Who is Ophelia’s Brother?

I never know what to say when I see questions like this in my logs. But then I think of it like this – if I invited my coworkers to see Hamlet, and during intermission one of them asked me, “I’m confused, which one is Ophelia’s brother?” I’m not going to point and laugh and say, “How dumb are you? It’s right there on the page!”  Instead I’m going to appreciate that this person is engaged enough to be here in the first place and is trying to follow along, but sometimes it’s not that easy.

Even though we typically think of Ophelia as Hamlet’s girlfriend, we never actually see them “together”. We first hear about their relationship first from Ophelia’s older brother Laertes before he leaves to return to school:

For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute; No more.

Typical big brother stuff – you think Hamlet’s into you, but he’s really not, so don’t let him break your heart. This is typical of all the men in Ophelia’s life, they tell her what to do.

LaertesWe don’t see Laertes again until their father Polonius has been killed. He is then witness to Ophelia’s madness and eventual death. At her funeral he cannot bear the grief and jumps into her grave:

Hold off the earth awhile,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms:

[Leaps into the grave]

Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made,
To o’ertop old Pelion, or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus.

What he does not realize is that Hamlet has also returned and, seeing this over the top display, starts a fight over which of them loved her more:

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

What Hamlet does not know is that Laertes and Claudius have concocted a plan to let Laertes have his revenge, by poisoning Hamlet.  This plan either works perfectly or horribly depending on whether you see the glass half full or empty, because at the end of it Hamlet does end up dead.  But so do Claudius and Laertes. With his last breath, Laertes asks Hamlet’s forgiveness for betraying him.

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