Shakespeare worked with the simplest of principals, writing at the mind’s own speed, using everything he read, but reworking it first, and depending upon characters for the defining trait or flaw. One theme which constantly emerges throughout Hamlet is the theme of love and loss, revealed by the characters of Hamlet, Laertes, and Ophelia. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is a young man subjected to much heart ache in the course of this play. His first loss being the suspicious death of Hamlet’s beloved and respected father, Hamlet Sr.
Even Hamlet’s Uncle/Step-father, King Claudius, noted in peaking with young Hamlet that his mourning was serious. “‘Tis sweet and commendable in your nature,” says Caludius of Hamlet’s behavior, “. . . But to persevere in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubbornness. Tis unmanly grief. . . ” (Act I, Scene II, lines 90-98). Hamlet was heartbroken at the loss of his father, which was reflected in his outlook on life. He regarded Denmark as a prison and spoke to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of having bad dreams. Unfortunately Act I is not the only time where young Hamlet expresses pain from love and loss.
Although he is cruel and nkind to Ophelia in their meetings of both Act III, Scenes I and II, he is only expressing the frustration that has built up inside of him toward all women, and directed it at Ophelia because she was available. Hamlet had not ceased to love her. He explains his true feelings for Ophelia upon arrival at her burial, completely shocked that his beloved maid has died, saying, “What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis, whose phase of sorrow conjures the wand’ring stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I,” (Act V, Scene I, lines 267-271).
He then goes on to say he would do anything to prove his love, including be buried with her. Hamlet lost yet another person dear to him, his lover, fair Ophelia. Hamlet is only one character in the play who experiences love and loss. Ophelia is another. In Act III, Scene IV, after the performance of The Mouse Trap and The Murder of Gonzago for the royal court, Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius, the father of Ophelia and Laertes. Ophelia already believed she had lost the affections of her Hamlet due to their dialogue from Act III, Scenes I and II.
She had sacrificed his love because her father and rother had ordered her to turn him away. And now, to learn that her respected father, whom she had given up her lover for, was dead, was far too great a grievance for the young woman. In Act IV, Scene V, reports reach Queen Gertrude that Ophelia has gone mad. She sings songs of unrequited love, betrayal, and death. The King, the Queen, Horatio, and the Gentleman recognize that it is the trauma of her loss that has driven her to be so. Claudius remarking, “O, this is the poison of deep grief. It springs all from her father’s death, and now behold! ” (Act IV, Scene V, Lines 80-81).
And so we see another ho was affected by the theme of love and loss. Finally, there is the son of Polonius, a man of great talent with a rapier, whose losses seem already totaled when he sees his sister in her state of madness and he concludes, “And so have I a noble father lost, and a sister driven into desp’rate terms, whose worth, if praises may go back again, stood challenger on mount of all the age for her perfections,” (Act IV, Scene VII, Lines 27-31). Laertes feels the loss of his sister before she actually kills herself in the river – and then he has truly lost both his father and younger sister.
It is tragic, but rather than sadness, Laertes expresses anger. Anger towards Hamlet because, to him, Hamlet is to blame for the death of both of Laertes’ family members. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet with several key players in mind to portray the theme of love and loss to its audience. When it was not young Hamlet experiencing love and loss, it was fair Ophelia dealing with the same feelings, or it was her brother, Laertes. In every act at least one of these three experiences dealing with love and/or loss. Therefore love and loss is a relevant theme to Hamlet which is successfully traced from beginning to end.