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How are mothers represented in "Medusa" by Sylvia Plath and in Hamlet Act III scene 4?

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josh4life | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 29, 2013 at 3:42 PM via web

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How are mothers represented in "Medusa" by Sylvia Plath and in Hamlet Act III scene 4?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 5, 2013 at 5:41 AM (Answer #1)

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Both of these texts present mothers in negative terms. Firstly, in "Medusa," the mother is presented as a figure who contrains and restricts her daughter, the speaker of the poem, even though she has now grown up and has left childhood behind her. The speaker imagines that there is still some sort of umbilical cord connecting them together, and sees her mother as a direct challenge to her independence and freedom. Note how the poem ends with a desire for the mother to go away and leave her alone:

I am sick to death of hot salt. 
Green as eunuchs, your wishes 
Hiss at my sins. 
Off, off, eely tentacle! 

The final line in particular imagines the mother to be some octopus-like creature who has ensnared her daughter in its tentacles, which must be shrugged off for the daughter to be free.

In Act III Scene 4 of Hamlet, there is a slightly different mother-child relationship portrayed. There is a similar conflict between the mother and child in both cases, and Hamlet's words seek to upbraid his mother in a similar way, but instead of being entrapping, Hamlet upbraids his mother for her conduct concerning his father and her new marriage in quite stark terms, even going as far as to insult her and say that she has given in to lust over reason:

If thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax
And melt in her own fire. Proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardor gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn,
And reason panders will.
 
The offence of Gertrude in this scene, according to Hamlet, is the way that she has allowed lust to rule her heart and mind, as shown in the way that she married Claudius so quickly after her first husband, Hamlet's father, died. As a mother she is presented in negative terms, which is the same way that the mother in "Medusa" is presented.

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