Hamlet's Attitude to Women

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It is possible that Gertrude did not have the freedom to do what she wanted because it may have been the convention that the widowed Queen marry the King’s closest relative, though Hamlet clearly didn’t consider that. Hamlet is unaware that his uncle is a murderer and blames Gertrude for the “unweededgarden” (Act I, Scene ii) which has become his world. Of courseshe is not innocent, but her guilt is as nothing to that of Claudius. Her guilt is of lying, especially to herself. But she lies to protect Hamlet and others.

When the ghost of Old Hamlet first appears he sees Claudius as “that adulterate beast” who “with traitorous gifts.....won to his shameful lust the will of my most seeming- virtuous Queen” (Act I, Scene v). It takes Hamlet most of the play before he sees the relationship of his uncle and Gertrude in the same way as the ghost. Hamlet, however, continues to see Gertrude as the guilty party. Whether Hamlet was a misogynist (someone who despises all women) at this point is unknown, but it is clear from his letter to Ophelia (Act II, Scene ii) that he once believed in love between a man and a woman.

By Act 3 it is clear that Hamlet has a deep dislike of women, and refers to them as “breeder(s) of sinners” (Scene i). He sees all women as contemptible and this attitude eventually leads to disastrous consequences for Ophelia. Gradually, however, Hamlet’s attitude to Gertrude softens. He comes to realise that mother and son have a unique relationship – “O heart, lose not thy nature” (Act III, Scene ii). Butthis appears to be only a temporary softening, as when he goes to her closet (private room) he finds Polonius, the agent of Claudius, there and kills him (Act III, Scene iv). Hamlet then abuses Gertrude greatly calling her remarriage “virtue hypocrite” and poisonedthe “innocent love” his father had for her. His tirade causes Gertrude to make admission of her guilt and her love for Hamlet:

“O Hamlet, speak no more

Thou turn'st my very eyes into my very soul,

And there I see such black and grained spots,

As will not leave their tinct.”


“...O speak to me no more,

These words like daggers enter in mine ears,

No more sweet Hamlet.”

When the ghost appears for the second time (Act III, Scene iv) and which Gertrude cannot see (a common Elizabethan belief was that a ghost could only be seen by one person), she begins to think Hamlet is mad - “That you bend your eye on vacancy, andwith the incorporalair do hold discourse.” The ghost calls on Hamlet to look upon his mother and realise that she was as much as victim as anyone else:

“But look, amazement on thy mother sits;

O step between her, and her fighting soul,

Conceit in weakest bodies, strongest works.

Speak to her Hamlet.”

The beginnings of the reconciliation between Hamlet and his mother are in this scene:

“QUEEN: Oh Hamlet, Thou hast cleft my heart in twain.

HAMLET: O throw away the worser part of it, and live the purer with the other half.”

In the last Act, Hamlet accepts her gesture of wiping his brow with a reply of “Good Madam” (Act 5, scene ii). The Queen’s dying words were “O my dear Hamlet” and finally, in death, Gertrude and her son Hamlet achieve reconciliation.

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Hamlet's Attitude to Women