Feminism in Hamlet “Frailty, thy name is women”; Mother, thy name is greatness ?? Loyalty or betrayal, nobody can definitely point out what the truth is; but something that seems like the truth may not always be correct. Truth usually hides behind the stage and needs to be found by knowing what the characters are actually thinking. The Queen acts as a controversial character in the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. She marries her husband’s brother just after her husband’s death. “Treachery”, “recreance”, “conscienceless” become the symbols of her character.
As a queen of noble lineage, she has superior power, but no access to speak freely. Everything she does is to protect her son Hamlet. The pitiful queen becomes the scapegoat in a play filled with male characters. She loves only her true husband-King Hamlet. Her weakness and sin is just a foolish pretense for male chauvinism. ?? Weakness or sagacity may on the surface appear to be just a result of a decision made on the spur of the moment. Queen Gertrude has always been a controversial character. “In 1848, Strachey called her “weak”; and Professor Nicoll declares her ‘Little more than a puppet’,” (Draper).
Is Gertrude a symbol of weakness or sagacity? According to John William Draper’s understanding of Hamlet, he offers another perspective to understanding the queen. “Can Gertrude, indeed, have been so “weak”? This interpretation apparently is based on the vague accusations of the Ghost and on Hamlet’s bitter, but also vague, reproaches, and especially on his “Frailty, thy name is women,” early in the play” (Draper). Here Draper alters the discussion around Gertrude from focus on her frailty and weakness to argue that her actions are misunderstood by male characters who do not understand the complexity of female nature.
In Act 1 Scene 2 Queen Gertrude speaks to Hamlet about her perception of the circumstances they have been placed in since her husband’s death. Gertrude clearly articulates her belief in accepting what has been lost, and the necessity for her to continue on without longing for what can no longer be. Her husband has passed and she must now make decisions she does not like in order to maintain her position as Queen, and protect her son. She says: “let thine look like a friend on Denmark. Do not forever with thy vailed lids seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity. ”(Shakespeare, 1. 2. 69-74). Gertrude speaks rhetorically to Hamlet about her desire for him to continue with his life without longing desperately for his father, as she has been forced to do. The Queen is a normal woman who must play two different roles between her new husband and her son. She is distressed herself over the inharmonious relationship between Hamlet and Claudius. She attempts to tell Hamlet this, but he is too young and stubborn to understand the position she is in as a woman.
Instead of understanding her, he forms an opinion of her being weak and frail, only thinking of herself. On one side is her husband, Claudius, who gives her comfort while she is helpless after the death of the King; on the other side is her dear son who is enraged over his father’s death. Although it appears that her motivation for marrying Claudius is selfish, she actually marries to secure Hamlet’s position as prince and maintain power over Denmark. No complaint, no grumble passes her lips, the only thing she is able to do is to tolerate it all. The reason Gertrude marries her husband’s brother is not because she loves him, or her vanity, it is because she wants to protect Hamlet. This is proven in the end of the play, when she drinks the poisonous wine which the King attempts to give to Hamlet. “Claudius treats Gertrude with unfailing consideration, respect and love; for her sake, he tries to conciliate Hamlet, though at some personal risk, and even courts discovery of his last desperate plot to warn her against the poisoned goblet. ” (Draper).
It can be argued that because of this action the Queen has discovered Claudius’ guilt and is attempting to save Hamlet from the same fate as his father. The King asks Gertrude to “not drink” (Shakespeare. 5. 2. 293) the wine, but she responds, “I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me. ” (Shakespeare. 5. 2. 294). Gertrude is hoping that Claudius will explain himself, and prevent her from drinking the poison. This is her way of letting him know she is aware of his regicide, and is no longer willing to be his idle accomplice despite his great affection.
In saying this she is knowingly protecting Hamlet from drinking the poison, while also letting Claudius know she is on to him. ?? Hamlet describes his mother as a, “wretched, rash, intruding fool” (Shakespeare 3. 4. 32). According to the opinion expressed by Harold Bloom, “All [Hamlet’s] life he had believed in [Gertrude]… He had seen her not merely devoted to his father, but hanging on him like a newly-wedded bride, hanging on him” (Bloom 21) However, he will never know who his mother was. Hamlet was staying abroad in England when is father died. Gertrude was helpless after King Hamlet’s death. However, Claudius gives her much comfort and encouragement, and as a result, she marries him. She sees Claudius as the reflection of the late King. As Steven Mullaney demonstrates “Remarriage might seem to resolve the threat posed by female independence. ” (Mullaney 172) Remarriage plays an ironic role in the play, Gertrude indeed does not receive any independence but rather causes the tragedy that happens. It is tragic that her son thinks she is disloyal.
Never is a statement made indicating the Queen’s knowledge of Claudius murdering his brother. She even seems to not trust Hamlet’s accusations about the King’s death because Hamlet has been behaving as if he is mad. During the conversation between she and Hamlet he tries to tell the truth, “A bloody deed-almost as bad, good Mother. As killing a king, and marry to his brother. ” (Shakespeare 3. 4. 29-30), Hamlet instead accuses his mother of having knowledge of his father’s murder. This implies that Hamlet believes the Queen is selfish and deceitful.
The Queen is confused by his accusation. “As Killing a King? ” (Shakespeare, 3. 4. 31), she asks genuinely confused by his statement, and being innocent is hurt by his censure. At the beginning of the play, the Queen ask s Hamlet to get out from the sadness of the King’s death. What no one knows is that she is trying to tell herself the same thing. She seems to ‘step out’ from the shadow of the suddenly French leave of her husband. She becomes a liar, she is silly, and childishly thinking that marrying her brother-in-law will keep her close to her husband.
The audience and other ? characters are unaware of how much Gertrude loves the late King; this is due to her being perceived as weak, frail and of a lesser moral position than the men that surround her. ?? Weakness is not a characteristic belonging to Gertrude. She is a great mother and wife, who is misrepresented to the audience vis-a-vis a one sided view- that of Hamlet. Hamlet says that he “must hold his tongue” (Shakespeare, 1. 2. 159) He acts as a male character in the play, although he is saying that he cannot express what he wants to, however he still can do what he likes.
Beavering madly, arguing with his mother and even being rude to King Claudius. Whatever how bad deed Hamlet has done, people prefer to believe “he is mad”, but Gertrude makes one decision that appears to be bad, and people call her” weak” and a treasonous wife; however her decision is also forced by the power of King Claudius, as he preys upon her fear and concern for her son and throne, convincing her that the only solution to reigning her country successfully is through another noble marriage. Sometimes, people judge others unfairly.
Gertrude is a great mother who dedicates her life to protect her son and guard the little sanctity she has. Works Cited Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s Major Literacy Character- Hamlet. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004. Print. Draper, John Wiliam. “Queen Gertrude. ” Draper, John Wiliam. The Hamlet of Shakesperae’s audience. London: FRANK CASS AND COMPANY LIMITED, 1939. 108-121. Electronic. Mullaney, Steven. “Mourning and Misogyny. ” Chedgzoy, Kate. Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender. New York: PALGRAVE, 2001. 172. Print. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: New American Library, 1998. Print.