How does Shakespeare address the theme of masculinity in Hamlet?

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There is only one direct, if somewhat ambiguous, reference to masculinity in William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

When the audience first sees Hamlet, he's dressed in black mourning clothes, walking around with his head down and looking grieved because of his father's recent death.

Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude ,...

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There is only one direct, if somewhat ambiguous, reference to masculinity in William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

When the audience first sees Hamlet, he's dressed in black mourning clothes, walking around with his head down and looking grieved because of his father's recent death.

Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, and his uncle, King Claudius, now his stepfather, both remark on his appearance. They seem solicitous of Hamlet, but they're clearly frustrated and annoyed by his mood and his choice of clothing:

CLAUDIUS. How is it that the clouds still hang on you?...

GERTRUDE. Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust. (1.2.68–73)

Claudius says that he understands Hamlet's feelings about his father's death, but he's grown impatient with Hamlet's incessant show of grief, whether it's "actions that a man might play," as Hamlet says, or truly heart-felt:

CLAUDIUS. But to persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness; 'tis unmanly grief;
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschool'd...

Fie! 'tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,(105, emphasis added)
To reason most absurd... (1.3.95–106)

It's unclear by his use of the words "unmanly grief" if Claudius is simply making a reference to accepted male behavior, or if he's actually insulting Hamlet's masculinity.

Either way, Hamlet takes no notice of the remark, and Claudius never mentions Hamlet's manliness, or lack thereof, again.

In his soliloquy directly following the scene with his mother and uncle, Hamlet seems entirely comfortable mocking his own seeming lack of manliness:

HAMLET. 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,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. (1.2.152–156)

The words "masculine" and "feminine" don't appear in the play. All references in the play to "man," whether to a particular man or to men in general, are descriptive, not judgmental.

However, Hamlet does disparage women, in general and in particular:

HAMLET. ...Frailty, thy name is woman! (1.2.149)

OPHELIA. 'Tis brief, my lord.

HAMLET. As woman's love. (3.2.142–143)

HAMLET. It is but foolery; but it is such a kind of gain-giving
as would perhaps trouble a woman. (5.2.207–208)

In saying these things against women, however, Hamlet doesn't say them to assuage his ego, or to prop up his own masculinity.

Laertes makes one remark about women when he hears that his sister, Ophelia, has drowned, and he's overcome with grief:

LAERTES. Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet
It is our trick; nature her custom holds,
Let shame say what it will. When these are gone,
The woman will be out. (4.7.201–205)

This is fairly mild, however, and relates more to Laertes's own release of emotion—which he fully accepts as part of his own nature—which he's holding back until he can take revenge against Hamlet for his Polonius's death.

It would appear that Shakespeare doesn't address the issue of masculinity in Hamlet, but lets the audience judge each character's behavior for themselves, based on each audience member's individual standards of masculinity and femininity.

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The dominant understanding of masculinity is an ideal to which Hamlet struggles to live up. He is torn between acting as a man would be expected to do and at the same time remaining true to himself. Once Hamlet learns from his father's ghost that he was murdered by Claudius, he vows revenge. Yet, famously, he vacillates. And Hamlet's vacillation is inspired largely by his inability to embrace the masculine code of honor and all that it entails.

While waiting for the right moment to strike and exact revenge upon Claudius, Hamlet finds other ways to express his masculinity. His cruel indifference towards Ophelia is a prime example of this. His feigned madness, his re-writing of The Murder of Gonzago, his unrestrained verbal assault on Gertrude––all of these can also be seen as attempts by Hamlet to express masculine behavior, albeit in ways radically different from the established norm. And even when Hamlet finally exacts revenge upon Claudius, it's notable that he's finishing him off with the tip of his sword as would normally be expected, but by forcing him to drink the poison with which he was going to kill Hamlet.

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The ideology of masculinity is embedded within Shakespeare's Hamlet. The masculine is figured as strong, honorable, active, and decisive. Emotions, especially of the tender sort such as love and mourning, are, to a degree, feminine, while action, reason, and pragmatism are masculine. In his lack of decisiveness and continued mourning for his father, Hamlet appears effeminate. Claudius accuses Hamlet of "unmanly grief" in his prolongation of mourning.

Succumbing to the emotion of love is seen as feminine. When Hamlet criticizes his mother for remarrying, he sees her swift remarriage as grounded in weakness and succumbing to sexual or emotional appetites. He says in light of this: " . . . frailty, thy name is woman!" Thus Hamlet's repudiation of Ophelia can be read as an assertion of masculinity, as can his final decision to kill Claudius. 

In act 2, Hamlet says "What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!" Although in this period the word "man" would have signified humanity as a whole, this quotation still suggests that reason is the highest of human faculties, and, in the play as a whole, reason is associated with masculinity and emotion with femininity. Men were expected to be more rational and more reasonable than women in this period. 

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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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