Modern folklore suggests women look at a mans relationship with his mother to predicthow they will treat other women in their life. Hamlet is a good example of a sonstreatment of his mother reflecting how he will treat the woman he loves because whenconsidering Hamlets attitude and treatment of the Ophelia in William Shakespearesplay, Hamlet, one must first consider how Hamlet treated his mother. A characteristic of Hamlets personality is to make broad, sweeping generalizations and nowhere is thismore evident than in his treatment toward women. Very early in the play, whilediscussing his mothers transgressions, he comments, Frailty, thy name is woman. (Hoy,11).
Hamlet appears to believe all women act in the same manner as his mother. The first time the audience meets Hamlet, he is angry and upset at QueenGertrude, his mother, for remarrying his uncle so soon after the death of his father. In hisfirst soliloquy he comments on the speed of her remarriageWithin a month,Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tearsHad left the flushing in her galled eyes,She married. O, most wicked speed, to postWith such dexterity to incestuous sheets!It is not, nor it cannot come to good. (Hoy, 11)It is understandable Hamlet is upset with his mother for forgetting about his father andmarrying his uncle, Claudius.
In Hamlets eyes, his father deserves more than one monthof mourning and by remarrying so quickly, the queen has sullied King Hamlets memory. This remarriage is a sin and illegal, however special dispensation was made because sheis queen. Hamlets opinion of his mother worsens as the play progresses because his father,who appears as a ghost, tells him of his mothers adulterous behavior and his unclesshrewd and unconscionable murder. Although Hamlet promises to seek revenge on KingClaudius for murdering his father, he is initially more concerned with the ghostsrevelations regarding his mother. King Hamlet tells Hamlet not to be concerned with hismother but after the apparition leaves, it is the first thing Hamlet speaks of.
Beforevowing to avenge his fathers death, he comments on the sins his mother committed. Although Hamlet decides to pretend to be insane in order to plot against the King,it is clear, he really does go mad. His madness seems to amplify his anger toward hismother. During the play scene, he openly embarrasses her and acted terribly toward herin the closet scene. The closet scene explains much about Hamlets treatment of womenand his feelings toward his mother.
Hamlet yells at his mother for destroying his abilityto love. He accuses her of such an actThat blurs the grace and blush of modesty,Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the roseFrom the fair forehead of an innocent loveAnd sets a blister there. Hamlet curses his mother for being responsible for his inability to love Ophelia. QueenGertrudes actions have caused Hamlet to see all women in a different light because shehas taken away his innocence and love for women. After Hamlet kills Polonius, he tests Queen Gertrude to see if she knows aboutthe murder of his father and both he and the audience seem satisfied she was not party tothat knowledge.
Hamlet takes it upon himself to tell the queen her new husband killedthe former king, however he is interrupted by the ghost who warns Hamlet not to tell hismother. The ghosts tells Hamlet he should be more concerned with King Claudius,suggesting revenge must be taken soon (Dover Wilson, 248). During this scene Queen Gertrude is unable to see her dead husband which inElizabethan times implied she was unable to see the gracious figure of her husbandbecause her eyes are held by the adultery she has committed (Dover Wilson, 254). Theghosts steals away from the closet when he realizes his widow cannot see him, causingHamlet to hate Gertrude even more because he felt the same rejection when Opheliarejected him. He can feel his fathers grief as a son and as a lover (Dover Wilson, 255). It was devastating to see his father rejected by the queen in the same manner he wasrejected by Ophelia.
Understanding Hamlets hatred toward his mother is pivotal in understanding hisrelationship with Ophelia because it provides insight into his treatment of Ophelia. InHamlets eyes, Ophelia did not treat him with the love and respect she should have. Hamlet and Ophelia loved each other but very early in the play, she is told by her fatherto break off all contact with him. Hamlet is understandably upset and bewildered whenOphelia severs their relationship with no explanation. The audience does not see the next interaction with Hamlet and Ophelia but hearOphelia tell her father about Hamlets distress, causing them to both to believe Hamlet ismad, thus falling for his plot. According to Ophelia, Hamlets appearance was one of amadman.
She described for her father the length of time he stayed her in bedroom andsaidHe raised a sigh so piteous and profoundAs it did seem to shatter all his bulk,And end his being. That done, he lets me go,And with his head over his shoulder turnedHe seemed to find his way without his eyes,For out adoors he went without their helps,And to the last bended their light on me. (Hoy, 27)Hamlet comes to Ophelia on the brink of a breakdown, partly caused by his mothersinfidelities and when he turns to his lover for support, his mothers lesson are reinforcedand through her actions, Ophelia confirms in Hamlets mind, that women can not betrusted. Although Hamlet was pretending to be mad, he still loved Ophelia and wasdevastated by her disloyalty (Dover Wilson, 111-112). Although Ophelia was only following the wishes of her father, her actions suggestto Hamlet she can be no more trusted than Queen Gertrude.
In a cryptic way Hamlet isincredibly rude to Polonius calling him a fishmonger, or a bawd and his daughter aprostitute in Act II (Dover Wilson, 105). This is the jilted lover speaking in this scenemore so than the mad man Hamlet is pretending to be. Hamlets anger deepens toward Ophelia when he hears of the King, Queen andPolonius plot to use Ophelia to find out if he has gone mad for love of her. PoorOphelia, just wanting to please her father and the royalty, sadly over plays her role duringthe nunnery scene. Ophelia anxiously jumps into her role at the beginning of theirconversation, barely even greeting Hamlet before she tries to return his gifts.
Althoughhe claims not to have given such gifts, she says My honored lord, you know right well you did,And with them words of so sweet breath composedAs made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,Take these again, for to the noble mindRich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. There, my lord. (Hoy, 45)With this speech, Ophelia wanted to provoke Hamlet into declaring his love, but instead,he called her a liar.
The entire rest of this scene is meant for Polonius and the King whoare listening. Hamlet recognizes Ophelias dismal attempt at acting and gives her onelast chance to redeem herselfHam. Wheres your father?Oph. At home my lord.
(Hoy, 45)Ophelia has failed the final test because Hamlet knows her father is listening. At thispoint in the play, Hamlet is very unstable and in his mind, he thinks all women areadulterous like his mother and cannot be trusted. Ophelia has just proved this to him andhe acts terribly toward her, telling herGet thee to a nunnery, farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool,for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To anunnery, go, and quickly too.
Farewell. (Hoy, 46)Hamlet seems to be talking about women in general when he says a wise man knowswhat a monster a woman can make of them. He is being very cruel to all women, not justOphelia, in this scene, because they are all the same to him. Hamlet goes as far as callingOphelia a prostitute as a nunnery refers to a bawd house (Dover Wilson, 134). For someone who is presumably in love, Hamlet treats Ophelia terribly in thisplay. His anger and hatred toward his mother, on top of his insanity, makes it difficultfor him to see that Ophelia was following her fathers orders, not purposefully betrayingHamlet.
This treatment of women is unbecoming of a hero in a tragedy and really showsthe extent of his insanity. It was too much for Hamlet to accept the death of his father bythe hand of his uncle and the adulterous behavior of his mother, so consequently he wasvery harsh on Ophelia. Hamlet could not bear any more rejection and despair in his lifewhich Ophelia, whether she meant to or not, brought into it.Category: Shakespeare