Hamlet's Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude
Modern folklore suggests women look at a man's relationship with his mother to predict how they will treat other women in their life. Hamlet is a good example of a son's treatment of his mother reflecting how he will treat the woman he loves because when considering Hamlet's attitude and treatment of the Ophelia in William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, one must first consider how Hamlet treated his mother. A characteristic of Hamlet's personality is to make broad, sweeping generalizations and nowhere is this more evident than in his treatment toward women. Very early in the play, while discussing his mother's transgressions, he comments, "Frailty, thy name is woman. (Hoy, 11)." Hamlet appears to believe all women act in the same manner as his mother.
The first time the audience meets Hamlet, he is angry and upset at Queen Gertrude, his mother, for remarrying his uncle so soon after the death of his father. In his first soliloquy he comments on the speed of her remarriage
Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to good. (Hoy, 11)
It is understandable Hamlet is upset with his mother for forgetting about his father and marrying his uncle, Claudius. In Hamlet's eyes, his father deserves more than one month of mourning and by remarrying so quickly, the queen has sullied King Hamlet's memory. This remarriage is a sin and illegal, however special dispensation was made because she is queen.
Hamlet's opinion of his mother worsens as the play progresses because his father, who appears as a ghost, tells him of his mother's adulterous behavior and his uncle's shrewd and unconscionable murder. Although Hamlet promises to seek revenge on King Claudius for murdering his father, he is initially more concerned with the ghost's revelations regarding his mother. King Hamlet tells Hamlet not to be concerned with his mother but after the apparition leaves, it is the first thing Hamlet speaks of. Before vowing to avenge his father's death, he comments on the sins his mother committed.
Although Hamlet decides to pretend to be insane in order to plot against the King, it is clear, he really does go mad. His madness seems to amplify his anger toward his mother. During the play scene, he openly embarrasses her and acted terribly toward her in the closet scene. The closet scene explains much about Hamlet's treatment of women and his feelings toward his mother. Hamlet yells at his mother for destroying his ability to love. He accuses her of
such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love
And sets a blister there.
Hamlet curses his mother for being responsible for his inability to love Ophelia. Queen Gertrude's actions have caused Hamlet to see all women in a different light because she has taken away his innocence and love for women.
After Hamlet kills Polonius, he tests Queen Gertrude to see if she knows about the murder of his father and both he and the audience seem satisfied she was not party to that knowledge. Hamlet takes it upon himself to tell the queen her new husband killed the former king, however he is interrupted by the ghost who warns Hamlet not to tell his mother. The ghosts tells Hamlet he should be more concerned with King Claudius, suggesting revenge must be taken soon (Dover Wilson, 248).
During this scene Queen Gertrude is unable to see her dead husband which in Elizabethan times implied she was "unable to see the gracious figure' of her husband because her eyes are held by the adultery she has committed (Dover Wilson, 254)." The ghosts steals away from the closet when he realizes his widow cannot see him, causing Hamlet to hate Gertrude...
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