In the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the protagonist claims women to be treacherous, heartless, untrustworthy creatures. All of Hamlet’s hatred for women began with his mother, Gertrude, and then it was taken out on the unwary Ophelia. However, through many scenes of love and care, we see that Hamlet’s relationship with the female counterpart is more intricate than that of a plain misogynist.
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Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark and Hamlets mother, is the first female introduced in the play. Even though she is the Queen, her actions are very vulgar and tattooed on the minds on those affected. In the play, Shakespeare had the opportunity to make Gertrude a noble character, but every time Gertrude sees something that causes her distress, she is easily influenced and subjective on her decision. Gertrude’s absence of courage is evident when Hamlet is accused of stalking Ophelia. Gertrude replies to this allegation by saying “I doubt it is no other than the main, his father’s death and o’er-hasty marriage” (2:2:56-57). It would only seem normal that Gertrude would be on Hamlets side over the accusations then her new husbands, and certainly over her peer, Polonius. Polonius’ answer is that this is the source of Hamlet’s misogynism. Since Gertrude does not have the common sense to stand up to these men, she pays attention to their strategy. Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Claudius within a week of her former husband’s death causes Hamlet to question the loyalty of all women “O, most wicked speed to post/With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”(1:2:156-157) Gertrude, being ignorant, can not see that she has done anything wrong. In one scene, Gertrude pleads to Hamlet to “let [his] eye look like a friend on Denmark,” (1:2:69) meaning Hamlet should relieve his hatred towards Claudius.
From Hamlet’s point of view, his mother has turned into a mean and faithless human being. Ultimately, the thought of a women’s sexuality disgusts Hamlet and eventually leads him to his repulsive images of his mother and Claudius: “In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,/Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love/Over the nasty sty!”(3.4.94-96)In Act Three, Scene Four, Hamlet at last shows a strong desire to save his mother’s character by trying to persuade her that she must be sorry for the marriage to Claudius. He begs her to “Confess [herself] to heaven:/Repent what’s past: avoid what is to come,/And do not spread the compost on the weeds/To make them ranker.” (3:4:151-154)
Ophelia’s role in the play (being the other major female next to Gertrude) allows Hamlet to reveal his true love for her in his letters: “O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers; I have/not art to reckon my groans; but that I love thee best, /O most best, believe it.” (2:2:120-122) But for Hamlet, this relationship would not last because of his developing misogynistic traits. The death of this relationship can only be blamed on his mother and her actions which fuels Hamlet’s hate. Hamlet toys with Ophelia’s heart, and harshly tells her to go to a nunnery. Hamlet is rude to Ophelia at his play and also very explicit; “It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.” (3:2:255-256) Hamlet then chooses to go to the lengths to make Ophelia believe that he never had love for her: “You should not have believed me.” (3:1:117)
In Ophelia’s case, she has created an alliance with Polonius, which ultimately makes her father force her to ignore hamlet completely: “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.” (1:4:132-134) In the nunnery scene, Polonius goes as far as to set it up so that Ophelia is put in a position where, in-order to bring Hamlet back to sanity, she must use her feministic traits to do so. But after this act, it only helps in reinforce Hamlet’s belief that women are hypocritical, all having surreptitious lives. In Hamlet’s rage of her believed disloyalty he takes back any love that he ever had for her saying “I loved you not,” (3.1.119).
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In truth though, it is Ophelia who is innocently affected by Hamlet’s misogynism. She thought that Hamlet loved her so much that she was worried he became “mad for [her] love.” (2:2:84) She let Hamlet to deep into her life. On the other hand, Hamlet becomes so bothered with how malicious women are to men, that he cannot see how much pain he (men) is causing Ophelia. However, Ophelia’s death, and following funeral scene, in Act Five, Scene One, alters all of that. At Ophelia’s graveside, Hamlet is at last able to expose his true feelings of love. In this scene Laertes infuriates Hamlet by suggesting that he loved Ophelia more then Hamlet ever could. In an overdramatic response, Hamlet jumps into Ophelia’s grave saying, “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers/Could not (with all their love combined)/ Make up my sum.” (5:1:277-279) This is a very passionate scene because he is loving but also calm towards Ophelia. Hamlet’s truthfulness at Ophelia’s grave highlights to the reader/audience that his insanity was insincere, and that his love was always there but other emotions and situations just covered it up.
At the end of the play, all of the evidence shown does not help develop Hamlets character and instead creates a simpler misogynistic Hamlet. But. as it turns out, Hamlet’s hatred for women is outweighed by his true love and care for women. Although it is uncertain that he would have ever really trust a female again, in the end, he did expose his true love for both Gertrude and Ophelia.
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