Getting Started

  • Misogynistic- demonstrated by his interactions with / attitude towards Gertrude and Ophelia: "But two months dead.... frailty they name is woman" (A1S2) this is our first exposure to the extent of his hatred for his mother, who he condemns for her marriage to Claudius. He argues that she is immoral as she remarried so quickly after the death of his father, as it was custom for the court to be in mourning for a year following the death of the monarch (also widowed women were not expected to remarry, they were expected to dedicate the rest of their lives to the raising of their children). An audience in the 1920s would have viewed Gertrude perceived immoraliy in a Freudian manner, Freud argued that women's superegos were not as developed as those of men, meaning they were prone to acts of immorality, however her remarriage is not as shocking to modern audiences a it was at the time the play was written. Hamlet also believes that Ophelia is immoral, demonstrated by his instruction "get thee to a nunnery - why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners" (A3S1). It can be inferred that he sees Ophelia as physically weak and the only way she can remain pure is to go to a brothel where she will be removed from the temptation of men (there were also connotations with brothels being referred to as nunneries during the Elizabethan period and many interpreted that as Hamlet being called a whore). However, it is possible Hamlet is concerned for her as Denmark is corrupt and he fears that she too would be corrupted. Likewise, he may still care for her and doesn't want her around to see him kill Claudius\he doesn't want her hurt. The word "breeder" emphasises his misogynistic nature - women are not equal, they are cattle to be bred. the word "sinners" indicates that he has a distrustful, disillusioned and disheartened view of mankind in general and this gives the impression he thinks it best if the whole generation were destroyed. Being sent to \ choosing to go to a nunnery was common in the Elizabethan period and this is reflected in many Shakespeare plays. For example, in Romeo and Juliet Rosalind chooses to go to a nunnery instead of be with Romeo and, in A Midsummer Night's Dream Hermia is threatened with a nunnery or death if she disobeys her fathers orders to marry.
  • He is a devoted son, demonstrated by the fact that he is the only person in court to remain in mourning after the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude, despite the fact that Claudius tells him "'tis unmanly grief". His devotion is also demonstrated by the fact that the Ghost appears to him to ask him to avenge him and he agrees to, even if he doesn't want to and is arguably ill equipped for the task. However, his ability to do as his father asks is skewed by his hatred of his mother - the Ghost tells him "taint not thy mind, nor let they soul contrive against thy mother aught", but his immediate reaction is "most pernicious woman".
  • he is an unwilling avenger and his procrastination angers him. Hamlet has the prime opportunity in Act 3 Scene 3 when Claudius is alone and praying to carry out the act but abstains, justifying his decision on the grounds that "Am I revenge to take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and seasoned for his passage?" - he claims that if he kills Claudius while he is praying for forgiveness then he would be absolved and go to heaven, as opposed to going to hell as he deserves. By missing this opportunity Hamlet is irate at himself when he visits his mother and this ultimately leads to his rash decision to kill Polonius who is hiding and listening to everything, believing him to be Claudius. This arguably provides for evidence for the argument that by the end of the play he has deteriorated into madness. Hamlet sums up the impact of his procrastination in Act 3 Scene 1, "thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought".
  • He is the heir to the throne of Denmark, however he didn't take the role following the death of his father - this has been justified by some as he is too young for the Crown and Claudius is the regent until he comes of age (as was the custom in England at the time), however in Denmark and the surrounding areas at the time the new King was determined by election and it is made clear throughout the play that Claudius is an excellent politician (and highly corrupt), meaning that he probably took the crown through election. He is arguably restricted in this role with regards to issues such as love, as he says in Act 4 Scene 1, "I loved Ophelia" however the match is condemned and belittled throughout the play by characters such as Laertes and Polonius in Act 1 Scene 3. Laertes tells Ophelia at this point to pay no mind to Hamlets perceived affection, stating that his love is "forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting". He also reminds Ophelia that "his will is not his own... he himself is subject to his birth... on his choice depends the sanctity and health of this whole stare." contemporary audiences would have agreed with this sentiment as it was generally expected that the monarch marry a foreign heir intruder to cement positive relations (such as the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragón), and they were dissuaded from marrying local nobles for threat of factions at court and a lack of international benefit. Modern audiences on the other hand would encourage the match as there is no longer the expectations on royals. Learned dominance of Ophelia is a demonstration of the patriarchal society.
  • he is the avenger of the play, after the ghost of his father appears to him in Act 1 Scene 5, using what is arguably emotional blackmail of "if thou ever they dear father love... revenge his foul and most unnatural murder." to persuade him to do as he demanded. It would have been expected by Elizabethan audiences for Hamlet to have immediately gone and killed audience out of familial duty (it was expected that the son would defend the family honour) and as such would have been highly unsatisfied with Hamlets lack of willingness to kill Claudius and his procrastination throughout the play (at the end of Act 1 Scene 5 he voices his lack of willingness to pay his role by saying "O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right"). Modern audiences in contrast would admire Hamlet for considering the consequences of his action, and his lack of appetite to engage in mindless violence. However, not everyone has this positive opinion of Hamlet and his procrastination, for example Van Goethe argues "Impossibilities have been required of Hamlet; not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him"



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