In the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the main character, Hamlet, has two significant women in his life; Gertrude, his mother, and Ophelia, his love. The relationship Hamlet has with these women frequently triggers conflict to arise. He is torn about the death of his father, and the immediate remarriage of his mother, to his uncle. These cruel feelings towards his mother that Hamlet has struggled to deal with have inadvertently caused him to lash out at Ophelia. The women characters, Gertrude and Ophelia, are blatantly treated in a different, yet respectable manner. The treatment towards Gertrude and Ophelia implies a sense of pureness and naivetés early on when these women characters are introduced. In Act One, Scene Three, Ophelia tells her father and brother of Hamlets love for her. The reaction these two men have towards this revelation verifies the innocent persona of Ophelia.
Ophelia: He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.
Polonius: “Affection”? Pooh, you speak like a green, girl
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his “tenders,” as you call them?
Ophelia: I do not know, my lord what I should think.
Polonius: Marry, I will teach you. Think yourself a baby
That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly,
Or- not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Wronging it thus—you’ll tender me a fool (1.3. 97-108) Polonius is playing the cliché “dad role” in this scene. He warns his daughter not to trust Hamlet, and that his intentions are probably not as they seem to her. She believes he really loves her, as where Polonius sees right through Hamlet’s act of love. Being the virtuous daughter that she is, Ophelia takes her father’s advice to be careful with Hamlet. Shakespeare’s comparative use of the word baby in line 104, establishes the purity and innocence of Ophelia. The virtuousness of Gertrude is established in Act One, Scene Five, when the ghost pleads with Hamlet to leave her untouched while seeking revenge on his murderer.
But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
Will state itself in a celestial bed
And prey on garbage. (1.5. 53-58)
William Shakespeare’s use of the words virtue, and angel while describing Gertrude, connect her to this innocent and respectable role. According to Sigmund Freud, personality development occurs in five stages. The third stage, or the phallic stage, occurs at ages three to five years old, and contains the healthy development of sexual interest which is achieved through an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex. This is also known as the Oedipus complex in males and the Electra complex in females. Resolution of the conflicts caused by this desire is the main goal. This complex becomes dormant ages five to twelve during the latency stage, when boys refuse to kiss or hug their mothers, and treat their female peers with disdain. Based on this explanation, there is no basis for an oedipal attraction between Hamlet and his mother, especially considering he is disgusted by her sexuality. Hamlet seems obsessed with his mother’s sexuality because he so appalled by it. He cannot believe his mother, at such an old age, would even remarry, let alone, have it be his uncle. It is not until Act Three, Scene Four, where we learn of Gertrude’s old age.
You cannot call it love, for at your age
The heyday in the blood is tame, it’s humble,
And waits upon the judgment and what judgment
Would strep from this to this? (3.4. 69-72)
Hamlet is saying the passion and excitement in Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius is tame because they are not two teenagers in love, but rather two adults committing such a sinful deed. From the disgust towards his mother’s sexuality, and the immaturity Hamlet has when confronted with Ophelia, the...
Cited: Dacey, John S., John F. Travers, and Lisa B. Fiore. "Theories of Development: Interpreting the Lifespan." Human development across the lifespan. 7th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 29-30. Print.
Shakespeare, William, and Robert S. Miola. Hamlet. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. Print.
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