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Hamlet Gender Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line) according to the Norton edition

Quote #1

'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature,
To give these mourning duties to your father.
[…] but to persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness. 'Tis unmanly grief.
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschooled:
(1.2.90-92; 96-101)

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

That it should come to this:
But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two.
So excellent a king, that was, to this
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and Earth.
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on. And yet, within a month
(Let me not think on 't; frailty, thy name is woman!)

Hamlet may start with his mom, but he ends with all women. He's disgusted by his mother's sexual "appetite," and blames that for her treacherous remarriage. Ergo, somehow, all women are "frail." He doesn't say "Frailty, thy name is Gertrude!"; he says, "Frailty, thy name is woman."

Quote #3

[…] Then, if he says he loves
It fits your wisdom so far to believe it
As he in his particular act and place
May give his saying deed, which is no further
Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal.
Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain
If with too credent ear you list his songs
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmaster'd importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia; fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.

Laertes tells her to guard her "chaste treasure" —not because he's interested in chastity as a moral issue (this isn't about Promise Keepers), but because he believes Ophelia's virginity is literally valuable. It'll determine what kind of marriage offers she'll get, and what kind of family she—and he—can align themselves with.

History Snack: In Shakespeare's day, there were plenty of handbooks on this matter, including Juan Vives's Education 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"). Marrying a virgin insured (theoretically) that a man's children were legitimate and that the family wealth could be passed on from generation to generation. So, literally, marrying a virgin was like insuring your fortune: just good business.

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