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Hamlets attitude towards women: Misogynistic or not!

In William Shakespeares play Hamlet, the protagonist Hamlet shows a negative view towards the women in his life. He considers that both his mother Gertrude and Ophelia have deceived him through their actions; Gertrude married only a month after Hamlets fathers death, and Ophelia heeds her fathers command not to see Hamlet despite confessing her love for him. Hamlet sees both women as fragile and too dependent on the men in their lives which make him say, Frailty, thy name is women. Now, it is to be discussed that whether the claim of being misogynist is justified on character Hamlet in the play Hamlet. My opinions are to be judged on the basis of my sharp observation of Hamlets treatments of his women. Before approaching to any argument, it is considerable to put a brief description of how Hamlet is found in dealing with his women in the play. Hamlets first interaction with women the spectators see in the play is with his mother Gertrude where Hamlet is shown distressed at her for her disloyal act of marrying his uncle so soon after the death of his father. Hamlet comments on the speed of his mothers remarriage in his first soliloquy: 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

Sharmin 2 With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not, nor it cannot come to good. (I, ii, 153-58) It is understandable that Hamlet is upset with his mother for forgetting about his father and marrying his uncle. Hamlet feels that his father deserves more than one month of bereavement and by remarrying so quickly Gertrude has done injustice to her former husbands memories. Hamlet considers this remarriage illegitimate as well as an inconsiderable act of sin. Hamlets estimation of his mother worsens as the play advances. Hamlet becomes more unsympathetic towards Gertrude after his father, who appears as a ghost, tells him of his mothers adulterous behavior and his uncles shrewd and unconscionable murder. Although Hamlet promises to seek revenge on King Claudius for murdering his father, he is primarily more concerned with the ghosts revelations of his mothers act of adultery. King Hamlet prohibits Hamlet from being concerned with his mother but after the spirit leaves, it is the first thing Hamlet speaks of. Before vowing to avenge his fathers death, he expresses his deep agony for the crime his mother has committed. The closet scene best demonstrates Hamlets dreadful reaction to his mothers infidel act of remarrying. This scene explains much about Hamlets treatment of woman and his outlook towards his mother. Hamlet holds his mother responsible for his inability to love Ophelia. Gertrude gets bewildered to find Hamlet so aggressively condemning her:


What have I done that thou dar'st wag thy tongue In noise so rude against me?

Sharmin 3 Ham. 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; makes marriage vows 2435 As false as dicers' oaths. O, such a deed As from the body of contraction plucks The very soul, and sweet religion makes A rhapsody of words! Heaven's face doth glow; Yea, this solidity and compound mass, 2440 With tristful visage, as against the doom, Is thought-sick at the act. (III, iv, 38-51) After Polonius death, Hamlet tests Queen Gertrude to check whether she was a party to King Claudius conspiracy of killing King Hamlet and finding her innocent in this case, Hamlet gets a bit satisfaction. When, with an endeavor to expose King Claudius to Gertrude, Hamlet starts to speak with his mother he gets interrupted by the ghost of his father who warns Hamlet not to tell his mother. The ghost wants Hamlet to be concerned more about avenging his fathers murder than about disclosing it to his mother. 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. The ghost steals away from the closet when he realizes his widow cannot see him, causing Hamlet to hate Gertrude even more because he felt the same

Sharmin 4 rejection when Ophelia rejected him. He can feel his fathers grief as a son and as a lover. (Comparing Hamlet's Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude) The nature of Hamlets relationship with Ophelia gives an insight into his relationship with Ophelia. Hamlet considers Ophelia did not treat him with the love and respect what he deserves. Hamlet is understandably upset and bewildered when Ophelia, being told by her father to break off all contact with him, severs their relationship. He raised a sigh so piteous and profound As it did seem to shatter all his bulk, And end his being. The done, he lets me go, And with his head over his shoulder turned He seemed to find his way without his eyes, For out adoors he went without their helps, And to the last bended their light on me. (II, ii, 94-100) When being heartbroken due to the infidelity of his mother Hamlet turns to his beloved for support, his mothers lessons are reinforced. Although Hamlet was pretending to be mad, he still loved Ophelia and was devastated by her disloyalty. Although Ophelia was only following the wishes of her father, her actions suggest to Hamlet she can be no more trusted than Queen Gertrude. In a cryptic way Hamlet is incredibly rude to Polonius calling him a fishmonger, or a bawd and his daughter a prostitute in Act II.

Sharmin 5 This is the jilted lover speaking in this scene more so than the madman Hamlet is pretending to be. (Comparing Hamlet's Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude) Hamlets resentment towards Ophelia deepens when he comes to know about her involvement in King Claudius, Queen Gertrude and Polonius plot for finding out if Hamlet has gone mad for the love of her. But actually it is poor Ophelias helplessness on the face of his fathers command that compelled her to sadly over-play the role during the nunnery scene. Ophelia anxiously jumps into her role at the beginning of their conversation, barely even greeting Hamlet before she tries to return his gifts. (Comparing Hamlet's Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude) When Hamlet denies the claim of giving her such gifts, she says: My honored lord, you know right well you did, And with them words of so sweet breath composed As made the things more rich. The perfume lost, Take these again, for to the noble mind Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. There, my lord. (III, i, 97-102) Ophelia makes this speech with an endeavor to provoke Hamlet into declaring his love, but instead he called her a liar. In this scene, the interaction between Hamlet and Ophelia is a plot set by the King and Polonius who listen to their conversation stealthily. Although Hamlet can understand Ophelias dismal attempt at acting, he gives her one last chance to redeem herself: Ham. Wheres your father?

Sharmin 6 Oph. At home my lord. (III, i, 130-32)

At this point Ophelia fails to gain Hamlets trust since Hamlet knows her father is listening. Ophelias disappointing act of denying truth leads Hamlet to see all women in the same light of disloyalty. Ophelias disloyalty leads him to sayGet thee to a nunnery, farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a Fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters You make of them. To a nunnery, go--- and quickly Too. Farewell. (III, i, 138-142) For someone who is presumably in love, Hamlet treats Ophelia terribly in this play. His anger and hatred toward his mother, on top of his insanity, makes it difficult for him to see that Ophelia was following her fathers orders, not purposefully betraying Hamlet. It was too much for Hamlet to accept the death of his father by the hand of his uncle and the treacherous behavior of his mother, so consequently he became unsympathetic to Ophelia. Hamlet could not stand any refusal and desolation in his life which Ophelia, whether she meant to or not, brought into it. (Comparing Hamlet's Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude) However, this is the depiction of Hamlets interactions with his women in brief. Now the focus of this writing will be on examining Hamlets misogynistic attitudes. According to feminist theory, misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women. (Code 346) Johnson says:

Sharmin 7 Misogyny is a central part of sexist prejudice and ideology and, as such, is an important basis for the oppression of females in male-dominated societies. Misogyny is manifested in many different ways, from jokes to pornography to violence to the self-contempt women may be taught to feel for their own bodies. (Johnson) Michael Flood defines misogyny as the hatred of women and notes: Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves. Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male-dominated, societies for thousands of years and continues to place women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making. Aristotle contended that women exist as natural deformities or imperfect males. Ever since, women in Western cultures have internalised their role as societal scapegoats, influenced in the twenty-first century by multimedia objectification of women with its culturally sanctioned self-loathing and fixations on plastic surgery, anorexia and bulimia. (Flood) Simply to define misogyny is the hatred of women. In order to understand Hamlets true feelings toward his women it is important to understand his frustrations and pain which are the ones who conduce him to hate women. To comprehend the treatment Hamlet gives the woman characters of the play we have to have a look at why he reacts this way, what has made him hate women? It is claimed by different critics that

Sharmin 8 Hamlets treatment of his women (namely Gertrude and Ophelia) was misogynistic. But this paper will show that Hamlet was rather liberal and broad minded regarding treatment of women. Hamlets behavior with Ophelia seems misogynistic mostly during the performance of Hamlets play The Mousetrap in Act III, while conversing with Hamlet about the play that is being put on, Hamlet is impatient with the introduction of the play, Ophelia assures him that it will be brief, to which Hamlet replies, As womens love. Although Ophelia has done nothing to betray Hamlet in any way and is still very much in love with him, Hamlet assumes that her love will not be long lasting simply because Gertrudes love for Hamlets father did not last any length of time after his death. Certainly Hamlets this notion about Ophelia and Gertrude is a crude remark for all the women in general. According to many critics Hamlets such unsympathetic treatment of women is nothing but the fatal outcome of his mothers betrayal act of remarriage. But there is a question left unanswered that is how does the sense of betrayal come into a mans mind if earlier he does not possess any faith on that particular person who has betrayed him? Thus it is comprehensible that Hamlet did trust his mother wholeheartedly because of what her remarriage is now an incurable shock on Hamlet. And now it is Hamlets deep love, both for Gertrude and Ophelia, what is taunting him more and more and is inducing him to criticize them. His act of such criticism can be interpreted as his endeavor to awaken their inner conscience where their sense of morality, what they have violated, is still alive. It is, therefore, rational to say that if Hamlet would have been a misogynist, his mothers act of betrayal would never be a headache for him. In a soliloquy in the second scene of Act I, deploring his mothers indecent marriage, Hamlet says Frailty, thy name is women! Most critics have interpreted this statement as a remark toward all the women in general referring for their moral weakness and distrustfulness

Sharmin 9 advocating the fact of Hamlets being a misogynist. But it is also not inappropriate to say that, Hamlet, in this statement, does not mean frailty for moral weakness or distrustfulness. By frailty he can also mean the flaw of being dependence upon men in women. Gertrude is a woman who values status and affection more urgently than moral righteousness and respect. She is extremely dependent upon men in her life. That is why after king Hamlets death, when she finds her position insignificant she quickly gets married to Claudius only to restore her earlier status which she values more than a life of a widow. Womens this flaw of dependency upon men is deplorable in the eyes of Prince Hamlet. Hamlet believes in womens independency and supports their practicing of free will just as a man does. Hamlet defines such act of dependency as disgraceful for a woman which makes them frail. That is why actually Hamlet criticizes women saying Frailty, thy name is woman. In this regard it can be justly said that by this statement Hamlet has advocated the independency of women and the urgent necessity of the emancipation of the women from the terrible caging what the male-dominated society has bestowed upon them. Now the question simply arises that what could be the indication of Hamlets this statement? The answer is again the same as is discussed earlier, Hamlet wants the inner conscience of the women to be awaken which is made asleep by the patriarchal power of maledominated society. Indeed male-dominance is prominently shown throughout the play. Ophelia and Gertrude are both unappreciated women that are considered frail and weak-minded by the men in their lives. The two women live their lives in the shadows of the male characters while their thoughts and opinions are demoralized by a patriarchal society. Ophelia is completely dependent on her father, Polonius, and proves her loyalty and when she agrees to stay away from Hamlet and sentiments under her fathers command-

Sharmin 10 Pol. 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. Look tot, I charge you. Come your ways. Oph. I shall obey, my lord. (I, iii, 132-136)

Regarding the subjugation of women in western society of mediaeval time it is appropriate to say that the patriarchal society of the western world had powerfully negative implications for the freedom of women to express themselves, and in turn the psyche of the women was almost exclusively subsumed (artistically, socially, linguistically, and legally) by the cultural psyche of men (Henderson). To sustain this view point, it is considerable to put here what Juliet Dusinberre says in her book Shakespeare and Nature of WomenPolonius dispatches his son to the university to sow his wild oats, to learn through his errors how to be true to himself, and thus to other men. But his daughter must not rely on her own judgment. Her conviction of Hamlet's sincerity arouses contempt: 'Affection, pooh! you speak like a green girl/ Unsifted in such perilous circumstance' He advises her to think yourself a baby That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay Which are not sterling. (I, iii, 105-107)

Sharmin 11 Laertes expects Ophelia to heed his counsel that 'best safety lies in fear.' Her whole education is geared to relying on other people's judgments, and to placing chastity and reputation for chastity above even the virtue of truthfulness. Ophelia has no chance to develop an independent conscience of her own, so stifled is she by the authority of the male world. (Dusinberre 94) However, much of the confusion about Hamlets feelings about Ophelia comes from the enormous complexity and range of emotions of the nunnery scene. Here Hamlet says to OpheliaGet thee to a nunnery. Why, wouldst thou be a Breeder of sinners? (III, i, 121-22) Critics have explained this speech as Hamlets expression of detestation toward Ophelia for rejecting his love. Some say that Hamlet mocks Ophelia using this quote and commands her to go to a covenant rather than to give birth to more sinners. This quotation has been interpreted as Hamlets accusation of Ophelia and all of womankind for being deceitful and unfaithful. But I think Hamlet told Ophelia to get herself to a nunnery for keeping her safe away from men and danger. By saying get thee to a nunnery, Hamlet actually wants to send her away from evil and corruption. Thus it can be certainly said that hamlet is not a misogynist, rather he is against patriarchy. Ophelia allows herself to be used by Polonius, obeying him and doing whatever he pleases, no matter how humiliating it is to herself. Because Hamlet opposes the typical yes-men in Claudius court (e.g. Polonius), he is angry to find Ophelia being just the same to her father; without an opinion and obedient to an unnatural extent. Seeing her displaying such signs of being a puppet perhaps angers Hamlet, and that is why he gives her such humiliation. In the same way we can say that by breeder of sinners he wants to mean the breeder of unjust fellows like

Sharmin 12 Claudius and Polonius who are the violators of human equality and human rights and exploiters of women. Hamlets love for Ophelia and abhorrence for his male counterparts are mostly obvious in the grave scene where being enraged by Laertes cold remarks upon the death of Ophelia Hamlet saysI lovd Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers Could not with all their quantity of love Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her? (V, i, 264-66) In these lines Hamlet expresses his intense grief for the loss of his beloved Ophelia. But some argue that this speech is nothing but an exaggeration of Hamlets fake love for Ophelia. Linda Bamber says, there is no reconciliation with women at the end of the play...Hamlet does throw himself into Ophelia's grave, but clearly this is more an act of aggression against Laertes than of reconciliation with the dead Ophelia (Bamber 71). And again the point of arguments arises regarding the reason of Hamlets aggression against Laertes. What could be the cause of Hamlets aggressive attitude toward Laertes other than his intense detestation for him? And what is the cause behind this deep abhorrence? Keeping these issues unfixed, however, Linda Bamber tries to sustain her view point sayingThat death has ended the old world, comfortably centered on the masculine Self and based on an identity of interests between father and son. In the new world the presence of the Other destroys the hero's sense of centrality. Misogyny is a version of the anger the hero directs toward the Other for destroying his old, self-

Sharmin 13 centered world. Hamlet, like other heroes, rages against women when he loses his place in the sun. (Bamber 72) Bu it is also considerable that Hamlet never suffers from any kind of identity crisis or loss of centrality advocating the view that Hamlet feels it is Polonius and Laertes oppression on the thoughts and emotions of Ophelia which led her to her demise. Hamlet believes that Polonius and Laertes played a key role in the cause of Ophelias suicidal death. This is why he tells Laertes that his love for Ophelia is more intense and genuine than that of that of a brother as Hamlet would never violate his beloveds freedom or exercise any kind of oppression on her emotion. Several arguments often arise regarding the genuineness of Hamlets love for Ophelia. Helena Faucit saysI cannot, therefore, think that Hamlet comes out well in his relations with Ophelia. I do not forget what he says at her grave: But I weigh his actions against his words, and find them here of little worth. The very language of his letter to Ophelia, which Polonius reads to the king and queen, has not the true ring in it. It comes from the head, and not from the heart - it is a string of euphuisms, which almost justifies Laertes' warning to his sister, that the "trifling of Hamlet's favour" is but "the perfume and suppliance of a minute." Hamlet loves, I have always felt, only in a dreamy, imaginative way, with a love as deep, perhaps, as can be knowy by a nature fuller of thought and contemplation than of sympathy and passion. (Martin)

Sharmin 14 Now the debate arises if Hamlets love is a string of euphuisms, than why does in a soliloquy Hamlet reminds his beloved Ophelia, when he was in the most complicated situation of his distress? Urging for Ophelias support Hamlet saysThe fair Ophelia ! Nymph in thy orisons Be all my sins remembered. (III, i, 88-89) This quote proves the genuineness of Hamlets love which is from heart, not from head. Thus one can come to agree with what Anna Brownell says- I do think, with submission, that the love of Hamlet for Ophelia is deep, is real, and is precisely the kind of love which such a man as Hamlet would feel for such a woman as Ophelia (Jameson 161). Certainly Hamlets genuine love for his beloved proves that he was not a misogynist. It is also not because of misogyny for Hamlet to display insolence and impertinence for his mother, Gertrude. Hamlets crude behavior to her mother is attributed to her prompt remarriage with his murderous uncle. He criticizes his mothers action that leads her to degrade herself to the ambiguous common. When he finally confronts Gertrude, he has acted rashly and spoken'' daggers'' at her about her choice to re-marry to make her repent, confess and stop her sexual intercourse with Claudius, not because of hatred, but love. (Misogyny in Hamlet) After the murder of Polonius and appearance of the ghost, Hamlet persuades his mother to apologize for her guilt saying: Confess yourself to heaven, Repent what's past, avoid what is to come. (III, vi, 151-52)

Sharmin 15 Hamlet is doing this perhaps to awaken Gertrude to notice the evil-doings of Claudius, so she will not be so obedient to the murderer of her husband. If he hated his mother he would have planned to kill her too, accusing her for being a part of Claudius intrigue. Moreover he deems Claudius as being inferior to his father so he loathes the marriage much more, as he doesn't want to be Claudius' son and tries hard to confirm his sins of fratricide and usurping of the throne, then revenge. (Misogyny in Hamlet) In the final analysis it is to be considered that Hamlets treatment of women is not misogynistic. It is demonstrated in the play that the protagonist Hamlet was an advocate of human equality, as well as a protestor of female oppression. He truly loved and honored his mother Gertrude and his beloved Ophelia. But their frailty of being inconsistence and irresolute and their acts of degrading own selves and undermining moral values for the sake of cheaper and lighter excuses than those things important in their lives made Hamlet cynical towards women.

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Works Cited
Bamber, Linda. Comic Women, Tragic Men. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press. 1982. 11 Apr 2012. <>. "Comparing Hamlet's Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude." 17 Apr 2012. <>. Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and Nature of Women. London: Macmillan. 1975. 11 Apr 2012. <>. Flood, Michael. International encyclopedia of men and masculinities. 18.07.2007. Web 7 Apr <>. Henderson, Steve. Hamlet' and a Feminist Argument. 10/04/2012. Web 3 Apr < hamletfem 2.htm> Jameson, Anna Brownell Murphy. Shakespeares Heroines: Characteristics of Women (1889). New York: AMS Press. 1967. 11 Apr 2012. <> Martin, Helena Faucit. Shakespeares Female Characters. Edinburgh: Blackwood and Sons. 1888. 11 Apr 2012. <> Misogyny in Hamlet. 29.11.2007. Web 11 Apr <>

Sharmin 17 Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Cyrus Hoy. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. 1992.