At the beginning of the play, during Hamlet’s first soliloquy, Hamlet contemplates suicide because he is so furious with his mother for marrying Claudius within a month of his father’s death. This is when Hamlet comments, ‘frailty thy name is woman’ to express his bitter feelings towards his mother for not only the speed of her remarriage and betrayal of his father, but the ‘dexterity to incestuous sheets’. The situation, and Hamlet’s reaction to it, is a trigger of an increasing negative attitude towards all women, viewing them as weak.
It is shown through his relationships with Gertrude and Ophelia.
The audience learn through the other characters that Hamlet has shown affections towards Ophelia; whether they are genuine and lasting feelings is uncertain as Leartes advices Ophelia that they are not. Leartes asks Ophelia to ‘hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood;/
A violet in the youth of primary nature.’ Leartes not only says that Hamlet’s feeling towards Ophelia is short-lived nonsense of his youth but highlights that ‘for he himself is subject to his birth’.
Polonius also echoes a negative portrayal of Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia as he advises her to ‘be somewhat scaner of your maiden presence’. Ophelia sees that Hamlet’s feelings are genuine as he ‘hath importuned me with love / In honourable fashion’ and ‘hath given countenance to his speech… with almost all the holy vows of heaven’.
However, she is obedient and follows the wishes of her brother and father to ‘keep as watchman to my heart’ or to not ‘give words or talk with the Lord’.
The rejection of Hamlet by Ophelia is a significant influence in him believing that ‘frailty thy name is woman’ as Ophelia could be seen as weak for following the orders of others who assumed that Hamlet’s affections could not be trusted when she, herself, believed them to be true.
Hamlet’s reaction to Ophelia’s rejection is extreme and she is ‘affrighted’ by his state of ‘knees knocking each other… with a look so piteous in purport/ As if he had been loosed out of hell’. His bitterness has been exaggerated by the ‘antic disposition’ that he has adopted since learning that his father was murdered by his uncle from his father’s ghost. This would make him feel even more anger towards his mother for marrying Claudius. He is manipulated by the Ghost who encourages his frustration for her when he says, ‘ shameful lust/ The will of my most seeming-virtuous Queen’.
Hamlet is in a vulnerable position as he is shocked by the revelations and is still grieving his father; it is comforting to ally his own feelings with his father’s in his resent towards Gertrude for marrying Claudius so soon after the King’s death and is quick to believe that he is a murderer. Hamlet follows the Ghost’s orders to not seek revenge on Gertrude but to ‘leave her to heaven’. Hamlet’s despise for Gertrude festers within him through the play and with it, his views of women. Hamlet follows the Ghost’s wishes not to take action against Gertrude and as a result he makes Ophelia suffer for his hatred of his mother.
The extreme behaviour which Ophelia reports to her father leads Polonius to believe that he is ‘mad’ with the ‘very ecstasy of love’. Ophelia was obedient to her father’s wishes and ‘did repel his letters, and denied/ His access to me.’ In contrast to Hamlet’s ‘mad’ behaviour a letter written by him to Ophelia shows his strong feelings of affection towards her as he says, ‘To the celestial and my soul’s idol, the most/ beautified Ophelia’. The language is passionate in a very exaggerated style and shows that Hamlet had powerful emotions for her, and a rejection would cause an exaggerated reaction also.
In conversation with Polonius, Hamlet’s bitter feelings towards women come out through quick and crude puns: ‘Let her walk not I’ th’ sun. Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive’. This echoes Hamlet’s comment that ‘frailty thy name is woman’ as the punning suggests women are improper and easily influenced. In Hamlet’s next meeting with Ophelia he is harsh towards her and denies sending her letters but speaks abruptly to her, making connections between chastity, beauty and immorality.
He repudiates Ophelia, the woman he once claimed to love, in the harshest terms and urges her to go to a nunnery as she ‘wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners’ and comments unfavourably on the flirtatious tricks of women such as ‘lisp’ and ‘nickname’. Hamlet says ‘we will have no more marriage’, this is not only because he believes women make ‘monsters’ of their husbands but the resent of his mother’s marriage to Claudius is also implied.
When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to find out what is troubling Hamlet he feels betrayed his mother as his mother and Claudius are together plotting together ways spying on Hamlet; his mother is being led by Claudius. He goes on to say that he has lost all interest in life, ‘Man/ delights not me; no, nor woman either’. He talk of men and women separately suggesting that they are different creatures.
During the play Hamlet is cold towards both Gertrude and Ophelia, when his mother asks him to sit by her he refuses as ‘metal more attractive’. He comments, ‘how cheerfully my mother looks, and my father died within these two hours’, and speaks of ‘country matters’ crudely to Ophelia. Hamlet is thinking about the way his mother has acted and as he cannot confront her he offends Ophelia. Even though it is not suggested that Gertrude connived at her husband’s murder, but by marrying Claudius she is guilty by association, “None wed the second but who killed the first’. It reminds the audience the way in which the circumstance has changed him to believe ‘frailty thy name is women’.
Once the play has been stopped, Gertrude asks to speak to Hamlet which is when he confronts her about his feelings as before he had to ‘hold my tongue’. He tells her that it was Claudius ‘blasting his wholesome brother’. He asks why she would desert his father for his uncle and aggressively shames her ‘in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed/ Stewed in corruption, honeying, making love/ Over the nasty sty’. The audience recognise the crude language that he used when speaking to Ophelia as he condemns the ‘frail’ women. Gertrude is convinced mainly by Hamlet’s insistence and power of feeling, which illustrates her ‘frailty’ and tendency to be dominated by powerful men and her need for men to show her what to think and how to feel.
Ophelia is driven mad by her father’s death and it contrasts strongly with Hamlet’s, differing primarily in its legitimacy: Ophelia does not feign madness to achieve an end, but is truly driven mad by the death of her father. After Polonius’s sudden death and Hamlet’s subsequent exile, she finds herself abruptly without any of them. She is obsessed with death, beauty, and an ambiguous sexual desire, expressed in startlingly frank imagery:
‘Young men will do’t, if they come to’t,
By Cock, they are to blame.
‘Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.’
Shakespeare has demonstrated her chaste dependence on the men in her life; similar to Gertrude’s character. Ophelia is in such a ‘frail’ state when in the same situation as Hamlet – their fathers both murdered – she commits suicide, which Hamlet also contemplated in his first soliloquy. Ophelia is associated with flower imagery from the beginning of the play. In her first scene, Polonius presents her with a violet; after she goes mad, she sings songs about flowers; and then she drowns amid long streams of them. The ‘fragile’ beauty of the flowers resembles Ophelia’s own ‘fragile’ beauty, as well as her nascent sexuality and her exquisite, doomed innocence.
Despite Hamlet’s harsh treatment of Ophelia, Hamlet is grief-stricken and outraged when declaring in agonised fury his own love for Ophelia. He fights with Laertes, saying that ‘forty thousand brothers / Could not, with all their quantity of love, / make up my sum’. This shows that his despise of women could not overcome his love for Ophelia in the same way that Hamlet had trusted his mother to believe he is not mad but not tell Claudius that is an act, even though he had felt betrayed by her throughout the play.
Therefore, Hamlet was shattered by his mother’s decision to marry Claudius so soon after her husband’s death, Hamlet becomes cynical about women in general, showing a particular obsession with what he perceives to be a connection between female sexuality and moral corruption. This motif of misogyny, or hatred of women, occurs sporadically throughout the play, but it is an important inhibiting factor in Hamlet’s relationships with Ophelia and Gertrude.
He urges Ophelia to go to a nunnery rather than experience the corruptions of sexuality and exclaims of Gertrude, ‘Frailty, thy name is woman’. Gertrude seems to have a powerful instinct for self-preservation and advancement that leads her to rely too deeply on men much like Ophelia who is also submissive and utterly dependent on men. As these are the only two significant women in Hamlet’s life it is easy for him to conclude that ‘frailty thy name is women’.
👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!
Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.get help with your assignment