Misogyny in Hamlet Many critics suggest that Shakespeare was a misogynist. Due to the large volume of women in his plays that are not give a voice or “backbone” so to speak, it is not hard to agree. This can be seen in many of his plays such as Othello, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet. “Frailty thy name is woman” (Hamlet Act I scene II). The apothegmatic declaration made by Hamlet in his first soliloquy begs the question the question ‘was Shakespeare sexist or was it just the time period he wrote in?’ Shakespeare tended to interject himself in his male roles, as seen in many of his plays. This quote sets the tone for the rest of the play of Hamlet’s view on women, referring not to physical weakness, but rather moral, commenting on his mother’s incestous new marriage with his Uncle, Claudius.Order now
Despite the fact that a single woman ruled England throughout the entirety of William Shakespeare’s life, the Elizabethan era was patriarchal. Women were -and still are- considered the weaker sex, seen as needy and fragile. They were expected to bare children and to obey their husbands at all costs. Women were not allowed to attend school and marriage was pushed on them from a young age to increase wealth for the family. In addition, disobedience was considered a crime against their religion and men dominated their families. If a woman lost her virginity before they were wed, she would be considered a whore and typically would be disowned from their family with few exceptions. Due to these standards Shakespeare was only writing what he knew, which in today’s day is considered extremely sexist. In Elizabethan times, women were not seen as having a voice in most matters. Rather, they were expected to stay quiet and stay in the kitchen, cleaning cooking and taking care of the children while the men were at work. The outlook of women during this time period was that women needed to be taken care of by men because they were not a physically nor mentally as capable as men of the time. And women were in “equal condition” to men as previously stated in the bible, ‘The Christ honoured our sex in that was a man, not a woman: yet he was born of a woman and was not begot of a man…she was not made of earth … but out of himself that she might be dearer in estimation and equal in condition to him’ (Adams qtd. in Aughterson 1995: 30).
As seen in Othello “Come on, come on. You are pictures out of door, bells in your parlours; wildcats in your kitchens, saints in your injuries; devils being offended, players in your housewifery, and hussies in your beds.” (II.2.113-115) This particular quote is from Othello in which one of the man characters Iago uses phrases such as “wildcats” and “bells”, he is implying that the terms fit all women and not just his wife.This is Shakespeare making a comment on how all women are “wildcats in the kitchen” and only useful for the cooking, cleaning, and sex, making it seem that he (Shakespeare) could be a misogynist. “Ophelia and Desdemona are directly exposed to the opinions presented by Hamlet and Iago, respectively. Nonetheless, their positions are completely different. Thus, on the one hand we have Ophelia, who belongs to the court and therefore is a subject to Hamlet, and on the other, Desdemona, who is Othello’s wife and thus holds a superior position over Iago. Yet, they are both gentlewomen who are bound with certain conventions and whose sex becomes a target for Hamlet’s and Iago’s speeches,” (Barbara Bienias, University of Warsaw, Faculty of Modern Languages). Another example is seen in MacBeth, William Shakespeare depicts Lady MacBeth into a cynical character who uses her sexuality and marital status to undermine MacBeth. This ultimately results in MacBeth’s plunge into madness, his murder as well as Lady MacBeth’s remorseful suicide. Sexism can also be seen in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. This is one of his most misogynistic plays by far. The main character Katherine, is depicted as ill tempered, sharp tongued, and known for her violent outbursts.
For this reason, she is seen as the “shrew” meaning quick tempered, nagging and argumentative. Thus, portraying a very negative connotation on women for having any opinion in their own life. Shakespeare tended to interject himself into his male characters, such as Prince Hamlet, which is why so many of his female characters are seen as spineless and dependent on men. This is a common theme throughout the entirety of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet.Hamlet specifically causes the reader to question if Shakespeare was a misogynist? Misogyny as defined by Webster means a hatred of women, coming from the Greek root misein meaning to hate and gynē meaning woman. Hamlet has been betrayed by both of the women who have strong influences in his life: his mother, Gertrude, and his lover, Ophelia. The fact that there are only two named women in the entirety of the play says something about not only Hamlet’s choice in relationships, but Shakespeare himself. Hamlet becomes extremely cynical about women in general by showing a particular obsession with female sexuality and moral corruption. many critics have attempted to shed light on the question if shakespeare was a misogynist in the past, however, they have only further complicated the investigation. We see the only two female characters depicted as either a whore in an incestous relationship, as Queen Gertrude is shown or a young girl (Ophelia) who does not have her own opinions. Not to mention, Ophelia is called a whore by Hamlet due to the fact that she slept with him before they were married. However, as blatantly seen, Shakespeare acts as a misogynist in the majority of his plays. The first female character introduced in Hamlet is Gertrude, Queen of Denmark. She is Hamlet’s mother and when his father dies she subsequently weds Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Shakespeare had the power to make Gertrude a respectable character in the play yet despite the opportunity, he chose to portray her as a cold-hearted whore who has an incestous marriage to Cladius. She could have been a safe haven for Hamlet after his father was murdered.
However, every time she witnessed something noteworthy she shied away from the opportunity to speak up and have an influence in the matter. Unlike her son, Gertrude betrayed her husband’s memory by remarrying quickly. Gertrude proves this herself by saying that “the meat still hasn’t gone bad” during King Hamlet’s funeral. Hamlet also makes the comment of how the queen was eating leftovers from her husband’s funeral at her wedding. Gertrude’s role has traditionally been seen as very passive, up until when she witnesses Hamlet murder Polonius. Her short soliloquies are a mirror images of her male counterparts. She makes many shrewd observations however never acts upon them and instead submits to the schemes that the male counterparts plan. Not to mention she betrays her own son because of Claudius’s newfound monarchy. She is not illustrated as an intelligent woman, being described as a sheep in the sun. Despite all of Hamlet’s crude remarks and thoughts of his mother, during her last scene when Gertrude is dying, she still shows concern for Hamlet. “Gertrude is wholly ignorant of Caludius’ successful plot against her first husband and equally oblivious of Hamlet’s protectively possessive feelings towards her. She finds his melancholic behaviour exasperating, and is unable to understand why he will not rejoice with the rest of the court at her marriage. She seems a kindly, slowwitted, rather self-indulgent woman, in no way the emotional or intellectual equal of her son.
When Hamlet finally determines to make her see the ghastly error of her choice his cruelly-chosen words force her to feel guilty: O Hamlet, speak no more. Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, And there I see such balck and grained spots As will not leave their tinct. (III,iv.88-91)” Hamlet refers Ophelia’s weakness inferring that she is frail like a nymph, “The fair Ophelia—Nymph, in thy orisons/ Be all my sins remembered” (III.i.88-89). This reference to the negative connotation womanhood held in the Elizabethan time with Ophelia representing the standard of the female gender. She is not allowed to have nor show her own thoughts and opinions, even when Hamlet has his violent outburst, she does not stand up for herself portraying her as fragile. “She expresses acquiescence, uncertainty and obeisance; she utters half lines.” (Fischer, 1990: 2) Ophelia is portrayed as a naive and feeble girl. She is restrained by both Polonius and Laertes to express her own emotions, forbidding her to fall in love with Hamlet, who might have eventually overthrown Claudius. It is remarkably obvious that Ophelia plunged into madness due to the premature death of her father.
In the Shakespearean era women did not have the equality that they receive today. Shakespeare reflects this in showing that they are attachments to the powerful men of their time, and perhaps without theses attachments the women would just be peasants. Shakespeare, although it is not acceptable today, was most likely reflecting the status of women during his time. The role of women in Hamlet is nothing short of misogynistic and cruel, which makes the play dated. This can only lead the reader to believe that Hamlet and shakespeare both are sexist.