| Quote #1
'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,
Translation: stop acting so ridiculous about your dead dad. According to King Claudius, Hamlet's excessive grief for his father is "unmanly." Why? Bereavement, says Hamlet's new stepdad/uncle, makes him appear weak, unreasonable, and without discipline – all things associated, in Claudius's mind, with women. Gee, with a role model like this, it's no wonder Hamlet's so messed up.
| Quote #2
There's a lot to say about this very important passage (we talk about it in other places like "Family" and "Sex"). The point that we want to make for our discussion of gender is this: Hamlet's attitude toward his mom eventually spills out to include all women. We can see he's disgusted by his mother's sexual "appetite," especially when he remembers the way Gertrude used to "hang" on his father like she couldn't get enough. He also believes that Gertrude's (supposed) hyper-sexuality is the reason for her hasty remarriage, which Hamlet views as a betrayal to his dead father. If we follow Hamlet's train of thought here, we can see that his attitude toward his mother's sexuality and seeming unfaithfulness leads Hamlet to the conclusion that all women are "frail." He doesn't say "Frailty, thy name is Gertrude!" He says, "Frailty, thy name is woman." We'll want to keep this in mind as we read the play.
| Quote #3
[…] Then if he says he loves you,
Laertes warns Ophelia against premarital sex and tells her to guard her "chaste treasure" – not because he's interested in chastity as a moral issue, but because he believes Ophelia's virginity will determine her marriage offers. Since Laertes believes a marriage to the prince is out of the question, Ophelia's honor must remain intact. Laertes may mean well but words have a dangerous and damaging effect: They suggest that Ophelia is defined merely by her sexuality.
History Snack: In Shakespeare's day, there were plenty of handbooks on this matter, including Juan Vives's Instruction of a Christian Woman, which says a maid "hath within her a treasure without comparison." (Vives's handbook was translated from Latin and published in English in 1592.) Another handbook called A Godly Form of Household Government (1603) says that a woman's virginity is "the best portion, the greatest inheritance, and the most precious jewel" of her dowry. Why all this talk of treasure? Well, in the 16th and 17th centuries, eldest sons inherited all their fathers' wealth, titles, and lands (this is called "Primogeniture"). A man's marriage to a virgin was considered a necessity that would insure that a man's children were legitimate and that the family wealth could be passed on from generation to generation. Here, Laertes makes Ophelia's treasure a matter of family business.