Essay: Masculinity and Femininity Observed in Hamlet William

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Masculinity and Femininity Observed in Hamlet

William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, is one that explores the very depth of the human psyche. The character is popular because he is not simple not is he flat. He is complex and, as a result, this makes him more human and appealing to audiences. One of Hamlet's greatest conflicts arises from notions that deal with masculinity and femininity. Gender distinctions are at the heart of hamlet's inner turmoil and they prove to be serious forces with which he must cope. Hamlet's masculinity is charged from the onset of the play, placing in Hamlet the strong urge to be a man. Hamlet cannot rise to the occasion quickly enough and this causes him to feel inferior and inadequate. Hamlet connects this inferiority to feminine behavior, which becomes a significant aspect of his character development. Gertrude's behavior compounds this situation in that she is forcing him to distrust women altogether. As a result of his anger toward Gertrude, Ophelia becomes an innocent victim of circumstance. Hamlet is driven by gender distinctions and by understanding them, we can identify with the man.

Hamlet's issues begin with notions regarding masculinity. He is haunted by the ghost and his request to avenge his father, which is something that he cannot do right away. A prince, however, should feel compelled to avenge his father's death without prodding but this is not so with Hamlet. Therefore, the man begins to experience self-doubt and loathing. This doubt and loathing is directly related to Hamlet's manhood. The model of masculinity is his father and Hamlet experiences difficulty living up to this model. This inability shakes him to the core. Goddard notes that Hamlet experiences a conflict between masculine and feminine traits, adding that he is a "sort of unfulfilled promise of the Platonic man-woman" (Goddard 70). The tension between these poles, Goddard explains, seeks an "equilibrium too unstable to be maintained" (70). This unstable equilibrium drives Hamlet through most of the play because, despite his best efforts, he cannot find a balance. Michael Kimmel claims that Hamlet directly addresses issues of masculinity beginning with the image of young Hamlet "dominated by the idealized memory of old Hamlet" (369). The next masculine image we have in the play is that of the "demonized Claudius" (369). Hamlet is also haunted by the image of Pyrrhus in the play and becomes "temporarily obsessed with the image of warrior masculinity that Pyrrhus represents and he berates himself for his effeminacy in not acting likewise" (369). Kimmel agrees with Goddard in that the masculine and the feminine become polarized in the play, which is marked by Hamlet's language and introspection. Hamlet's self-examination reveals his "unease that his more humane impulses are somehow effeminate" (369). This angst creates a tension and anger that is displaced toward the women in his life. It is also worth noting that Hamlet looks to Fortinbras as a masculine role model.

Hamlet struggles with what it means to be a man. Kimmel points out that Hamlet is attempting to operate by the social codes of the time in which he lives. Honor codes were complex that imply a warrior ethic on one hand and self-control on the other. Hamlet is caught between these two dictates and, as a result, "reaches eagerly for an exemplar who seems to have solved the problem of masculine gender construction" (369) in Fortinbras. Hamlet remarks that thoughts "make cowards of us all" (Shakespeare III.i.91) and he wishes that he would stop thinking about things so much. If his mind was not clouded by thought, he could step and be a man. His reflection allows us to see the importance of masculinity. Hamlet… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Masculinity and Femininity Observed in Hamlet William.  (2009, June 23).  Retrieved July 17, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Masculinity and Femininity Observed in Hamlet William."  23 June 2009.  Web.  17 July 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Masculinity and Femininity Observed in Hamlet William."  June 23, 2009.  Accessed July 17, 2019.