by: William Shakespeare

Five Key Questions

Summary Five Key Questions

2) Did Hamlet and Ophelia have sex?

It would have been risky for Shakespeare directly to portray pre-marital sex between aristocratic characters, but Hamlet gives us reasons to suspect that at some point before the beginning of the play, Hamlet and Ophelia have had sex. Laertes and Polonius both warn Ophelia against having sex with Hamlet, which suggests that Ophelia’s father and brother, at least, are concerned about the possibility. Later in the play Hamlet also teases Ophelia with explicitly sexual puns, further suggesting that they may have shared intimacy. For instance, just before the play scene he asks: “Shall I lie in your lap, my lady? . . . Do you think I meant country matters?” (III.ii.). However, the best evidence that Hamlet and Ophelia have had sex comes from Ophelia. When Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father, she goes mad. In her madness, she sings songs that seem to dwell on the causes of her grief. Some of her songs are about old men or fathers dying. The rest are about pre-marital sex: “Quoth she, ‘Before you tumbled me / You promised me to wed’” (IV.v.). Although none of this evidence offers definitive proof, Shakespeare strongly suggests that Hamlet and Ophelia have at least considered consummating their desire.