The following excerpt from Act III of Hamlet shows Hamlet’s criticism of women:
“I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nick-name God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on’t; it hath made me mad.”
Hamlet is a play dated around the year 1600 and written by William Shakespeare. While the play explores many themes, one of the most prominent ones is that of Hamlet’s despise towards women. Being the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet reproaches his mother, Queen Gertrude, for marrying his uncle, Claudius, who murdered his father, the King, and usurped the throne, by marrying Hamlet’s mother. In his mother’s act, Hamlet sees treachery and betrayal not just of his father but primarily of himself and later transfers these qualities upon the entire womanhood.
In his monologue, Hamlet lashes out in hatred towards all women, including his love interest, Ophelia, who is depicted as a sweet, beautiful and innocent soul, albeit gullible and blindly loyal to her father. Her father is one of King Claudius’s closest friends, making Ophelia an easy way for the two to manipulate Hamlet’s feelings with her unwitting help.
Act III of Hamlet supports the conclusion that Hamlet grows distinctly misogynistic. His disdain is expressed in his bitterness towards the way women use makeup to draw a “second, unnatural face”, and the way they play innocence, being “devious in nature”. Hamlet sees attractiveness and sexual appeal of women as a deliberate move to manipulate men in general and himself in particular.
Hamlet’s misogyny is expressed in yet another famous line from Hamlet: “Frailty, thy name is woman!”. Hamlet voices these angry words in Act 1, Scene II while recalling the beautiful and loving interaction between his mother and his deceased father. Feeling enormous sadness because of the untimely death of his father, Hamlet is also tormented by the growing disappointment with his mother, Gertrude, who he sees as morally weak and unfaithful.
Modern feminist critique chooses to interpret these instances of misogyny as systematic acts of victimization of women. In this case, they are acts of subduing the main heroines of the play to make them act out in the interests of the male antagonists, who have power over them. Ophelia is the most evident example to that: not having her own voice, and never knowing how to proceed without the instructions of her male masters. Even her own thoughts are but a reflection of what she was told to believe and to feel. Ophelia has no agency over herself and thus represents the impotency of her character, which Hamlet hates in her, while abusing her passiveness at the same time. “He took me by the wrist and held me hard; Then goes he to the length of all his arm; And, with his other hand thus o’er his brow, He falls to such perusal of my face As he would draw it.”
Critics also point out that, although Hamlet feels extremely hurt by his father’s foul murder, he is devastated even more by the actions of his mother, Gertrude, who was so quick to “change sides”. His mother is the one person who he never expected pain from, and this might be viewed as the main reason for him going mad.
Thus, the play is a vivid example of a true Elizabethan drama, depicting human relationships and experiences, and the way they affect each other, for better or for worse.