What is the significance of 'Frailty thy name is woman'.

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quotation is from Shakespeare's Hamlet.  It is part of Hamlet's first soliloquy in which he is lamenting the fact that his mother has remarried a man, whom Hamlet despises, soon after his father's death.  In this soliloquy Hamlet contemplates suicide because it seems as if life is an "unweeded garden." He feels betrayed by his mother who had seemed to dote on his father and now can so soon switch her affection to Claudius, her husband's brother.  He feels as if his mother is weak to succumb to this marriage.

It is not entirely clear, however, in what way Gertrude is weak.  We are not sure if Hamlet is condemning her for being sexually attracted to Claudius so soon after her former husband's death or if he is angry that Gertrude married Claudius to maintain the status quo.  In her marriage to Claudius, Gertrude remains the queen, retaining her former position.  If she did not marry Claudius, she would become a dowager queen, losing much of her former position and power.

Hamlet tends to generalize from the transgressions of his mother.  He believes that all women are false, that all women's emotions are shallow.  And these feelings carry over into his relationship with Ophelia in which he echoes some of these same sentiments.

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