hamlet has to feign madness, and then he loses his temper after Ophelia's response to 'Where's your father?' Ophelia is of course aware of her father's and Claudius' presence, listening. The way she really feels about Hamlet becomes clear with her soliloquy at the end of the scene, and in IV.v. Obviously, then, she loves him; and she doesn't blame him for being changed because she believes that he is lunatic: she blames it on the madness. And she probably, at least in part, blames her own actions of avoiding him and his letters for two months for his madness: see especially II.i, '... POL - Mad for thy love? OPH - My lord, I do not know, but truly I do fear it.'

So this, I believe, is the point: she loves him, and she believes that he loves her (and so do I, for the record. No, I'm not shlockily sentimental. I think the logic of the play proves it.)

She'd know from when they were together that, being a private person when it comes to his thoughts and feelings, he wouldn't want his feelings for her to be in the public domain, to be discussed and assessed. She will have no wish to betray him by bringing him to betray what he feels for her. But she can't not speak to him, or daddy and the king will be cross with her; yet she can't speak candidly with him because the others are listening. So what is she to do?

The poor girl is naturally upset, and probably nervous as hell. And she probably has no clear idea what to say or how to say it when it comes to the point. But she's not stupid. Actually she's quite quick witted, though she's gentle and lady- like in showing it: her response to Laertes in I.iii.45-51, and her responses to Hamlet's jesting in III.ii demonstrate this. Now to my mind, the sticky bit in the scene is why she returns Hamlet's love tokens. Polonius didn't tell her too, so far as we know. And thinking about it, that wouldn't make sense anyway, because Polonius wants her to get Hamlet to declare he loves her. The more likely way to do that would be for her to tell Hamlet that she loves him, rather than make the gesture of utter, hurtful rejection that she does. So I figure that she claims to reject him so that he will claim to reject her, so that he isn't betrayed to her father and Claudius and they still don't know for sure if he's mad for love or not. Only, it all naturally gets a bit nasty when Hamlet realizes Polonius is listening.

Anyone like that one?

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), October 04, 2002.

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