Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner
transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the
force of honesty can translate beauty into his
likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the
time gives it proof. I did love you once.

Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot
so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of
it: I loved you not.

I was the more deceived.

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 offences 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?


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first reference to a nunnery with the implied meaning of a brothel was in Thomas Nash’s book, Christs Teares over Jerusalem (1593), which refers to prostitutes who ‘give free priviledge’ to gentlemen in ‘theyr Nunnery’. Nash had very harsh words for the city of London and its sinful ways, and he believed the city was on the brink of great peril. He was eventually sent to prison for calling London a ‘seeded garden of ‘sinne’ – which certainly might have inspired Hamlet’s own rather disillusioned description of the world as ‘an unweeded garden / That grows to seed’ (Act I Scene ii).

In this scene, Hamlet tells Ophelia five times that she should ‘Get thee to a nunnery’. Critics have debated whether this simply implies that she should enter a convent to escape corruption, or whether it also hints ambiguously that she should go to a brothel – because the world will inevitably corrupt her with its impure ways. Hamlet is riddled with Images of sexual corruption and prostitution: as Hamlet puts it, Gertrude has been ‘whored’ by Claudius. tainted by her ‘incestious’ relations with her brother-in-law. The imagery is not reserved for Gertrude alone, as Hamlet uses it against other women and even other men in the play. Hamlet suggests that Ophelia is being prostituted by Polonius, when he calls the older man a ‘fishmonger’. Hamlet even goes so far as to refer to himself  as a ‘drab’ and a ‘whore’ or ‘drab’, and earlier in this scene Claudius has described his guilt with a nod to a ‘harlot’s cheek’ (3.1.50). We have even heard fortune called a ‘strumpet’. Beauty and honesty are very much at odds in this world.