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At the beginning of Hamlet, Hamlet is reprimanded by Claudius because of grieving for his father, King Hamlet. Claudius calls Hamlet unmanly ‘Of impious stubbornness, ‘tis unmanly grief. ’ Claudius’ use of the word ‘Unmanly’ suggests Hamlet is frail like a woman, this shows in Hamlet not just women are weak in this play but men also display forms of frailty. Claudius’ use of the word ‘unmanly’ surely suggests Hamlet is feminine, and if Hamlet is feminine surely as a man, that also makes him weak. The phrase ‘Frailty, thy name is woman,’ appears in Hamlet’s first soliloquy.
Here Hamlet condemns Gertrude, his mother, for having a swift remarriage to his uncle, Claudius. In ‘Hamlet’ Shakespeare presents women as the weaker sex, used for the purpose of men’s satisfaction sexually. For a woman to consider, or commit a sexual deed, it is seen as corruption. Today, a modern audience may see Hamlet’s, Polonius’ and Laertes’ actions toward Gertrude and Ophelia as a form of sexual abuse. Women were the victims of a Patriarchal society, corrupted by sex and hated by misogynistic men.
Patriarchy describes a social structure where the behaviour and ideas of men and boys are overriding over those of women and girls. This situation of male authority is reflected in correlative unfairness throughout the society and in the play ‘Hamlet’. The Shakespearean era was a patriarchal society where women were seen as powerless to the extent that in the time that Shakespeare wrote his plays; women were not authorized to act on stage, which meant that boys were required to dress up as the female characters in plays. Frailty can be a condition of being frail, whether it is being mentally frail, physically or morally.
‘Frailty, thy name is woman,’ is a statement, which at the very least could infuriate a feminist critic who may view Shakespeare’s opinion of women misogynistic because he frequently displays women as being dependant on men. Hamlet criticises his mother for incestuous relations with his uncle, Claudius. He says, ‘Almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother. ’ Hamlet believes his mother to be morally frail as she has an apparent refusal to control feelings to how a woman should be and has committed a sexual rebellion ‘Rebellious hell.
’ Hamlet’s disgust towards his mother’s ‘incestuous’ relationship comes to a climax ‘Stew’d over corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty! ’ Here, Hamlet refers his mother making love over a pig sty, once again referring to women as victims of sexual corruption and as dirty as pigs. Hamlet stated ‘Frailty, thy name is woman,’ he refers to by his mother, Gertrude, being a woman, she displays moral frailty in being vulnerable to the act of seduction by Claudius. This provides the audience with a model of women’s infidelity in Hamlet.
For Gertrude to give into this, Hamlet felt his mother was morally frail. An audience would believe Gertrude was frail to a degree from giving into her brother in law and accepting his hand in marriage. To a Shakespearean audience, Gertrude disobeys patriarchal boundaries by marrying her brother in law, so soon after her husband’s death would be frowned upon. Henry the VIII married his brothers widow, Catherine of Aragon, because this was frowned upon in the Tudor times, he used it as an excuse when he later wanted to divorce her.
Hamlet says ‘But two months dead,’ the essential association of incestuous desire takes place between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, Hamlet appears fixated on the disgust of his mother’s sexual welfare with Claudius, from this Hamlet appears to become cynical about women in general and perceives a connection between the female sexuality and moral frailty. The concept of misogyny continues to occur throughout the play and is a significant constraint in Hamlet’s relationships with his mother and Ophelia. Hamlet also refers to his mother’s incestuous sexuality with Claudius in Act One Scene Two; Hamlet says ‘O most wicked speed!
To post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets! ’ suggesting Gertrude moved into bed with Claudius too quickly. A theme of incest is repeated several times throughout the play and is frequently insinuated by Hamlet and the ghost, who says ‘So to seduce! – won to his shameful lust to the will of my most seeming-virtuous queen. ’ Referring to how Claudius won Gertrude over with his lustful charm. Gertrude is the mouthpiece for the description of Ophelia’s death to Laertes and Claudius, at the end of Act four Scene seven.
An audience may see by Gertrude being the representative for this description, as solidarity and uniting of women. She was ‘As one incapable of her own distress and indued unto that element. ’ Her description is full of pathos, reflecting Ophelia’s innocence and beauty. Gertrude’s portrayal suggests Ophelia was one with nature and native to the water. This suggests her death could have been caused by physical frailty ‘incapable of her own distress’, Gertrude explains how Ophelia was ‘Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death.
’ Her ‘Melodious lay’ suggests to the reader, she was calm and at ease around the water. When Gertrude says ‘Her clothes spread wide, and awhile they bore her up,’ which shows the reader a powerful image of Ophelia struggling and drowning and eventually dying, it suggests due mourning over her father and the love of Hamlet, she became physically weak enough to let life defeat her therefore Ophelia is presented as a weak victim. If Ophelia’s death was suicide, it could suggest Ophelia was morally frail to want to take her own life, going against what was right.
Today, a modern audience would look upon victims of suicide, supposedly Ophelia, with empathy for the desperation that must have preceded their demise. An Elizabethan audience however saw suicide to be such a hideous form of murder. Ophelia in Act four Scene five says ‘We must be patient. But I cannot choose but weep to think they would lay him I’th’ cold ground. ’ Ophelia appears mad and weak over Hamlet’s misogyny, the death of her father and rejection of her. Ophelia goes into a double realm of remorse, believing herself to be to blame for both Hamlet’s madness and her father’s death.
Ophelia here is showing an appearance of being physically and mentally frail. Ophelia sings songs concerning chaos, death, and unrequited love. As she is singing Claudius and Queen both try to reason with her, but she replies only incomprehensibly. Claudius says ‘Alas, sweet lady, what imports this song? ’ Ophelia’s rogue line breaks of poetry, disrupts the prose of the other characters in the scene, the audience is distracted by Ophelia’s deep thoughts, emotions and feelings.