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O Most Pernicious Women!
For several centuries, scholars and erudite experts have attempted to analyze one of the most momentous characters within the literary world, William Shakespeare‟s infamous Prince of
Denmark, Hamlet. Acclaimed as one of the most profound individuals ever created by man, the argument for Hamlet‟s tragic flaw has ranged from his antic disposition to vengeful craze and even breached the depths of insanity. These may be realistic bases for his disastrous downfall, but with such a complex character as the volatile prince, one may discern that several other temperaments may have added to such a hasty demise. One of these underlying blemishes deals with the motif of women, which is exhibited through a majority of the play. Hamlet displays obvious rancor and acrimony toward the two leading ladies, Gertrude, his mother and Ophelia, his girlfriend. Through Hamlet‟s use of derogatory terms and verbal abuse toward the female characters, the prince of Denmark demonstrates a tragic flaw, misogyny, which becomes an underlying cause to his downfall.
When Hamlet is first presented, he appears downcast and despondent, clearly troubled by some sinister pre-occurring event. The man already demonstrates an emotional instability, and during his „Too sullied flesh‟ soliloquy, Hamlet‟s distraught behavior is clearly displayed as he
professes his desire to die, but cannot do so because his life is so appalling. One of the reasons for the dreadfulness is due to his mother. The roots for Hamlet‟s misogyny are visibly debuted
as he thinks,
And yet, within a month
(Let me not think on ‟t; frailty, thy name is woman!),
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father‟s body,
Like Niobe, all tears-why she, even she
(O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer!), married with my
Within this profession of Hamlet‟s innermost thoughts, it is blatantly visible that his mother‟s overhasty marriage to his uncle so quickly after his father‟s funeral has affected the prince
deeply to the core. He views it as a betrayal to his true father‟s memory and himself. Because
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this causes him so much agony that he considers suicide, Hamlet is not going to be able to let this perfidious act pass quickly from his thoughts. This will gradually eat away at his mind, always dwindling on the edge of his conscious mind, slowly corroding at his sanity, until finally, given the right inducement; it snaps at his entire being and consumes his soul. The foundation for Hamlet‟s animosity toward women has been set.
This enmity only continues to blossom into a wilted, diseased flower as the play progresses, hindering Hamlet‟s ability to concentrate. It flits on the edge of his consciousness
like an infuriating nuisance fly. Each time he attempts to dispose of the feeling, it comes back at him tenfold, taking possession of his judgment in the least likely of moments. One such occurrence happens in Act I, Scene V during Hamlet‟s second soliloquy after his disturbing
conversation with his father‟s ghost. During Hamlet‟s “O all you host of heaven” soliloquy,
Hamlet‟s thoughts are centered on revenge upon his satyr-like uncle, which is one of the three
tasks his father enlisted him with. The other two duties are to not harm his mother and to maintain his sanity. Yet amidst this and his attempt at dedicating his mind to a resounding resolution for retribution, he utters “O most pernicious woman!” (I.v.106). His mother‟s
unfaithfulness continues to distract him from becoming a one-minded agent of vengeance. This animosity toward women constantly diverts Hamlet‟s thinking from accomplishing his goal and
will most likely cause him to commit some horrid act which he will later regret. If Hamlet lets his misogyny take control of himself, he may harm his mother and violate one of his father‟s
orders. Therefore, because of this, Hamlet would meet his end much more quickly.
Moreover, when certain feelings are suppressed for a lengthy period of time or denied expression, their potency builds up behind a portrayed disposition, just like a river waiting to burst forth from a dam. Then, when least expected, these feelings of malice will be triggered by such a derailing event that their dominance will take hold without care to what detriment they may cause. It is like playing Russian Roulette. This is such the case with Hamlet and his misogyny. For two months these feelings have hidden behind a mask of antic disposition, as the prince parades about Elsinore, appearing to be insane. Then, triggered by what he feels to be a further betrayal by another woman within his close affections, this animosity leaps at a most unwilling victim, Ophelia, his girlfriend. In the infamous nunnery scene, after discerning that Ophelia was an agent of espionage used against him by his uncle Claudius, he lashes out in misogynistic fury, crying,
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I have heard of your paintings too, well
Enough. God hath given you one face, and you
Make yourselves another. You jig and amble, and
You lisp; you nickname God‟s creatures and make
Your wantonness your ignorance. Go to,
I‟ll no more on „t. It hath made me mad… (III.i.145-150)
Hamlet‟s anger at women comes out as he insults and maltreats the feminine race, calling them
two-faced and gratuitous. He, himself, even admits that women‟s faults drive him crazy, which
could be interpreted that they either cause him to lose his mind or lose control over his emotions. Either way, women, especially his perception of their treachery and duplicity, elicit a negative response from him. Furthermore, within the nunnery scene, Hamlet evidently takes out his frustrations at not accomplishing anything to avenge his father on Ophelia. He almost goes as far as to blame it on women. And now he has two motives to do so. Besides the betrayal of his mother sleeping with his father‟s brother, he now has the additional act of infidelity by Ophelia. For after Hamlet realized that someone was watching them, he questioned her about her father‟s
location, and she lied. This deceit caused Hamlet to equate Ophelia with his father‟s murderer
and through that comes a vent for Hamlet‟s rancor feelings toward women intermixed with
aggravation and dissatisfaction toward himself for not avenging his father. Furthermore, by verbally abusing Ophelia, Hamlet now isolates himself further, thus leaving himself alone with his resentment, malice, and spite. These feelings will only fester and eventually drive him to do something he will later regret.
Continuing on, revenge is a cruel mistress and will drive one to the utmost reaches of hell until one‟s quest is accomplished. It can force abandonment of all forms of companionship and
union in favor of all unpleasant thoughts. Thus is the case with our tragic hero, Hamlet. When left alone in seclusion with his misogyny and malevolence, these ill feelings only persist and prolong their hold over the prince. They consume him, until they all but oppress and dictate his actions, and obscure his thoughts, leaving muddled judgment to ascertain situations. These circumstances surrounded Hamlet as he went to speak with his mother, whom he viewed as a blood traitor by her lecherous deed. Thus these misogynistic thoughts cloud Hamlet‟s acuity and
in his rage he speaks at his mother with dagger like tongues while with her in her closet,
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If thou canst mutine in a matron‟s bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax
And melt in her own fire. Proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardor gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn,
And reason panders will. (III.iv.84-89)
Hamlet‟s insolence, wrath, and impudence pour forth directed completely and solely toward his
mother. He completely displays his misogyny as he basically tells his mother that her lustful nature, (which should not occur in older women and excuses any immoral and licentious behavior in youth), drove her to marry his most satyr-like uncle, which goes against all logic and good sense. Furthermore, this act of indecorous, boorish behavior may simply be a way for Hamlet to vent his irritation of not avenging his father on his mother. He clearly fails to remember another one of the tasks entrusted to him; to not harm his mother. Moreover, he is so caught up in his misogynistic rave that, not thinking rationally, he stabs blindly at the curtain and kills the wrong man, his girlfriend‟s father, Polonius. If he had not been so engrossed in the defects of women, Hamlet most likely would have not foolishly gored the eavesdropper without knowing whether he was friend or foe. Then, if he had not killed the advisor, the events surrounding Hamlet‟s demise may have not unfolded. Hamlet‟s animosity toward women
blatantly clouded his coherent thoughts and caused him to commit a most penitent act.
Overall, Hamlet‟s expression of his misogynistic feelings through blatant insolence and rancor could most definitely be attributed to be an underlying cause to Hamlet‟s downfall. The
very roots for his animosity stemmed from his mother‟s lecherous betrayal, which becomes a
constant distraction flitting about Hamlet‟s consciousness, hindering his quest from revenge. These feelings only grow more potent as times passes, and soon Hamlet finds a vent for his frustration at his inefficiency at accomplishing any act of revenge, the two women in his life, both of whom he feels have committed acts of treachery toward him. Thus his misogyny grows, clouding his judgment, obscuring his senses and forcing him to commit horrible acts that violate his three duties entrusted to him by his father. Without his hatred of women, Hamlet may have survived.