AO1 • Gertrude becomes a primary victim of the Patriarchal structures of Elizabethan England when she weds Claudius, following the death of her husband and his brother, Old Hamlet. Hamlet immediately identifies this as her losing her status as a ‘Madonna’ figure of chastity and purity and becoming weak willed, feeble minded and naturally promiscuous, unleashing her inner ‘Eve’. Hamlet does not consider that his mother may have had other motives for remarrying and develops an unhealthy obsession with his mother’s sexuality and deep-rooted hatred for the female sex as a result. • It is the preconceptions and judgements Hamlet makes which eventually translates to him degrading his former lover Ophelia for her sexuality. Both female characters are subjected to lambasting from Hamlet throughout the play and both die horrible deaths, suggesting female characters do suffer most.
AO2 • “To live in the ranks sweat of an enseamèd bed, stewed in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty” – Hamlet lambasting Gertrude for her supposed inability to control her sexual desires. • “Two months dead… so excellent a king, that was, to this Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother… why, she would hang on him as if appetite had grown by what it fed on… let me not think on’t; frailty, thy name is woman” – Hamlet is highly critical of his mother’s decision to remarry and begins to generalise women as a whole as being descendants of Eve, driven by sexual lust and unable to control themselves.
AO3 • There were traditionally two ways women were defined in the Elizabethan Era, both of which epitomise the misogyny of the time. The first described women as Madonna figures of purity and chastity who should be worshipped and idolised from afar in keeping with Medieval ideas of Courtly Love. Women were expected to be virgins on marriage. This I is the way in which Hamlet likes to view his mother prior to his father’s death and remarriage. Alternatively, and more commonly, they were deemed potential harlots who were weak willed, feeble minded and promiscuous which was an idea taken from the Biblical story where Eve was seduced by the serpent to commit the ‘original sin’ and inaugurate the Fall of Man. They were also deemed as having excessive and dangerous sexual appetites, as shown in Medieval Literature such as Chaucher’s “Wife of Bath”. This is the way Hamlet views Gertrude when she decides to marry Claudius.• The idea that Gertrude marries purely for the purpose of stability is supported by the contextual detail that women in Shakespeare’s era had no social or political power and were subsequently the possession of their fathers or husbands. Any political or social influence they did have came from the men they were surrounded by. As a result, Gertrude would have found life very difficult for her and Hamlet had she not remarried following Old Hamlet’s death. • Although this was traditionally a time of misogyny, some critics, including Juliet Dusinberre, argue that Shakespeare’s work is ‘feminist in sympathy’ and that Shakespeare himself saw “men and women equal in a world which declared them unequal.
AO5 • Critic Carolyn Heilbrun argues that Gertrude is actually “a peacemaker who remarries for stability and has a right to sexual desires.”• Linda Bamber argues the view of Gertrude as a harlot is purely Hamlet’s and not supported by any textual evidence. The relationship we see between Gertrude and Claudius is never sexual.