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'Frailty Thy Name is Woman' How does Shakespeare present women and sex in Hamlet?

Extracts from this essay...

Introduction

'Frailty, thy name is woman.' How does Shakespeare present women and sex in 'Hamlet'? At the beginning of Hamlet, Hamlet is reprimanded by Claudius because of grieving for his father, King Hamlet. Claudius calls Hamlet unmanly 'Of impious stubbornness, 'tis unmanly grief.' Claudius' use of the word 'Unmanly' suggests Hamlet is frail like a woman, this shows in Hamlet not just women are weak in this play but men also display forms of frailty. Claudius' use of the word 'unmanly' surely suggests Hamlet is feminine, and if Hamlet is feminine surely as a man, that also makes him weak. The phrase 'Frailty, thy name is woman,' appears in Hamlet's first soliloquy. Here Hamlet condemns Gertrude, his mother, for having a swift remarriage to his uncle, Claudius. In 'Hamlet' Shakespeare presents women as the weaker sex, used for the purpose of men's satisfaction sexually. For a woman to consider, or commit a sexual deed, it is seen as corruption. Today, a modern audience may see Hamlet's, Polonius' and Laertes' actions toward Gertrude and Ophelia as a form of sexual abuse. Women were the victims of a Patriarchal society, corrupted by sex and hated by misogynistic men. Patriarchy describes a social structure where the behaviour and ideas of men and boys are overriding over those of women and girls. This situation of male authority is reflected in correlative unfairness throughout the society and in the play 'Hamlet'.

Middle

As she is singing Claudius and Queen both try to reason with her, but she replies only incomprehensibly. Claudius says 'Alas, sweet lady, what imports this song?' Ophelia's rogue line breaks of poetry, disrupts the prose of the other characters in the scene, the audience is distracted by Ophelia's deep thoughts, emotions and feelings. By Ophelia doing this, we can link it to Shakespeare's portrayal of women as mentally frail when around others, unable to hold a sentence or communicate. Hamlet offers copious amounts of evidence to the audience of his madness; however there is a lack of evidence to Ophelia's madness apart from the death of her father and rejection by Hamlet. The audience can see she displays a form of insanity in Act Four Scene Five. Ophelia shows a method to her madness in which she is suffering over the loss of her father, and all she can do after learning of the death of her father is sing. Ophelia also suffers the heartbreak of rejection by Hamlet which causes her to sing a happy love song, which therefore shows us there is more evidence in there being a method to her madness as she is singing over the love of Hamlet. Ophelia's supposed madness shows method, which contradicts Hamlet's argument 'Frailty, thy name is woman,' as there appears evidence to why women appear frail.

Conclusion

Hamlet feigns madness to suggest to others around him of his mental instability and Ophelia is classed mad over the mourning of her father. Despite the female sex being classed as frail, in 'Hamlet' the women show hidden depths, Ophelia shows method to her madness, if she was mentally frail this wouldn't be possible, Ophelia also understands what Hamlet is saying through his sexual innuendoes which suggests she was not as naïve as Polonius deemed her to 'be you speak like a green girl.' Gertrude also shows depth when she describes Ophelia's death, Gertrude being the mouthpiece for the description of Ophelia's death suggests solidarity between the women of the play. The repeated use of the word 'incest' when used to describe Hamlet and the Ghost's perception of Gertrude's relationship with Claudius and the undermining of Ophelia's knowledge by Polonius and Laertes, considers women as naïve and sexually disgusting which is a typical form of misogyny. It would appear there is no difference in frailty depending on the sex; both sexes experience the same bereavement when loosing a loved one therefore would seem madness in itself to class one sex frailer than the other. To an audience in the Shakespearean era, how the women of 'Hamlet' are treated, would be no different to how women were perceived due to the standards of the patriarchal society. However to a modern day female audience, the discrimination to women's sexuality and mental state could be seen as somewhat offensive.

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