Feminism in Hamlet

Frailty, thy name is woman:

Feminist Theory:

an outgrowth of the general movement to empower women worldwide.


recognition and critique of male supremacy combined with efforts to change it


-Began in the 1830's


-demonstrate the importance of Women

-reveal that women have historically been subordinate to men

-to bring about gender equality

  • They fight for the equality of women and believe that women should share equality in society's opportunities and resources

Now let's consider Hamlet....

In Shakespeare's plays, he portrays the women to be seen as weak or evil. Gertrude and Lady Macbeth are both great examples. Gertrude is seen as weak who relies on others making the decisions and Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a manipulator.

  • The first scene with an example of feminist theory is in Act 1 Scene 2, in first Hamlet’s soliloquy. Hamlet starts talking about his mom, but he ends with all women in general. He's disgusted by his mother's sexual "appetite," and blames that for her treacherous remarriage. He does not say Gertrude is “frail”, he says all woman are frail, "Frailty, thy name is woman" (i.ii.141-150).

In Hamlet, Ophelia is portrayed as a weak individual who obeys everything her father and brother tell her. In contrast to this there is Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, who rebels against her parents and is shown as a strong willed. Shakespeare shows the two different sides of feminism through these pieces.

  • The second example is in Act 1 Scene 3, when Laertes talks to Ophelia. Laertes tells her to guard her chastity, he believes Ophelia's virginity is literally valuable, "chaste treasure"(i.iii.27-39). He advises her to remain virtuous and pure – as a young maiden should be in the 1600s.

Polonius tells Laertes to act himself when he is leaving for university, but when it comes to Ophelia, he disregards her love for Hamlet and tells her to trust his advice. This can be compared to real life situations,like in Shakespearean times a men would be considered more credible.

Even though Gertrude was a queen she had no power unless she was married to the king. This also the possible reason why she got married so quickly to Claudius. This is because women were always below men in the great chain of being in Shakespearean times.

  • The third example is in Act 3 Scene 1, when Hamlet talks to Ophelia after the play. Hamlet tells Ophelia that women make husbands into "monsters" (iii.i.146-152), which is allusion to the idea that wives that cheated on their husbands grew horns. He assumes that all women are unfaithful and cheat.

  • The fourth example, is when Hamlet continues to talk to Ophelia in Act 3 Scene1. Hamlet says woman's make up are like "paintings"(iii.i.154-162), as an analogy for women's deception. Hamlet says fake behavior like playing dumb, walking, talking, and dancing in an affected way is like makeup that covers the "face" and it makes a woman appear to be something she's not.