Everyone who has read William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, knows that Hamlet treated the women in his life very poorly, even his own mother, the woman that raised him. In the beginning of the play, I understand where his frustration is coming from and why he is so angry with his mother. Almost two months has passed since her husband, Hamlet’s biological father, died and she has remarried. Not only did she remarry very soon after death, but she remarried her late husband’s brother. At first, I thought they were only getting married because Gertrude wanted to remain queen and by marrying Claudius, she secured that position. At the end of the day, Gertrude is still Hamlet’s mother and he should want her to be happy, even if that means remarrying so soon after losing her husband in a “tragic accident”. In act 1, scene 2, Hamlet begins to slander his mother, speaking only out loud to himself after his uncle and mother leave the room. On line 146, Hamlet harshly says:
“Let me not think on ’t. Frailty, thy name is woman!—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe, all tears. Why she, even she—
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer! —married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her gallèd eyes,
She married. O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”
I do not understand how one could speak so ill of their mother, no matter what they did. He blames the “frailty” of all women for his mother’s decision to remarry his father’s brother, Claudius. Instead of saying that his mother is weak, he says that all women are weak which shows how much he belittles women. Most people believe that this is the root of Hamlet’s hatred for women. This is just the beginning to all of the misogynistic feelings Hamlet shows throughout the play.
Hamlet is not the only misogynistic man in this play/movie. Most of the men act like typical Elizabethan men. Daughters belonged to their fathers (or to their brothers if their father had passed) until they were married off. Ophelia’s brother and father showed her several times that they thought of her not as a person but as a possession. In act 1, scene 3, Ophelia’s father warns her to stop talking to Hamlet because he does not trust him. In the 1996 production of Hamlet, when Ophelia’s father is talking to her during act 1, scene 3, there are flashbacks to Ophelia and Hamlet in bed together. This shows us that she is not delusional in thinking that her and Hamlet are in some sort of relationship, no matter how complicated it might be.
From line 120, act 1 scene 3:
“You must not take for fire. From this time
Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence.
Set your entreatments at a higher rate
Than a command to parley. For Lord Hamlet,
Believe so much in him that he is young,
And with a larger tether may he walk
Than may be given you. In few, Ophelia,
Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers
Not of that dye which their investments show,
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds,
The better to beguile. This is for all:
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth,
Have you so slander any moment leisure,
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to ’t, I charge you. Come your ways.”
Ophelia is happy with Hamlet, content but disobeying her father’s request would be extremely disrespectful so she has no choice but to agree with him. “I shall obey, my lord”.
In act 3, scene 1, Hamlet strikes again with his hatred for women. Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter, tries to give Hamlet back letters that he had written to her, but he declines. He refuses to admit that he wrote the intimate love letters and gave her gifts, even though we heard lines from his letter in act 2, scene 2. On line 137, Hamlet demands that Ophelia bring herself to a nunnery/convent because he is assuming that all wives lie and are unfaithful. Hamlet toys with Ophelia’s heart and goes to the extent to show her that he never loved her and when he said he did, she should not have believed him.
“Get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell.
Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for
wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.
To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.”
Hamlet continues to play with Ophelia’s heart during act 3,
scene 2 before the play starts. He sits next to her as if nothing has
happened between them and chats with her. Everyone thinks he
has gone mad.
When Hamlet confronted his mother, he stabs Polonius through a curtain in her bedroom, thinking that it is Claudius. After Ophelia learns of her father’s death, she goes mad with grief, confusion, and heartbreak. The lives of the men in Ophelia’s life play a huge part in her existence and when that was changed, she was not strong enough to handle it. Ophelia drowns in a brook next to a willow tree. While Gertrude tells her brother, Laertes, she hints that Ophelia did nothing to save herself from drowning. She sang bits of an old hymn, almost like she was content with getting rid of the hopelessness she felt regarding her father and her former, craze induced lover.
“Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”
Following her death, Hamlet goes to her grave to grieve when Laertes listens in to what he has to say. Hamlet confesses his love for Ophelia by her grave when Laertes suggested that he loved Ophelia more than he did. They start to wrestle when they are pulled apart, Hamlet says, “ I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers, if you added all their love together, couldn’t match mine. What are you going to do for her?”. “Damn it, show me what you’re going to do for her. Will you cry? Fight? Stop eating? Cut yourself? Drink vinegar? Eat a crocodile? I’ll do all that. Did you come here to whine? To outdo me by jumping into her grave so theatrically? To be buried alive with her? So will I.”.
Excuse my language but when I read this, all I could think was “what the fuck is wrong with him?”. He waits until after she goes mad and dies for him to confess the love he had for her. I don’t think he had any right to wrestle with Laertes but clearly, Hamlet is not the most outstanding man ever. Of course, Shakespeare wrote this tragedy, I would expect nothing less from him than one of the main female characters dying from the result of a man’s actions. In all of my favorite Shakespearean, the women either die first, by the hand of a man or the consequence of a man. Juliet: dead because of Romeo; Cleopatra: killed herself because of Antony and the affair they had; Desdemona: killed by her husband because he thought she was being untruthful; Gertrude: drinks poisoned wine by accident that her husband had put it in; Lady Macbeth; it is not clear how she dies but it is assumed that she killed herself because of the guilt she was feeling over helping her husband murder someone; Lavinia; raped by her stepbrothers and killed by her father. What the hell is wrong with Elizabethan men? They are all driven by power, love, revenge or greed. Has anything changed over the years or is it still the same? Seems to me that not a lot has changed. Hamlet, Polonius and Laertes show so many different signs of the hatred and disrespect they show for women throughout the play but out of everyone, Hamlet clearly gets the crown for this competition. The feelings he shows towards Ophelia and Gertrude ultimately end in their deaths. Wow, I really hope times have changed because if not… we are screwed.
“Hamlet Quotes: Misogyny.” SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/hamlet/quotes/theme/misogyny. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.
UK Essays. “Hamlet: A Women Hater | Analysis.” UKEssays.Com, www.ukessays.com/essays/english-literature/hamlet-as-women-hater-english-literature-essay.php. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.
Shakespeare, William, et al. Hamlet ( Folger Library Shakespeare). 1st ed., Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Hamlet – film 1996 – Kenneth Branagh
Shelton, Denise. “Tragic Women of Shakespeare and How They Die – Denise Shelton.” Medium, 19 Sept. 2020, denisesheltonwrites.medium.com/what-a-way-to-go-8-doomed-women-in-shakespearean-tragedy-ba6658512a17.