Homework Help

What does the line, "Frailty thy name is woman," in Act 1 of Hamlet mean and how might...

user profile pic

kristina89 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 3, 2007 at 1:04 AM via web

dislike 1 like

What does the line, "Frailty thy name is woman," in Act 1 of Hamlet mean and how might it foreshadow events to come?

7 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

prof-c | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 31, 2008 at 4:19 PM (Answer #3)

dislike 1 like

Your answer lies in the lines following that statement:

A little month, or ere those shoes were old

With which she follow'd my poor father's body,

Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--

O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,

Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle

He's angry that his mother's emotions were so fickle. 

How could she so quickly marry after burying her husband? 

And that she married her husband's brother makes it not just 

improper, but immoral. 

My father's brother, but no more like my father

Than I to Hercules: 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

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

Again, he focuses on the speed of the marriage and makes his 

disgust for the immorality of it clear to the audience. 

It is not nor it cannot come to good

He's doing more than foreshadowing the tragic ending of the 

play, it's almost as if he's committing to himself to make sure it 

will end tragically. 


user profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 1, 2007 at 8:56 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 0 like

Hamlet is referring to his mother's weaknesses:  morally, spiritually, and physically.  Morally she is "frail" because she betrayed her husband by marrying Claudius, and has the indecency to do so a mere two months after King Hamlet's death.  Spritually she is frail because (in Hamlet's mind, as all these judgments are) she has committed an unforgivable sin.  Physically she is "frail" because she is a woman, though this obviously is the least of Hamlet's concerns.

Renaissance thinking was that women were "hot", ruled by their passions which would run amok if not kept in constant check.  If you could do some reseach on this to help explain Gertrude's "frailness" and round out your paper.  I've included a link below to get you started. 


user profile pic

sahabia | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 3, 2007 at 12:22 AM (Answer #3)

dislike 0 like

both answers are really impressive im really thanksful to both of you.here we find Oedipus Complex that shows Hamlet a frail person .here we find shakespeare's own mentality to think every women in the world "frail" so hamlet looks his mouthpiece.actually hamlet generalises his mother' misdeed(insestuous marriage) for every women in the world.he is looking suspicious or sceptic about women's loyality.please let me know how much i understood right?

user profile pic

rtandon | Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted September 3, 2007 at 1:31 AM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

Although this quote is spoken by Hamlet in reference to his mother's betrayal and adultery, this quote can be equally applicable to Ophelia as well. 'Frailty' can be interpreted as a weakness in women, women who are fickle-minded or who have no strength of character. In a society dominated by Patriarchial rules, women like Gertrude and Ophelia can certainly be seen as weak and frail because the play remains quite ambiguous about Gertude's role in the murder of King Hamlet. They are merely pawns in the ambitious mechanisations of men like Claudius, Polonius, Laertes and to a certain extent Hamlet himself.    

user profile pic

sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 3, 2007 at 7:41 AM (Answer #1)

dislike 0 like

Hamlet utters this phrase in reference to his mother.  He believes that her quick marriage to his uncle is a sign of her weakness.  He actually indicates that nothing good can come of this action.  This does foreshadow a few things.  One is the death of Ophelia, who succumbs to her own grief and confusion and is drowned.  Also, the death of Gertrude herself.  Her marriage to Claudius did bring this about, as she mistakenly drank the cup he poisoned for Hamlet.


user profile pic

dbralexander | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted December 4, 2007 at 10:52 PM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like

In Shakespeare's plays in general, female characters in the comedies are the protagonists, the stronger, clever ones. In the tragedies, they are the weaker characters, the frail ones (there's a topic for an essay: what is Shakespeare suggesting about life in general by this conceit? Was Shakespeare the first feminist in English literature?).

In Hamlet Act I, Hamlet is speaking directly about his mother whose "O'erhasty marriage" offends him to his core. It most directly points to Ophelia's betrayal of Hamlet in Act III. "Where's your father?" \ "At home, my lord". Hamlet knows he is being watched and he confronts Ophelia. In her moment of truth, she decides to side with her father (somewhat understandable considering Hamlet's treatment of her for the previous two acts). But in Hamlet's eyes, this is just one more betrayal.


user profile pic

lovelynotes | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 1, 2013 at 9:11 PM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

women are weak...basically

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes