What is “get thee to a nunnery” meaning?

In act 3, scene 1 of Hamlet, the phrase “get thee to a nunnery” can be interpreted in two ways. It depends on the reader’s understanding of the word “nunnery.” However, both interpretations convey the same message. Hamlet is angry at his mother for marrying his uncle and suspects Ophelia of betrayal. He projects his anger onto Ophelia because she does not reciprocate his love.

Moreover, Hamlet is already suspicious of his friends, whom he believes were sent by Claudius to spy on him. From his perspective, everyone around him is against him, and Ophelia might be involved in the plot. Hamlet’s hatred for humanity is evident when he asks Ophelia why she wants to be a breeder of sinners. He believes that marriage and childbirth only produce more evil people like Claudius. Thus, he is trying to prevent Ophelia from making a grave mistake.

Alternatively, Hamlet’s figurative language may signify his jealousy. He loves Ophelia so much that he would rather see her live in chastity than be with someone else. However, his words do not indicate that he is criticizing Ophelia or accusing her of cheating. Therefore, Hamlet’s attitude towards Ophelia may be positive since he is only trying to protect her.

In Hamlet’s time, a nunnery could also mean a brothel, not just a religious community with strict traditions. If Hamlet does suspect Ophelia of betrayal, this meaning would be fitting. However, Hamlet has no grounds for such accusations and makes them regardless. His unresolved conflict with his mother interferes with his relationship with Ophelia since he suspects that Gertrude was cheating on his father.

Surprisingly, the phrase “get thee to a nunnery” has gained popularity in modern times as a meme to tell someone to get lost. Hamlet’s attitude towards women is biased due to his unresolved conflict with his mother. Even though he admires Ophelia, his suspicion towards women spills over into their relationship.

In conclusion, the nunnery scene in Hamlet results from Hamlet’s issues with both his mother and Ophelia. To his mother, the phrase is a call to change her promiscuous ways, while to Ophelia, it expresses Hamlet’s jealousy. Regardless of the interpretation, Hamlet’s attitude towards women is biased due to his unresolved conflict with his mother.


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