Hamlet Theme of Gender
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
"Frailty, thy name is woman" (1.2.6)—but Hamlet's men are pillars of stability and constancy, right? Right?? Well, maybe not. But Hamlet's attitude toward women is definitely sexist, and it stems from his disgust at his mother's sexuality and seeming unfaithfulness to his dead father. But the play doesn't seem to agree. Hamlet's mother's final guilt is left ambiguous, and we just end up feeling really bad about Ophelia. Hamlet's attitude toward women reveals more about him (and maybe men in general) than it does about women's true nature.
Questions About Gender
- What's Hamlet's attitude toward women? Why does he criticize women? Are these criticisms justified based on what he has seen and experienced?
- Do other characters in the play share Hamlet's attitude towards women? What kind of advice does Laertes give Ophelia in Act I, scene iii? What does his advice suggest about his attitude about gender roles? How does Ophelia respond to her brother's remarks? What does her response say about Ophelia's character?
- Why does Hamlet call himself a "whore," a "drab," and a "scullion" in Act II, Scene ii?
- Do you think Ophelia's limited social role (as a powerless young woman) plays any part in why she goes mad and drowns? What evidence would you use to support your claims?
- Does the play support Hamlet's criticisms of women? Or, does it challenge his views?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Hamlet is critical of women because he believes that their sexual "appetites" constantly lead them to betray men.
The play doesn't share Hamlet's sexist attitude. In fact, it paints a sympathetic picture of Ophelia and seems to blame the men for her tragic death.
The Treatment of Women in Hamlet Essay
1014 Words5 Pages
The Treatment of Women in Hamlet
The treatment of women in Hamlet is very troubling. The leading female characters, Queen Gertrude and Ophelia, are pawns or puppets for the men around them. Like chess pieces, they are moved about and influenced by the men they love with little say of their own; in fact, Shakespeare does not even develop their characters.
Of course, Hamlet is the whirlwind at the center of attention throughout the play, one who is incredibly difficult to understand. To me, he appears to be an adolescent completely out of control. Virtually everyone tries to pacify him, yet nothing seems to work, and the more they pamper the worse he becomes; reminds me of the old cliché, give an inch, take a…show more content…
The concept of Gertrude's femininity was clear to me throughout the play, its significance lied in what was implied rather than spoken.
Gertrude, "Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted color off, and let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark [...] Thou know'st 'tis common: all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity." (1.2.69-74)
Gertrude speaking to Hamlet, "Let not thy mother lose her prayers, I pray thee stay with us, go not to Wittenberge." (1.2.120-1)
Gertrude to Ophelia, "And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish that your good beauties be the happy cause of Hamlet's wildness; so shall I hope your virtues will bring him to his wonted way again, to both your honours." (3.1.43-7)
In defense of her son's murder of Polonius, speaking to Claudius, "O'er whom his very madness, like some ore (gold) among a mineral of metals base, shows itself pure: he weeps for what he has done."
In her final moments: Gertrude, "No, no, the drink, the drink - O my dear Hamlet...The drink, the drink! I am poisoned." (5.2.288)
Ophelia, on the other hand, is given far more lines than Gertrude. We learn much more about Ophelia during the play through her words, and a sort of osmosis through those she is surrounded, observed, and manipulated by: Polonius, Laertes, Hamlet, and Claudius.