Nov. 17th. 2013
Hamlet’s View and Treatment of Women
In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet Hamlet's treatment and ideas of women are influenced greatly by his mother, Gertrude. His jealously causes him to become infatuated with his mother and she becomes the main symbol of women for Hamlet throughout the play. When she betrays him it forces Hamlet to have a negative opinion towards all women. Hamlet is obsessed with the betrayal by his mother, which causes him to mistreat woman in general and leads to his eventual tragedy. After the death of King Hamlet, Queen Gertrude is forced to remarry to Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. Hamlet is furious with his mother’s hasty marriage and believes she should be grieving much more than she is. It is extremely difficult for Hamlet to accept the fact that his mother was able to replace his father so quickly. From this marriage Hamlet only thinks poorly of his mother and becomes obsessed with the betrayal she has demonstrated. After putting on a play which obviously bothered the king, Gertrude invites Hamlet into her closet to discuss the matter. During this time Hamlet allows all of his built up emotions to finally be expressed: “ Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stew’d in corruption honeying and making love over the nasty sty!” (3.4. 91-94) Hamlet begins to discuss, in great detail, the idea of his mother in bed. These sexual thoughts of his mother consume Hamlets mind, and demonstrates the idea of the Oedipus Complex. The Oedipus Complex is a theory that children
subconsciously have sexual desires for the parent of the opposite sex. The hasty marriage between his mother and uncle perhaps trigger the hidden sexual desires Hamlet is having towards his mother. It is not uncommon for the child to have feelings of hatred towards the parent of the same sex, and Hamlet appears as more as an envious lover than a worried son: "Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous eyes, she married- O most wicked speed! To post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!"(1.2.155) Hamlet is upset with his mother for forgetting so quickly about his father's death and believes this new marriage soils the memory of King Hamlet. From this marriage Hamlet mostly focuses on thoughts of his mother with Claudius, and this consumes his conscience. He holds his mother in high regards and does not understand why Gertrude cannot control her sexual desires. It is clear that this new marriage sparked something deep within Hamlet. It obviously drew out feelings of the Oedipus Complex from his subconscious because Hamlet even goes so far as too tell his mother to not sleep with Claudius anymore. Now his mother’s betrayal paints a tarnished picture of all woman in Hamlet’s mind. Nowadays people like to look at a man's relationship with his mother to see how he will handle other woman in his life. Hamlet is a prime example of how a sons treatment of his mother reflects how he will deal with the woman he loves. Hamlet's treatment of his mother is a parallel to his treatment of Ophelia. It is clear Hamlet is infuriated with his mother and uses Ophelia as an outlet to express this. As Gertrude plays with Hamlet's emotions, Hamlet does the same with Ophelia. From this we see his relationship with Ophelia suffer. The obsession Hamlet has with the betrayal of his mother causes his relationship with Ophelia to deteriorate greatly. Hamlet obviously takes all of the frustration he has towards his
mother out on Ophelia. This is most clearly shown in Act 3, Scene 1 where he begins to attack and insult Ophelia out of nowhere: “Get thee to a nunnery” (3.1.121) Hamlet, being as witty as he is, is using “nunnery” as a slang term for brothel. He quite simply calls Ophelia a whore. Perhaps Hamlet is finally releasing the negative feelings he as for Gertrude more severely towards Ophelia. Hamlet believes Ophelia belongs in a whorehouse merely because of the bad impression of all women that Gertrude has illustrated in his mind. Hamlet continues with his mercilessness insults: “Why, wouldst thou be a breeder of sinner?” (3.1.121) Hamlet says that if anyone ever were to marry Ophelia, she would only give birth to sinners. Hamlet continues the unexplained attack. All of Hamlet's abuse comes out of nowhere and completely takes Ophelia by surprise. When Ophelia returns Hamlet's gifts and lies to his face about the plan Polonius has hatched any image of love Hamlet has is destroyed. Ophelia's loyalty to her father proves to Hamlet his negative theory towards women because he feels she is being dishonest to Hamlet. The seriousness of Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship is never fully explained, but it is obvious they share some feelings for each other. After her death, Hamlet is distraught. While watching her funeral he approaches her brother, Laertes, and Hamlet shares that he really did love Ophelia: “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum.” (5.1.262) It is proven that Hamlet had genuine and strong feelings for Ophelia, but he allowed the obsession with his mother's betrayal to consume his mind and evidently ruin his relationship with her. Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship is destroyed because Hamlet cannot help to believe that Ophelia will end up treating Hamlet like Gertrude treated King Hamlet. It is not until Ophelia's death that Hamlet realizes his true feelings for her since he was so blinded by the anger towards his mother.
Apart from Ophelia, the betrayal of his mother causes Hamlet to have a negative view of women in general. During this time it was not uncommon for woman to be viewed as lesser, but this feeling is intensified for Hamlet as his mother is now the main symbol of all woman for him. Once she betrays Hamlet she becomes a beacon of negativity for women in Hamlet's eyes: "Frailty, thy name is woman." (1.2.146) His bitterness towards women leads him to believe they are all dishonest and untrustworthy. To Hamlet they are characterized as fragile and submissive and he sees them as much more weaker than men: "Why, what an ass am I! This is most brace, that I, the son of a dear father murder'd, prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words and fall a-cursing like a very drab, a scullion!"(2.2.58) Hamlet is implying that since he has not avenged his father's death he is a coward, like a woman. It is obvious that women did not have the same rights as men and were viewed differently during this time, but Hamlet's opinion of them is impacted greatly by his mother. Gertrude is the most important woman in Hamlet's life and is the main image of all women for him. When she remarries Hamlet sees her as disloyal and disrespectful. As she is the main woman in his life, Hamlet can't help to believe that his is how all women behave. Hamlet allows his mother's decisions to be the basis of all of women's characteristics in society. Once he is betrayed by his mother, he believes that any women he will marry will do the same to him, and that leaves a negative view of women in Hamlet's mind.
In conclusion, the infatuation Hamlet has with his mother's betrayal diminishes his view of women and causes him to treat them poorly. Hamlet's main motive towards the harsh treatment of his mother is jealousy and anger. Hamlet uses his mother as an outline for all
women and this alters his view and treatment of them as well. He fears that they will betray him like his mother did and cannot shake this thought from his conscience. This obsession with his mothers betrayal ultimately impacts any of Hamlet's relationships with females and his general view of women.