Gender Roles in Hamlet

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Gender roles play an important role in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Since this play is set in fair Denmark in the late middle ages, we can assume that women were supposed to act submissive and were expected to oversee all domestic actions. Men, on the other hand, were expected to act dominant, to take initiative, and to be manly. In Hamlet, many of the characters are expected to follow gender roles, and if they do not, they are considered to be unfit in the mind. When Hamlet pours his heart out for his late father, the new King Claudius deems him to be unmanly. To be unmanly is to be womanly, and Claudius considers his new stepson/nephew to be such. “ ‘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 (I.ii.87-94).” Later on, in act 2, Hamlet curses himself for being womanly. “Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murder'd, 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 scullion (II.ii.591-596)!” Hamlet believes that because he did not avenge his father’s murder he is womanly fellow. He compares himself not to respectable women, but to whores, drabs, and scullions. This shows that he believes himself to be a true coward, one who cannot do anything but be a whore. Ophelia is considered womanly as well; this shown when Laertes is speaking with her about how important it is to save her virginity. “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 (I.iii.30-35).”
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