A hot topic over at the shakespearegeek blog nowadays is " They Say He Made a Good End" http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2009/08/they-say-he-made-good-end.html which has evolved into something like "Hamlet VS Ophelia". As usual I'm all over it over there--me and my big mouth. Check it out. Duane (the geek) has put up some great clips on it as well.
But I thought since I already had started a sort of Hamlet vs Ophelia thing here, I'd also comment on it here, while continuing the train of thought about Hamlet's "character".
'Interesting' that in his anger with Ophelia, marriage and betrayal is the subject matter Hamlet picks to focus on "--we will have no more marriages", etc.. Gee, what would have made that occur to him, now believing he's been betrayed by not one, but TWO women he loves? Think maybe he had ideas about Ophelia and Marriage? Apparently Mom knew enough at Ophelia's graveside to wish it had come to what she thought Hamlet and Ophelia were all about. What could be more obvious? Also, consider his tirade (mysterious to many) berating himself, stating in effect that as not worth anything--"What should such Fellows as I do, crawling between Heaven and Earth. We are arrant Knaves all, believe none of us"...etc. Is he angrily, yet wryly, commenting on how he's "not good enough" for Ophelia, in her eyes? Mightn't it seem so to him?
And of the gifts she attempts to return: "No, no. I never gave YOU aught." ...I loved YOU not; to the point that she's acting like (and has been acting like) no one he now "knows" at all; AND-- "Gee Ophelia, I guess with all of my insistence, with all of my pleadings, with everything we've had, IF you can STILL believe the relationship isn't worth it, and in addition, have NO good reason for believing that I'm not worth your trouble--or if you have a reason, refuse to share with me why this is SO-- "Well then, (tongue in cheek) I MUST NEVER HAVE "loved" you, since you seem to be insisting on it so strongly. OK, you're right-- Since you won't, let's see if I can come up with a why or two as to my "never loving you".
Hamlet's sarcasm is always logical. He seems to be saying (possibly): "It's now ALL I CAN THINK OF THAT MAKES ANY SENSE AT ALL!--get it Ophelia? (If, then, therefore) He uses the same formula of reasoning later on with his mother.
These important people in Hamlet's life are constantly forcing him to ask, "WHY?!...HOW...COULD YOU POSSIBLY DO THIS?!--It MAKES NO SENSE!" And "maddening"? (and quite literally, it is) is the fact that neither of them ever gives him an answer! (however we may justify their reasons for it, Hamlet's left blind, because he doesn't know what they--or WE--know).
This is too often forgotten or conveniently ignored by the conclusion-jumpers, psychoanalysts, and theoreticians. They're too busy at playing needle-in-the-haystack, mountain-out-of-a-molehill with Hamlet to notice any other character's flaws or transgressions.
You know, like Mom's an adulterer with Dad's brother, married him only 2 months after Dad "died", and Ophelia not only snubbed him for reasons he will never know, but also becomes a spy against him in the deadly game he plays with the court! Likewise they pay less attention to the words if they don't happen to "fit" the particular theory about Hamlet with which they happen to be enamored (or mired in) at the time.
It appears to me that some try first to simply foist a supposed penchant for meanness and cruelty on everything he says and does, without putting themselves in his place. How mundane and thoughtless, as though this were a daily soap opera, and as if Hamlet had their values and customary judgment and behavior. They'll "give him" that--the cruelty and pettiness in human nature; but never along with it, the strength of hurt or reaction a normal human being would have when faced with similar crushing circumstances.
However; back to his wit: His mercurial thought processes would immediately latch onto the now-available and pertinent subjects (marriage, betrayal, deception) as the vehicles; his perception would make the relationships in a split second, and his delivery would be as swift --and deadly-- as ever.
But as with his mother, these "witticisms" would be anything but subtly communicated, channeled as they are through the great anger that the realization of betrayal and its emotional pain would cause him. To keep his usual cool, dry, witty head with these particular individuals (Ophelia and Gertrude) is impossible anyway, and even if possible, a measured reaction would cost him too much, for many reasons; one of which would be that it would be misinterpreted; taken as his "normal" sarcasm when it comes to attempting to reveal truths. And yes he is "mad" --as in the later case with his mother --quite mad--insane with anger and hurt-- in this moment with Ophelia.
These instances are the only times I can think of during which he couldn't be supposed to be "faking madness". --Why?
Both of these women have left a thinker of serious proportions without the means to parse out what has happened to him! Their behavior is "insane" to him. He responds accordingly, himself insane in the moment from the realization that they will never help him understand WHY they've done what they've done. There is an Answer--they just won't give it to him!
This point would be scanned: What they've done appears to him to be partly driven by insane decision-making on their part, and they've driven him insane partly by WHAT it is, and partly by refusing to help him figure out the "WHY?" it is.
And he stands too much to lose in either case to not make known to them the damage he's received at their hands. They are too important to him and he loves them both too much not to let them know just how much they've hurt him. (...and, also... could they just be reasonable...and stop it...please?).
But in the case of both Ophelia and Gertrude, other than to "wonder" what might be wrong with him, There is No Response.
It's only fair to recognize that their decisions to stay mum are, at times, directly affected by the circumstances bearing on the two women. But Fate and their unwillingness (the hesitance sometimes justified, sometimes not) combine to never allow them to explain, even if they would--or could--or, possibly, to give Hamlet the time to batter down the bulwark of what is--to him--abject denial of the truth--and the results of that denial--of their (as far as he knows) obviously intended actions.
For once again, one of the greatest instruments of Tragedy in the play--Time-- fails to mesh with The Moment in which, ironically, it's simultaneously occurring. Everyone in the play, at one or more points, either lacks timing, or the intervention of Fate, Circumstance (or both) forces that lack of timing; they all pay dearly for it. Hamlet sees and knows, presciently, in his gut, from the very beginning of the play, the terrible, destructive power of this lack of synchronization, and the effects it may likely have: "The Time is out of joint."