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How does Shakespeare address the theme of masculinity in Hamlet?

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francescadomp... | eNoter

Posted March 21, 2013 at 1:21 AM via web

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How does Shakespeare address the theme of masculinity in Hamlet?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 21, 2013 at 11:11 PM (Answer #1)

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Masculinity in the play is addressed in a few instances. One is when Claudius chastises the grieving Hamlet, asserting that to still be in mourning a month after his death is "unmanly grief." He urges Hamlet to, essentially, be a man and get on with his life, which means, in not so many words, to openly embrace Claudius as a king and a father. More tellingly, throughout the play, Hamlet seems to regard avenging his father's murder as part of a masculine code of honor. He questions his own resolve and indeed his masculinity due to his procrastination. This particularly comes to light when he encounters some of the soldiers of young Fortinbras crossing over Denmark to attack Poland. Idealizing the aggressive warrior Fortinbras, he chastises himself for not acting swiftly enough even though, as he says, "honour's at the stake." At that point he swears to seek revenge, which, again, is conflated with masculinity in Hamlet's world:

O, from this time forth, 
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

There are other aspects of Hamlet associated with masculinity and honor. Sigmund Freud pointed to the play as an example of an Oedipal complex (due to his relationship with Gertrude and his stepfather) more than a century ago. Laertes is another character very concerned with masculine honor. This is why, of course, he wants to kill Hamlet after Polonius and Ophelia's deaths. But the examples listed above are perhaps the most explicit, and of the most interest to modern literary critics interested in gender analysis and masculinity.

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