Frailty Thy Name Is Woman Essay, Research Paper
“Frailty thy Name is Woman”
When Hamlet says “Frailty, thy name is woman” in act one, scene two, he is lashing out at his mother for her quick remarriage to his uncle after his father s death. His statement acts as an indicator of Hamlet s perception of all women throughout the play. The men around them control both Gertrude and Ophelia in particular. The most notable frailty of both these women seems to be that, whether by nature or nurture, they cannot exist without men. Both need men as guides to their perceptions of the world and are incapable of trusting their own feelings. His statement reflects a mindset that underestimates the ability of women to decisions for themselves, and even be cunning. It is actually Hamlet s sexist thinking that causes him the grief behind this statement, his shock of her betrayal assumed that she had no desires outside of her dead husband. Even though the characters did prove them selves weak, Hamlet s statement reflects less truth and more his distorted view of women.
In Hamlet, women s feelings are not taken seriously by the male characters. In fact, Gertrude even seems to reinforce the idea that Ophelia cannot have valid thoughts or feelings on her own. Though Ophelia is capable of having thoughts and feelings on her own in the beginning of the play, Polonius and Laertes are eager to teach her to distrust herself. Laertes begins act one, scene three by warning his sister not to think anything of Hamlet s professions of love and warns her especially not to sleep with him. Laertes warnings are relatively gentle, in that he does not tell Ophelia that Hamlet does not love her as she thinks he does, but simply that he may not always love her. Ultimately, he advises that “best safety lies in fear;” she must be careful (I.iii.43). Polonius, on the other hand, gives commands rather than offering advice, and generally strives to make Ophelia distrust herself completely. The message Polonius sends Ophelia is a strong one; rather than telling her that she does not understand her duty, he says she does not understand herself. He is taking away her confidence in her own ability to think, to perceive. She will always be mislead by her own thoughts and feelings, according to Polonius implicit message, and she should give up her own will and replace it with his. Eventually Ophelia does give up her own will, and because of this resignation, goes mad when confronted with overwhelming emotions without a man to interpret he feelings for her.
Polonius believed it necessary to make decisions for Ophelia because she had no will of her own. The men of the story assume women have no independent thought; that they were puppets.
Gertrude, Hamlet s mother is the cause of Hamlet s grief and subsequent statement on the frailties of womanhood. Hamlet says she “A little month; or ere those shoes were old/With which she followed my poor father’s body/Like Niobe, all tears”(I.ii). Hamlet is shocked and aggrieved that his mother, who appeared to mourn his father s passing, remarried so quickly. Hamlet assumes frailty in his mother did not allow her to resist the will of Claudius, and by his influence she was led astray. Gertrude follows Claudius s lead, telling Hamlet that his father is gone and he should move on. He rebukes her lack of loyalty, and is further disheartened to realize that his mother had an adulterous affair with Claudius before his father s death. This thinking is indicative of a general mindset that showed itself throughout the play. It does not seem to occur to Hamlet that it was his mother s decision to marry Claudius, so when he finds out about the affair before King Hamlet s death, he nearly drives himself crazy wondering whether or not his mother was involved in his father s murder. It boggles his mingd to imagine her capable of such cunning.
Hamlet s assertion about the nature of women in the play is, at least about Ophelia seems true at the very end. Ophelia, in her utter dependence on others and on men specifically, is very frail. She cannot exist, at least not in sanity, without a male figure as a guide and interpreter to the world. It seems that Hamlet might have been at least partly wrong, though, in the sense that Ophelia s frailty seems to be an acquired, rather than a natural trait. Gertrude s actions, however, could have been of a different motivation entirely. Shakespeare himself gives a poor representation himself of women as cunning creatures capable of independent thought or capable the strength of necessary to devise and execute a plot. The mindset of Hamlet may have been more a reflection of a general mindset during the time period of the play than conventional thinking.