"Frailty, thy name is woman" - How true is this in Hamlet

Hamlet, in some of his comments, shows strong prejudice against women. The immediate cause for this negative attitude is the activities of Gertrude, his own mother. We first see him in a melancholic mood, as if he seems to have lost all sense of interest in life, The sudden death of his father and the disgust at the abrupt second marriage of his mother contribute considerably to his miserable condition. However, it seems that he attaches much more significance to the latter.

Although both Gertrude and Claudius show coldness to the memory of the late king by asking Hamlet not to mourn for such an extensive period, their motives are different. Claudius does so because he wants Hamlet to take his father's death as a natural one, so that he does not probe the matter. Being the murderer, naturally he is afraid of Hamlet's attaching excessive importance to it. So he tries to convince Hamlet that this is nothing particular to him, rather it is a common happening in human life: "But you must know your father is a lost father".

Gertrude, being a mother, also attaches more importance to Hamlets returning to normalcy, because she is more anxious about the health of her son than the memory of her late husband. At this point, however passionate she is to Hamlet, Gertrude pathetically fails to understand the real motive in his prolonged mourning, and neglects to give him the emotional support he desperately requires. Moreover, she has already weakened her credibility to him because of her second marriage. She completely fails to realise that her "hasty marriage" has exacerbated Hamlets melancholy.

Again, while Hamlet is terribly disgusted by her apathy to the memory of the late king, exhibiting her poor understanding for his real sentiment, she asks him to accept the death of his father as a natural  phenomenon. The irony however lies in the fact that her own reaction to the death of her husband is unnatural - since she fails to sympathise with her mourning son, which is what the natural course of action would be. Claudius also echoes this attitude exhibiting by Gertrude. To him, Hamlets mourning is synonymous to "obstinate, impious stubbornness, unmanly grief". Instead of taking the death of his father 'to heart' he advises him to "throw this unprevailing woe to earth", and should thing of Claudius "as of a father". He almost allures him: - "and let the world take note, You are the most immediate to our throne".

Hamlet wants to find some explanation for his mothers attachment to Claudius. To his utter dismay, failing to understand that his mother is more a simpleton than lustful woman, he finds her as a lecherous and negligent mother. He expects his mother to be a weeping widow at the irreparable loss in her life as well as in his own, but he does not find her so. Finding no other explanation to his mother's behavior, he starts to believe that she places her sexual and primitive desire above her love and affection for him and his father. This misunderstanding of his mother creates and develops in Hamlets mind a profound dislike for women. He thinks it is common weakness of women that leads her to these abominable activities.

However, some would argue that Gertrude is only a puppet guided by patriarchal rule in all affairs. So is Ophelia; even in her love affair she is guided by her father and brother. She does not understand that she is a play-thing in the hands of her father who is appointed by Claudius to discover the true cause of Hamlet's madness. She does not betray any independence of thinking, but also shows her foolish submissiveness to her brothers and fathers instructions in regard to her relationship with Hamlet. Without any protest she allows herself to be used by Polonius and Claudius as a distraction against Hamlet. Hamlet painfully perceives these events as they unfold. That is why he rushes to Ophelia's private chamber in a frightful appearance, to inspect her face closely, just to authenticate his perception. Certainly, it contributes a lot to intensify his already negative attitude towards women, formed by the way his mother behaves. Here Ophelia is much like Gertrude, earlier the queen surrendered to Claudius's "importunity" without ever questioning the motives of the latter.

Unlike Gertrude, Ophelia shows some strength in her character in a sense that she is not entirely vulnerable. But she is placed in a very difficult situation. Ophelia has a keen perception, she understands many things, but she cannot express herself because the patriarchy of the age doesn't allow her to go beyond a certain level. In this play, Ophelia is the second tragic character. Although Shakespeare does not make her the protagonist of the play, he places her beside Hamlet in her tragic appeal, who wins our pity. Indeed, with the exception of Horatio, only Ophelia could comprehensively evaluate Hamlet.

However, many critics have labelled Gertrude to be an intellectual character. Admittedly this is not an orthodox interpretation as she is not presented as a character with a voice, so to speak. Unlike Hamlet, Gertrude doesn't extensively comment on minute aspects of life but rather speaks on matters at hand in a very concise manner. This shows her ability to understand, process, and articulate responses under pressure; just like in her closet scene. Dr. Helibrun contends that "Gertrude is not a weak character who lacks depth and vigorous intelligence".

So having quantified the aforementioned points, we come to realise that, though Shakespeare was born and brought up in this male dominated 16th century English society, he seems to have rejected the values upheld by his society about women. Indeed, he attaches more importance to women in almost all his plays making them the catalyst of his tragedies and the devices that bring them to an end.

* Highlighted characters take you to hyperlinks that show character analysis.
"Frailty, thy name is woman" - How true is this in Hamlet "Frailty, thy name is woman" - How true is this in Hamlet Reviewed by Big Bause on 13:26:00 Rating: 5

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