Attitudes to Women in “Hamlet” by Shakespeare

Subject: Literature
Pages: 3
Words: 836
Reading time:
3 min
Study level: College

In classical drama, male characters’ dislike of women is not uncommon. Particularly, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the protagonist develops misogynist opinions and worldviews as a result of encountering his mother’s moral imperfection. Hamlet’s attitudes to women include distrust and beliefs regarding women’s unreliability, moral weakness, and roles as the source of sin; in a larger context, it indicates how the hasty generalization fallacy ruins human relationships.

Due to Gertrude’s flaws, Hamlet’s attitude to women is inseparable from a great amount of distrust and almost no indulgence. This perspective becomes clear from his communication with the mother in Act 3. After Hamlet presents his Mousetrap play to reveal Claudius’s true feelings, Gertrude criticizes this action, telling Hamlet that he has offended the new king (Shakespeare 171). With a sense of moral superiority, Hamlet tells her, “You go not till I set you up a glass where you may see the [inmost] part of you” (Shakespeare 171). In his attempt to make the mother ashamed of her previous choices, Hamlet does not explicitly extrapolate irresponsibility to all women. However, his criticism of women’s tendency to adapt to new circumstances and forget previous oaths is clear. Hamlet openly compares Gertrude’s hidden secrets to the “bloody deed” of killing someone unexpectedly, though there are no attempts to claim that propensity to violence is part of women’s nature (Shakespeare 171). Therefore, despite an understandable lack of trust, Hamlet does not view women as the victims of their own sinful nature.

Moreover, quite typically for his generation and culture, Hamlet regards women as weak creatures compared to men, which is reflected in hints that womanhood is often synonymous with the risks of moral frailty. In a famous monologue, the lines from which have become proverbial expressions, Hamlet openly juxtaposes his father’s “excellent” and “loving” nature with the mother’s deceitful mask of compassion (Shakespeare 29). Incapable of suppressing his first impulse to make a corresponding generalization, Hamlet exclaims, “Frailty, thy name is woman” (Shakespeare 29). This statement alone implies a strong association between womanhood and the signs of moral imperfection, such as the propensity to untruthfulness. Hamlet views women as lacking moral strength and the ability to define their guiding principles and stay loyal to the once chosen definitions of right and wrong. Therefore, Hamlet clearly expresses dissatisfaction with women’s moral excellence, which mostly stems from its examples in his life.

Women’s changeability, instability, and two-facedness as love partners also permeate Hamlet’s attitude to women, and he makes quite unambiguous remarks to express this viewpoint. This perspective can be noticed even in Hamlet’s conversations with Ophelia, onto whom he transfers his rage linked with his mother’s recent marriage. When Ophelia tells Hamlet that his play’s prologue is “tis brief, my Lord,” Hamlet sarcastically replies that it is brief “as woman’s love” (Shakespeare 147). Thus, despite being in love with Ophelia, Hamlet does not even attempt to conceal his beliefs regarding women’s ability to love honestly and sincerely. In another instance, Hamlet reflects on women’s deceitful nature by telling Ophelia that “God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another” (Shakespeare 133). Aside from accusing women of being double-faced and overly changeable, Hamlet also makes it clear that ignorant and naïve men fall victims to women’s cunning nature. Specifically, as he gets disappointed with Ophelia, Hamlet tells her to “marry a fool” as “wise men know well enough what monsters women make of them” (Shakespeare 133). Thus, Hamlet is consistent in claiming that women might be dangerous to men.

To continue, it might be suggested that Hamlet’s misogynistic attitudes to women even include seeing them as the root cause of sin and the world’s imperfection. Having heard that Ophelia considers herself a victim of deception, too, Hamlet makes rather mean responses and says, “Get thee to a nunnery” (Shakespeare 131). The rationale for recommending this step is revealed later as Hamlet specifies that it would prevent Ophelia from becoming “a breeder of sinners” (Shakespeare 131). Hamlet is likely to assume that women, as wives and mothers, can spread sin. Consequently, telling women to isolate themselves from honest men is seen as a viable strategy to suppress their unwanted influence on the opposite sex and society in general. By recommending Ophelia to become a nun, meaning that she should not be anyone’s wife and mother, Hamlet seems to be expressing an extremely old misogynistic scheme of things. In it, men are conceptualized as decision-makers and the creators of human history, whereas women spoil the former and distract them from their greater goals through their sexual appeal and the art of pretending.

To sum up, Hamlet’s attitudes to the opposite sex are explicitly negative. The issue is that this opinion is formed by extrapolating the disappointment with Gertrude’s moral qualities to all female human beings, resulting in Hamlet’s somewhat excessive fear of trusting any woman. Although distrust is often justified in Hamlet’s life, his example could teach the audience a valuable lesson regarding excessive generalizations and how they prepare a person for even more disappointment.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2012. FSL.