Gertrude's Sexism In Hamlet

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Some scholars have interpreted Shakespeare’s works as replete with subversive feminist messages. At face value, the play is extremely sexist. The worth of the women in Hamlet is intrinsically tied to their sexuality. Shakespeare adopts this premise regarding women and adds to it their incapacity to govern themselves. As a result, women succumb to their own sexuality because men establish their power by manipulating women to their own ends. The phallocentric world of Hamlet is sexist, and the only feminist act possible is to exit from it.
The only female characters in Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia, derive their self-worth from male judgments of their sexuality. Because women had limited career options, their only economic activity was marriage.
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Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius is not a sign of her independent thought but of her inability to maintain abstinence. In his conversation with Hamlet, the Ghost asserts that Claudius had “won to his shameful lust / the will of my most seeming-virtuous queen” (I. 5. 45-46). Gertrude’s seeming virtue had fallen to Claudius’s overpowering lust. Ironically, Gertrude’s participation in the holy sacrament of marriage becomes an act of promiscuity. Yet this double standard is not applied solely to Gertrude but is a general portrayal of women at the time. Hamlet, disgusted by his mother’s concupiscence, rails against all marriage as he ends his betrothal to Ophelia: “If thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for / wise men know well enough what monsters you make/of them” (III. 1. 138-140). From a specific insult directed at Ophelia, Hamlet states a general belief about women: that all women inevitably cuckold their husbands. Hamlet’s view towards women’s unrestrained sexuality also colors his view of his mother’s marriage. He describes it as “an unweeded garden” where “Things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely” (I. 2. 135-137). The garden metaphor implies an unchecked growth, a natural tendency that has gone uncurbed. Women’s sexuality, within this metaphor, all within the class of the “rank and gross”. Gardens require …show more content…
When Polonius tells Ophelia, “I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth/Have you so slander any moment leisure/As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet” (I. 3. 131-133), he is exercising paternal authority over his daughter. The natural order in Hamlet’s world places the father as master and the daughter as near-servant, able to only utter the occasional “I shall obey, my lord” (I. 3. 135) as Ophelia does. In this relationship, power is maintained by the male authority. In political affairs, however, a male may gain authority by attaining power over women. Claudius’s power as king does not derive from his statesmanship but rather from his “wicked wit and gifts…[with] the power...to seduce” (I. 5. 44-45). Gertrude is stuck in a unique position between a new husband who wants to assert his authority and her crown prince son who wants to assert his own authority. After a fit of rage, Hamlet bids his mother to “Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed, / Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse,” (III. 4. 182-183). She is not just being chastised and commanded by her son but also being depersonified from human to mouse, an image of extreme powerlessness. The power struggle between two men, Hamlet and Claudius, manifests itself in a woman having to take orders from both. The crisis of political authority is a

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