KING 'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, 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' mind, with women. Gee, with a role model like this, it's no wonder Hamlet's so messed up.
HAMLET 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!) (1.2.141-150)
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."
Act I, Scene iii
LORD POLONIUS […]From this time Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence. Set your entreatments at a higher rate Than a command to parley. For Lord Hamlet, Believe so much in him, that he is young, And with a larger tether may he walk Than may be given you. In few, Ophelia, Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers, Not of that dye which their investments show, But mere implorators of unholy suits, Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds The better to beguile. This is for all: I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth Have you so slander any moment leisure As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. Look to 't, I charge you. Come your ways. OPHELIA I shall obey, my lord. (1.3.129-145)
After a lengthy speech about why Ophelia can't trust anything Hamlet says or promises (including any and all "vows" of love), Polonius orders Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. As an unmarried daughter, Ophelia has no choice but to "obey," and she does. We soon learn that Ophelia rejects all of Hamlet's letters and refuses to see him—until she gets used as bait to spy on Hamlet. Essentially, Ophelia is powerless —over her own body, over her relationships, over her activities, and even over her speech. It's no wonder that she cracks.
OPHELIA I shall the effect of this good lesson keep As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother, Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine, Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads And recks not his own rede. (1.3.49-55)
After Laertes warns his little sister to keep her legs closed, Ophelia points out the double standard at work in Laertes's advise. In other words, our girl's not afraid to tell her bro that he's got no room to talk about chastity, especially given that he's been running around like a "puff'd and reckless libertine." Ophelia's remarks here also demonstrate that she's not necessarily the wimp some literary critics paint her to be. Here, she gives as good as she gets. So, why does she end up drowning in a brook?
LAERTES […] Then, if he says he loves you, 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. (1.3.27-39)
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.
Act II, Scene ii
HAMLET Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murdered, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words And fall a-cursing, like a very drab, A stallion! (2.2.611-616)
Hamlet seems to think that not avenging his father's murder makes him a coward and, therefore, like a woman—and not a nice, respectable woman: a "whore," a "drab," and a "scullion." Nice.
Act III, Scene i
HAMLET I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another. You jig and amble, and you lisp; and nickname God's creatures and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I'll no more on 't. It hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages. Those that are married already, all but one, shall live. The rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go. (3.1.154-162)
Here, Hamlet uses the artificiality of cosmetics ("paintings") as an analogy for women's deception. Hamlet says fake behavior (playing dumb, walking, talking, and dancing in an affected way) is like makeup that covers a "face" —it makes a woman appear to be something she's not. In other words, Hamlet agrees with decades of teen magazine advice: just be yourself, girls! (Only, something tells us that Hamlet wouldn't actually dig that.)
HAMLET If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell. (3.1.146-152)
This is seriously mean. Here, Hamlet tells Ophelia that women make husbands into "monsters," which is allusion to the idea that cuckolds (men whose wives cheated on them) grew horns. In other words, he assumes that all women are unfaithful and all wives cheat, which is why he orders Ophelia to a "nunnery" (a convent for unmarried women but also a slang term for "brothel"). But why does he flip out like this? Does Hamlet know that Claudius and Polonius are using Ophelia as bait to eavesdrop? If so, does he view Ophelia's participation as a betrayal? Does Ophelia's seeming betrayal remind Hamlet of his mother's betrayal of his father?
Act IV, Scene v
OPHELIA By Gis and by Saint Charity, Alack and fie for shame, Young men will do 't, if they come to 't; By Cock, they are to blame. Quoth she, 'Before you tumbled me, You promised me to wed.' So would I 'a done, by yonder sun, An thou hadst not come to my bed. (4.5.63-71)
We'll let literary critic Carol Thomas Neely handle this one: when Ophelia goes mad, her disturbed language sounds a lot like patriarchal oppression (the oppression of women by men) (source). Take this son: it's about the loss of a maiden's virginity (she's "tumbled") and a broken promise of marriage. Just like girls in almost any historical era, she's stuck: if she doesn't have sex with the guy, he'll dump her for being a prude; if she does, he'll dump her for being—well, not a prude.
Act IV, Scene vii
LAERTES Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia, And therefore I forbid my tears. But yet It is our trick; nature her custom holds, Let shame say what it will. When these are gone, The woman will be out.—Adieu, my lord. I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze, But that this folly drowns it. (4.7.211-217)
When Laertes learns that Ophelia has drowned, he associates his watery tears with the "too much water" Ophelia has inside her. But grief doesn't appear to be very manly —he says that as soon as his tears dry up "the woman will be out" of him. Does that mean Hamlet has been acting like a woman this whole play? And is that maybe one reason he seems to have such a bee in his bonnet about them?