This also further supports that the Oedipal Complex can be applied to Hamlet, because he succeeds in killing “his father” (Claudius). Jones comments “And we have assumed as well that the final murder of Claudius also represents, in its actual psychological significance, the murder of the mother’s husband, made possible by the theme of vengeance for the father. This is the basis of the drama” (124). The act of killing his mother, even directly, could symbolize the act sex. Therefore, Hamlet has finally succeeding in attaining his subconscious need to have a sexual relationship with his mother.
Ophelia is simply a replacement, or stand in for Hamlet’s mother. The way Hamlet treats Ophelia is really the way he wishes to punish his mother. Being unable to talk to his mother directly and having the same “physical feeling for both his mother and Ophelia” (Cahn 91), he hurts the only woman available to him, Ophelia. Polonius warns Ophelia to be careful of Hamlet, and he is right. However, Polonius has his motives in dealing with his daughter. Even though earlier he “discourage her from receiving such attention: this introduces the theme of sexual repression, which will later lead to her madness and death.
Her father will consistently maintain that it is Hamlet’s unrequited love for her that drives him mad” (MacCary 72). He chooses to use Ophelia to provoke Hamlet and to see if he is truly mad or truly in love. “Not only Polonius, but his daughter, Ophelia, suffers for his undiscriminating loyalty to his ruler” (Joseph 80). What these audience members would have seen in Hamlet was not a bright young culture hero accurately mapping the terrain in which he lived, but a tragic figure caught up in a reactionary backlash that offered women nothing except dutiful silent submission or pain and death. (Corum 210).
Certainly, this is true in the interaction between Polonius, Hamlet and Ophelia. Out of loyalty and love of her father, she agrees and play acts with Hamlet. She urges: My honored lord, you know right well you did, And with them words of so sweet breath composed As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost, Take these again, for to the noble mind Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. There, my lord. (Act V, sc vii) When Hamlet fails to fall for the trick and does not return Ophelia’s love he calls her a liar and creates scene to confused her father, who is listening behind the curtain.
Polonius does not care about Ophelia, her feelings, or her place within court. He uses her completely and makes her subject to even more of Hamlet’s disgust. Hamlet screams 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. Polonius refuses to comfort Ophelia and continues to plot against Hamlet, with Queen Gertrude. Ophelia is merely a pawn in the game. She is not seen as daughter or a woman, simple an object which can be manipulated. Gertrude is the most unjustly treated character in Hamlet.
An angry ghost slanders her. Hamlet “will speak daggers to her, but use none” . In the ghost and closet scenes, Gertrude, put on trial, is told she is what is rotten in Denmark. And at the end she is abandoned and killed. Identifying with these accusers and rubber stamping their accusations, numerous critics have written large outside the play the attack Hamlet and the ghost articulate within it with the effect that much of the critical literature on Gertrude is little more than a litany of abuse echoing and amplifying the indictments men level against her onstage (Corum 183) .
Ironically, the only honorable treatment of women in the entire plays comes from the dead King Hamlet. King Hamlet was desperately in love Gertrude. King Hamlet’s relationship accurately represents a past reality in which Hamlet’s father was nothing but a loving husband (“a radiant Angel”) and Gertrude was nothing but in love with him until he died: so loving to my mother, That he [ Hamlet Sr. ] might not beteem [let] the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly. . . . 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. (Act V, sc vi) If Hamlet is describing the past accurately–if Gertrude and Hamlet Sr. really were in love to the degree Hamlet says they were–then it truly would be inexplicable why she should stop mourning so soon, fall for Claudius, and ruin Hamlet’s opportunity to become king, however inadvertently (MacCary 72). While Gertrude, initially, is seen as a cunning and strong women is also mistreated by her new husband Claudius.
It becomes clear that Claudius is only using Gertrude to gain power and become King. Once, King he has very little need for Gertrude. The relationship between Claudius and Gertrude lacks true love. Claudius is portrayed as an evil seducer seeking power and wealth. Hamlet calls him “incestuous” and and “adulterate beast” who manipulates Gertrude into marriage and perhaps murder. To persuade Gertrude he had to lie and convince the Queen that he was in love with her. After he becomes King he marginalizes his love for her and his relationship with her is all business.
Claudius delivers a long speech explaining his sudden marriage to Gertrude — that it was made necessary by the threat of Norway to Denmark’s borders. He dispatches ambassadors to Norway to protest, then turns his attention to Laertes, who would return to his studies in Paris. Polonius, the king’s most trusted councillor, asks his approval, and Claudius agrees. He then turns his attention to Hamlet, who finally moves down stage to confront his uncle, now stepfather: “A little more than kin and less than kind”.
(MacCary 130) Many critics believe that the treatment of women in Hamlet is indictative of Shakespeare’s hatred of women. However, it is clear that Shakespeare is truly commenting on the nature of man to manipulate and control creatures who are weaker then they are. Polonius abuses his fatherly role in sending Ophelia out to do her dirty work. Hamlet, potentially in love with mother and angry he can not have her, acts out and releases his frustration on Ophelia.
Claudius, hubris and cocky, uses Gertrude to become King by claiming he has always been desperately in love with her. The fate of both women is the same – they die. While Ophelia kills her and Gertrude is killed, both of the weaker sex are considered disposable and, in the end, unnecessary.
Corum, Richard. Understanding Hamlet A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. , eds. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.