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Hamlets treatment of ophelia and gertrude

Modern folklore suggests women look at a man's relationship with his mother to predict

how they will treat other women in their life. Hamlet is a good example of a son's

treatment of his mother reflecting how he will treat the woman he loves because when

considering Hamlet's attitude and treatment of the Ophelia in William Shakespeare's

play, Hamlet, one must first consider how Hamlet treated his mother. A characteristic of

Hamlet's personality is to make broad, sweeping generalizations and nowhere is this

more evident than in his treatment toward women. Very early in the play, while

discussing his mother's transgressions, he comments, "Frailty, thy name is woman. (Hoy,

11)." Hamlet appears to believe all women act in the same manner as his mother.

The first time the audience meets Hamlet, he is angry and upset at Queen

Gertrude, his mother, for remarrying his uncle so soon after the death of his father. In his

first soliloquy he comments on the speed of her remarriage

Within a month,

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears

Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,

She married. O, most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

It is not, nor it cannot come to good. (Hoy, 11)

It is understandable Hamlet is upset with his mother for forgetting about his father and

marrying his uncle, Claudius. In Hamlet's eyes, his father deserves more than one month

of mourning and by remarrying so quickly, the queen has sullied King Hamlet's memory.

This remarriage is a sin and illegal, however special dispensation was made because she

is queen.

Hamlet's opinion of his mother worsens as the play progresses because his father,

who appears as a ghost, tells him of his mother's adulterous behavior and his uncle's

shrewd and unconscionable murder. Although Hamlet promises to seek revenge on King

Claudius for murdering his father, he is initially more concerned with the ghost's

revelations regarding his mother. King Hamlet tells Hamlet not to be concerned with his

mother but after the apparition leaves, it is the first thing Hamlet speaks of. Before

vowing to avenge his father's death, he comments on the sins his mother committed.

Although Hamlet decides to pretend to be insane in order to plot against the King,

it is clear, he really does go mad. His madness seems to amplify his anger toward his

mother. During the play scene, he openly embarrasses her and acted terribly toward her

in the closet scene. The closet scene explains much about Hamlet's treatment of women

and his feelings toward his mother. Hamlet yells at his mother for destroying his ability

to love. He accuses her of

such an act

That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,

Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose

From the fair forehead of an innocent love

And sets a blister there.

Hamlet curses his mother for being responsible for his inability to love Ophelia. Queen

Gertrude's actions have caused Hamlet to see all women in a different light because she

has taken away his innocence and love for women.

After Hamlet kills Polonius, he tests Queen Gertrude to see if she knows about

the murder of his father and both he and the audience seem satisfied she was not party to

that knowledge. Hamlet takes it upon himself to tell the queen her new husband killed

the former king, however he is interrupted by the ghost who warns Hamlet not to tell his

mother. The ghosts tells Hamlet he should be more concerned with King Claudius,

suggesting revenge must be taken soon (Dover Wilson, 248).

During this scene Queen Gertrude is unable to see her dead husband which in

Elizabethan times implied she was "unable to see the 'gracious figure' of her husband

because her eyes are held by the adultery she has committed (Dover Wilson, 254)." The

ghosts steals away from the closet when he realizes his widow cannot see him, causing

Hamlet to hate Gertrude even more because he felt the same rejection when Ophelia

rejected him. He can feel his father's grief as a son and as a lover (Dover Wilson, 255).

It was devastating to see his father rejected by the queen in the same manner he was

rejected by Ophelia.

Understanding Hamlet's hatred toward his mother is pivotal in understanding his

relationship with Ophelia because it provides insight into his treatment of Ophelia. In

Hamlet's eyes, Ophelia did not treat him with the love and respect she should have.

Hamlet and Ophelia loved each other but very early in the play, she is told by her father

to break off all contact with him. Hamlet is understandably upset and bewildered when

Ophelia severs their relationship with no explanation.

The audience does not see the next interaction with Hamlet and Ophelia but hear

Ophelia tell her father about Hamlet's distress, causing them to both to believe Hamlet is

mad, thus falling for his plot. According to Ophelia, Hamlet's appearance was one of a

madman. She described for her father the length of time he stayed her in bedroom and


He raised a sigh so piteous and profound

As it did seem to shatter all his bulk,

And end his being. That done, he lets me go,

And with his head over his shoulder turned

He seemed to find his way without his eyes,

For out adoors he went without their helps,

And to the last bended their light on me. (Hoy, 27)

Hamlet comes to Ophelia on the brink of a breakdown, partly caused by his mother's

infidelities and when he turns to his lover for support, his mother's lesson are reinforced

and through her actions, Ophelia confirms in Hamlet's mind, that women can not be

trusted. Although Hamlet was pretending to be mad, he still loved Ophelia and was

devastated by her disloyalty (Dover Wilson, 111-112).

Although Ophelia was only following the wishes of her father, her actions suggest

to Hamlet she can be no more trusted than Queen Gertrude. In a cryptic way Hamlet is

incredibly rude to Polonius calling him a fishmonger, or a "bawd" and his daughter a

prostitute in Act II (Dover Wilson, 105). This is the jilted lover speaking in this scene

more so than the mad man Hamlet is pretending to be.

Hamlet's anger deepens toward Ophelia when he hears of the King, Queen and

Polonius' plot to use Ophelia to find out if he has gone mad for love of her. Poor

Ophelia, just wanting to please her father and the royalty, sadly over plays her role during

the nunnery scene. Ophelia anxiously jumps into her role at the beginning of their

conversation, barely even greeting Hamlet before she tries to return his gifts. Although

he claims not to have given such gifts, she says

My honored lord, you know right well you did,

And with them words of so sweet breath composed

As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,

Take these again, for to the noble mind

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

There, my lord. (Hoy, 45)

With this speech, Ophelia wanted to provoke Hamlet into declaring his love, but instead,

he called her a liar. The entire rest of this scene is meant for Polonius and the King who

are listening. Hamlet recognizes Ophelia's dismal attempt at acting and gives her one

last chance to redeem herself

Ham. Where's your father?

Oph. At home my lord. (Hoy, 45)

Ophelia has failed the final test because Hamlet knows her father is listening. At this

point in the play, Hamlet is very unstable and in his mind, he thinks all women are

adulterous like his mother and cannot be trusted. Ophelia has just proved this to him and

he acts terribly toward her, telling her

Get thee to a nunnery, farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool,

for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a

nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell. (Hoy, 46)

Hamlet seems to be talking about women in general when he says a wise man knows

what a monster a woman can make of them. He is being very cruel to all women, not just

Ophelia, in this scene, because they are all the same to him. Hamlet goes as far as calling

Ophelia a prostitute as a nunnery refers to a bawd house (Dover Wilson, 134).

For someone who is presumably in love, Hamlet treats Ophelia terribly in this

play. His anger and hatred toward his mother, on top of his insanity, makes it difficult

for him to see that Ophelia was following her father's orders, not purposefully betraying

Hamlet. This treatment of women is unbecoming of a hero in a tragedy and really shows

the extent of his insanity. It was too much for Hamlet to accept the death of his father by

the hand of his uncle and the adulterous behavior of his mother, so consequently he was

very harsh on Ophelia. Hamlet could not bear any more rejection and despair in his life

which Ophelia, whether she meant to or not, brought into it.

Source: Essay UK -

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