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Get thee to a nunnery

“Get thee to a nunnery” is a famous quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It appears in Act III, Scene 1. 

This quote appears in a conversation that the title character has Ophelia. It is one of the best scenes of the play in that it adds to the confusion, on the part of the reader/audience and the characters in the play, about Hamlet’s mental state. Is he truly faking his madness? Or is it far more real than he suggests? 

Get thee to a nunnery Meaning


“Get thee to a nunnery” Meaning

“Get thee to a nunnery” is one of several memorable lines Hamlet delivers in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. It is often used to prove his misogynistic character and/or madness.

It appears towards the beginning of the third act while the title character talks to Ophelia, and not too long after his “To be or not to be” soliloquy. The quote means that Ophelia should not marry or have children. Instead, she should go to a nunnery to live a chaste life. 

Where Did Shakespeare Use “Get thee to a nunnery?” 

The Bard used this statement, in several different forms, to convey Hamlet’s opinion (real or fake) on marriage as well as men and women and the negative attributes both sexes have. Men are raucous and ill-behaved and women are deceitful and birth sinners.

He suggests that Ophelia should not get married or have children. Then, by the end of his series of wild statements, he arrives at the decision that no one should ever get married again. In fact, the entire institution of marriage should be abolished. Most readers and scholars agree that this stems from his discontent with his mother’s hasty remarriage after his father, the King of Denmark’s, death (at the hands of his mother’s new husband, his uncle- Claudius).

Here is the quote in context

Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be 

a breeder of sinners? 

I am myself indifferent honest, 

but yet I could accuse me of such things that it 

were better my mother had not borne me: I am 

very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses 

at my beck than I have thoughts to put them 

in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act 

them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling 

between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves 

all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. 

Where’s your father?

Hamlet begins this speech by telling Ophelia, someone he has had a relationship with, to leave and become a nun. He tells her to swear off marriage and children. Why should she want to be a “breeder of sinners?” he asks. He then turns to discuss himself. He is mostly a virtuous person, but he could be accused of objectionable things that might make his mother wish that she’d never “borne” him.

Hamlet lists his faults in the next line, he is “revengeful, ambitious.” (He is seeking to avenge his father’s death at the hands of his uncle.) He has so much going on in his mind that it’s driving him mad. He has so many sinful thoughts he doesn’t have enough time to put them into practice. Seen in the lines: “with more offenses  / at my beck than I have thoughts to put them / in, imagination to give them shape.”

He questions his purpose on earth, something he has already done in his famous “To be or not to be” speech. He, like all men, is a scoundrel, or “arrant knave,” who shouldn’t be trusted. 

At the end of the small speech, he repeats the suggestion that Ophelia should go to a “nunnery.” He then asks her where her father, Polonius, is. Ophelia responds with: 

At home, my lord.

Hamlet then tells her that he wishes that the doors “be shut upon him that he may / play the fool nowhere but in’s own house.” Polonius serves as a perfect subject for Hamlet’s statement. He is better off at home, as all men are so that no one is bothered by their folly or poor behavior. Ophelia interprets Hamlet’s statements as madness and, throughout this scene, mutters prayers to God, asking for assistance. Next, Hamlet says: 

If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague 

for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as 

snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a

Nunnery, farewell. Or if thou wilt marry, 

marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what

monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and 

quickly too. Farewell.

Again, Hamlet tells her that she should go to a nunnery because if she marries, she will not escape embarrassment and slander. Alternatively, if she does marry, he says, she should marry a foolish man because she will make a cuckold of him anyway. 

Hamlet’s irritation with women comes through clearly in these lines, and the next, before his exit from the stage. He is bothered by how women move and the make-up they wear, something he sees as deceitful. 

At the end of the scene, after Hamlet has left the stage, Ophelia mourns the state of his mind. This is not only one time within the play that a character suggests that Hamlet has gone mad. But, readers should already be aware of the fact that Hamlet has decided to play mad or put “an antic disposition on.” (But, the nature of his mental state is up for interpretation.)  

Why Did Shakespeare Use “Get thee to a nunnery?” 

Shakespeare uses this quote in the interaction between Hamlet and Ophelia in order to express his negative view of women. This stems from a variety of sources, including his opinion on his mother and on the human race generally. 

Alternatively, it has been suggested that Hamlet behaves this way in order to convince Ophelia that he really is mad. Perhaps, he doesn’t feel as strongly as his statements seem to reveal. He even suggests that marriage as an institution should be abolished at the end of the interaction or that no one should marry again. This feeling on his part, real or not, is very likely related to his anger over his mother’s remarriage, (which he repeatedly expresses his irritation with), to Claudius, his uncle, and the man he believes killed his father. 

FAQs

Who says “Get thee to a nunnery?”

Hamlet says the quote “Get thee to a nunnery” in the William Shakespeare play ‘Hamlet‘ when talking to Ophelia.

Why is the nunnery scene important in ‘Hamlet?’

The nunnery scene is important because it reveals a great deal about Hamlet’s character. It is one of the best instances in which readers may find themselves torn between Hamlet’s assertion that he’s pretending to be mad and the possibility that he may actually be mad.

What scene does Hamlet say “Get thee to a nunnery?”

Hamlet says the quote in Act III, Scene 1 of the Shakespeare play ‘Hamlet.’

Why does Hamlet repeatedly say to Ophelia “Get thee to a nunnery?”

Hamlet uses this phrase while speaking to Ophelia in order to emphasize his belief, inspired by his feigned madness or not, that marriage is an institution that needs to be abolished. He tells her that she should become a nun, never marry, and never have children. This will mean that she never cuckolds a man nor are any more foolish men brought into the world.

What is a “nunnery?”

A “nunnery” is another word for a convent. In Hamlet, the title character uses the quote “Get thee to a nunnery” as a way of telling Ophelia, a woman he had a relationship with, that she should never marry or have children.



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