Queen Gertrude, Ophelia and Hamlet’s Obsession with Female Sexuality

Throughout William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character is constantly commenting on the sexuality of both his mother and Ophelia. He begins by pointing out that his mother, Queen Gertrude, has barely mourned the death of her husband and his father, King Hamlet,  before marrying the late king’s brother, Claudius. He comments, “Like Niobe, all tears, why she, even she-/O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason/ Would have mourned longer!” (1.2.149-151). Here Hamlet references Niobe, the goddess who wept for the murders of all of her children even after she was turned into a stone statue. Hamlet also suggests that a person not as sound of mind as his mother would have known to allot more time to mourn out of respect to his late father the King.

Hamlet’s considerations for the motivations of his mother Gertrude are somewhat one-dimensional. In his anger and hurt, he does not consider that his mother is unaware of the truth behind his father’s death, but decides ,regardless of her dangerous situation on the throne without a king named, that she is reacting inappropriately. Hamlet continues to criticize his mother, this time by discussing her sexuality. He states, “O most wicked speed, to post/ With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (1.2.156-157). Hamlet immediately seeks to police his mother’s sexuality. In these examples, Hamlet neglects to identify his mother as a product of anything other than her sexual choices.

Hamlet personifies fortune when speaking with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act II when he refers to Fortune as a “strumpet” (2.2.231). Here, Hamlet could have stated that he mistrusts Fortune or find fault with Fortune, but why does she have to be a whore? Hamlet continues to find fault with women over their sexuality, and finds a way to bring it up (even in this case, in which no real woman is being referred to!).Hamlet’s obsession with sexuality is becoming more and more evident through his dialogue with other characters. In his interactions with Ophelia, to whom he first wrote to announce his feelings for her.  

The Reign

Julius Caesar was old for a Roman man; the average life expectancy for a Roman man was 35 years old, including those likely to be eliminated during wartime. Caesar lived to be 56 years old before being assassinated when he attempted to leave the line of duty for the life of a politician. Julius Caesar had progressed from a foot soldier to a great leader by 44 BC and survived his youth in a world with very high mortality rates for children, so old that he would have reached the “threshold of old age” in 4 to 9 years (Cokayne 1).

People say that Cleopatra coupled with him in order to conceive Ptolemy “Caesarion” XV by the loins of Rome’s ruler. However, Julius Caesar was past his prime in 48 BC, by the time Caesarion would have been conceived; Cleopatra’s conception was only four years before Caesar’s assassination, and he would have been 52 years old. If she bore him any children, his enemies could also easily assassinate the youth easily and quietly due to the high child mortality rates. If Cleoptra was trying to seduce Caesar and obtain the Roman “throne,” then it would have been better for her to try her hand at obtaining Mark Anthony as a lover, since he would be older and feel more superior than her but also be younger and more fertile.

Caesarion would not be able to be declared Caesar’s heir, anyway, because Caesar’s relations with Cleopatra were not official and the boy is a bastard son. Gaius Octavius would be the only option for Caesar’s heir, and Octavius could be kept in check by keeping an eye on him or killing him off in the war. He may have been older than the zero to ten year-old youth deaths, but deaths occur all the time in wars.

Caesar seems to acknowledge that he and Calpurnia will bear no more children in the play’s first scene, when he requests that Antonio include Calpurnia in the Lupricalia festival:

Forget not in your speed, Antonio,

To touch Calpurnia, for our elders say

The barren, touched in this holy chase,

Shake off their sterile curse. (Julius Caesar 1.2.8-11)

Throughout the play, Caesar refuses to believe in any form of supernatural, whether it be the soothsayer’s warning or his wife’s visions. Caesar rebuffs the soothsayer by claiming that he is only a dreamer when the seer warns him of the Ides of March (1.2.26). Similarly, Caesar only decides to stay home at Calpurnia’s bidding in order to pacify his frantic wife (2.2.54-56). Due to Caesar’s lack of belief, his “trust” in the festival’s tradition seem more like a jest than him actually believing it will help.

I do not understand why the conspirators are worried about Caesar overreaching his power and becoming a monarch. Caesar seems like a realist and a reasonable man, which would mean that he knows that his reign will only lasted for his lifetime. All of his children are easy to watch or slay, and Julia’s a woman, Caesarion’s father is debatable, and Octavius is Caesar’s adopted son.

 


 

 

Works Cited

Cokayne, Karen. Experiencing Old Age in Ancient Rome. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011. Book.

Sweet Transgender

Twelfth Night could easily be manipulated into portraying the story of a transgendered teenager in a gender-specific school, instead of a lady stranded in another kingdom and taking up the guise of a man. We hear enough stories in co-education schools about transgendered students being told to use their biological sexed lockers and bathrooms. With this thought travelling around my head, I considered the idea of just how many transgendered students must have been banned from gender-specific schools.

The play fits so well with the problems that transgendered students encounter that it would be easy to switch out the shipwreck scene in exchange for Cesario to sign up or move into the dorm. Just as Cesario does not initially understand the intricacies of Elizabethan society masculine etiquette, so schoolboy Cesario might not be adjusted to the behaviors the current world expects in its men. If Cesario is not an experienced transgendered male, he might not completely understand the differences between how girls are supposed to act and how boys are expected to behave: girls are presumed to be overemotional until proven otherwise and boys are often scolded for showing emotions, girls are too fragile and good-natured for fighting while boys are told to fight for what they want, etc.

The differences between men and women are already present in Twelfth Night and would merely need to be transitioned to the current world. The question already exists in the play anyway, thanks to science: Viola can pass as Sebastian and the fact that monozygotic (or identical) twins are always the same sex makes me wonder if Sebastian was originally female who associates as a man or if Viola was born male, associates as a woman, and then dresses as a man. Directors often have Duke Orsino gift a rapier upon Cesario and has to help him equip the dueling weapon in Act 1 Scene 4, because women were not supposed to duel or fight in Shakespearean times.

On the other hand, the director could push the adaptation to press how similar men and women are, similar to how Orsino and Cesario debate whether women can love as much as men do (2.4). Orsino states that men change their minds often and love only a woman’s beauty, but later states that Olivia cannot love as strongly as he does, which is similar to how women are told that men only love them for their looks. However, women also like to find themselves a handsome partner. Both men and women have hobbies and personalities, likes and dislikes, and know only what they understand. The more time goes by, the more seems to be similar between the sexes.

Twelfth Night seems like a feminist’s cry to treat women the same as men, so the adaptation could promote transgendered women and men as being human and having rights as well. The changing room problems could be implied or utilized in the adaptation in order to show how cruel it is to refuse to accept the student’s gender. Granted, if that is the route taken, perhaps it would be best to leave out the end:

If nothing lets to make us happy both

But this my masculine usurped attire,

Do not embrace me till each circumstance

Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump

That I am Viola. Twelfth Night 5.1.242-246

It might give the impression that it is improper for one to choose his, her, or xeir gender.

Madness and the Midnight Hour

Despite how numerous adaptations of Hamlet promote that Hamlet I’s ghost does not actually exist and that it is proof of Hamlet II going mad, it is interesting to note that the senior’s ghost originally appears to (and interacts with) Bernardo, Horatio, and Marcellus.

The ghost appears during the twelfth hour, or the “witching hour,” which promotes the ghost as being supernatural. This theme seems to be consistent with the king’s ghost, because the ghost has been seen three nights in a row, possibly always at the twelfth hour, since they are speaking as if it will appear again. The hour has become popular in many fantasy-inclined books, movies, and even video games across the world and is often utilized in a way that promotes insight into the protagonists’ thoughts and state of mind. The Persona series is a set of games that heavily rely on the idea in order to have suicidal/depressed teenagers realize that life has meaning and that everyone must overcome their demons/problems. Similarly to the darker selves that appear after the midnight hour in Persona and try to convince the protagonists to commit suicide, Hamlet I appears in order to convince his son to murder Hamlet II’s uncle.

Due to the guards exiting to describe the experience with Hamlet I, it is reasonable to assume that they could have initiated his visitations. When Hamlet II questions his mother in the ghost’s presence, she denies seeing or hearing the apparition and asks who Hamlet II is speaking to when he converses with Hamlet I (3.4). Hamlet II has repressed his grief over his father’s death and his mother’s quick remarriage because children were not allowed to question their parents in the past. If Hamlet II were to on his grief, like he does throughout the play, he his actions would be considered irrational; instead of Hamlet II merely playing at being lunacy, he seems to slowly become more deranged. As a result of the queen’s inability to see the ghost, the audience is inclined to believe that Hamlet is the only one able to see him and that the prince must be hallucinating as a result of going mad.

The idea of mass hallucination is promoted by the guards adding to each other’s description of the ghost and occasionally speaking the total opposite. The audience/reader, Bernardo, and Marcellus rely on Horatio to tell them that the ghost looks like the previous king and is wearing his armor, despite it being nigh impossible that there is no single depiction of the triumphant occasion. Similarly, the ghost exits the stage when Marcellus disagrees with Horatio and Bernardo when they state that Hamlet I has appeared:

Ber. ‘Tis here!

Hor. ‘Tis here!

Mar. ‘Tis gone!

[Exit Ghost.] (William Shakespeare 1.1)

However, unlike when the ghost appears before Hamlet II, it is extremely unlikely to have been a result of mass hallucination shared between Bernardo, Horatio, and Marcellus; Hamlet I has appeared multiple nights in a row and multiple people have seen the apparition. Unless the “loyal” guards are gathering together for their shifts and ignoring their duties to get high repeatedly, their shared experience is uncanny.

 

Hamlet’s Character

Hamlet has been one of my favorite plays we have read this semester filled with symbolism, emotion and deceit. What really caught my interest is Hamlet’s inability to avenge his father. He realizes that he will in turn die for doing so yet he has no will to live otherwise. Hamlet as a character is fascinated with difficult questions that are in his mind require meaningful proof, however when shown proof that his father was killed by his uncle, Hamlet obsesses with trying to get his uncle to prove his guilt before acting. For example, Hamlet tries to spy on his uncle during the play the visiting actors are preforming, which closely relates to the real situation. By seeing proof that his uncle is guilty, with his running out of the room and causing a scene, Hamlet still wants to be sure he is guilty.

Hamlet’s actions are somewhat pre-meditated and taken upon with swiftness, and in some situations completely erratic balancing on the boarder of madness i.e, when he stabs Polonius behind the curtain without checking who was there. His behavior repulses and causes concern for those he is around, disrupting the order of their everyday lives and selling himself out.

Hamlet is also very melancholy within the play. He provokes the emotions of the audience allowing us to sympathize with him. His mother married her late husband’s murderer who happens to be Hamlet Sr.’s brother, this very taboo. She also did not consider her only child’s well being in the process of making very large life decisions.

The afterlife and the mystery of where one’s soul goes after they die is a rather strong theme in the play. After Hamlet meets the ghost of his father he becomes obsessed with the afterlife, pondering the where abouts of souls in cemeteries. Hamlet questions suicide multiple times and contemplates whether or not it is morally legitimate to take one’s life to escape the pain in their world. He then concludes that religiously he will go to hell for committing suicide, and that may be worse than what he is currently enduring, (III.i). This I believe may interfere with Hamlet’s ability to act and avenge his father. He as a character needs ethical and emotional proof and motivation in order to act, as well as the other character’s in this play. Most of the character’s plans to take action are manipulated and misguided and ultimately end in demise, i.e Laertes’ vengeance was quickly changed by Claudius and ended in his own death.

Hamlet’s Revenge

Hamlet does not seem very rushed to complete the task he has promised the ghost of his father. Hamlet had opportunities to kill Claudius and doesn’t take them for one reason or another: “Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hint. When he is drunk asleep or in his rage, or in the’incestuous pleasure of his bed, At gaming, swearing, or about some act that has no relish of salvation in it” (3.3.88-92). He also could have just killed him at any time when no one was around. Hamlet could have sneaked up on Claudius and killed him with no witnesses, but he chooses to carefully plan it out so that it takes time. He develops his plan to act mad: “As I perchance hereafter shall i think meet/ To put an antic disposition on” (1.5.172-173). He enlists the help and trust of his two friends Horatio and Marcellus to keep his secret. Hamlet goes through the trouble of making everyone believe that he has actually gone crazy. He even pushes Ophelia away, whom he loves, ” Get thee to a nunnery, go, farewell. Or if thou/ wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them” (3.1.138-140). It is a big question as to why he would risk his reputation with Ophelia by acting mad simply to carry out his plan which could be carried out in other ways. His delay and procrastination begs the question: Does he want to kill King Claudius?

It is a perfectly valid question. With all of the plotting and delay, he is in no rush to avenge his father. He also doesn’t really mourn his father. For instance, during the play, Hamlet wonders why he is unable to weep for his father’s death: “Yet I,/ A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak/ Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, / And can say nothing- no, not for a king/ A damned defeat was made” (2.2. 543-548). Hamlet questions his legitimacy because he is not entirely willing to complete this task for his father and he does not really mourn the loss. Hamlet makes it seem as though that the plan is his sole priority, when he is questioning his mother and talking to the ghost of his father, but readers can see the hesitation he feels. Why else would he need such an elaborate and long plan if he wasn’t secretly hoping it wouldn’t work out for him? The whole play surrounds Hamlet’s plan to kill his uncle and avenge his father, but he doesn’t seem as willing as he would like others to think he is.

Laertes’ Revenge

In 4.5, Laertes is bent on revenge against Hamlet due to the fact that he has killed Polonius, his father. At first his speech about his anger and resentment against Hamlet seems a little all over the place—bastardy, cuckholdry, illegitimacy?—but after taking  a closer look at the motivation behind Laertes’ words and the important issues of the day as highlighted in Shakespeare’s plays, his utterances seem much less misguided and in fact very apt for his motivation.

After finding out about his father’s death, Laertes exclaims “That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard, / Cries cuckhold to my father, brands the harlot / Even here between the chase unsmirchéd brow / Of my true mother” (1760 4.5 114-117). These lines at first seem out of context—there is no indication previously that Laertes is a bastard and no reason for him to think so after the death of Polonius. However, upon a more close reading, it is evident that Laertes is talking more about his demeanor than making a claim about his legitimacy. He is asserting that if he is to remain calm and not avenge his father’s death in some way, he is proving himself to be illegitimate for the fact that he does not care enough and would not be believable as his father’s son. Now while this might be a slight exaggeration on the part of Laertes, it does prove the point that he is completely committed to seeking revenge on Hamlet due to him killing his father.

Also, bringing into question the topic of illegitimacy adds to the severity of Laertes’ vows. The status of bastard in sixteenth century Europe—especially among those of a higher class—was a serious topic, as evidenced in other Shakespeare plays (most notably King Lear). To be a bastard was to be less than, to be looked down upon, to be illegitimate. Bastards were entitled to nothing in the scheme of primogeniture and were often tortured by their status as illegitimate for the rest of their lives. Laertes is not committing to this status of illegitimacy and not deeming himself inferior to Hamlet. On the contrary, he is emphasizing his strength and legitimacy while deemphasizing Hamlet’s same traits. Subtly, Laertes and by extension Shakespeare are calling out Hamlet for being passive and cowardly in the face of his father’s murder. Putting Laertes and Hamlet parallel to each other and emphasizing their different reactions after the death of their fathers is giving claim to Laertes as a powerful and vengeful character while Hamlet takes a more passive stance—thereby giving them a rivalry and motivation for the both of them.

With Laertes’ metaphor of illegitimacy, the audience recognizes the severity of his motivation for revenge and redemption for his father in a context that is recognizable and serious as it relates to the time period in which Shakespeare was writing.

Cassius and Brutus: Anti Mob-Mentality Hypocrites

Sorry, I know that title was a mouthful. I want to begin by drawing off of our class discussion last Friday, in which we discussed that the Roman Republic looks more like a democracy, in which the people elect representatives and so, the people have the power. In The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, the power of the people is evident from the first scene, when they give up their badges of status for the citizen-created holiday that celebrates Caesar. Flavius negatively notes this in 1.1.3-4 when he states that, “Being mechanical, you ought not walk/Upon a labouring day without the sign/Of your profession?” However, the tribunes are seemingly outnumbered in celebrating this day. Flavius is not alone in attributing a commoner’s social status as the only aspect of their identity. Murellus addresses the pro-Caesar commoners in their revelry when he exclaims, “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!/ O, you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,/Knew you not Pompey?” (1.1.34-36). Granted, it would be more respectful for these commoners to mourn the loss of their former leader, but these tribunes further degrade these men of lower status why? Because they do not think according to how Flavius and Murellus believe they should think.

This pattern of men in government positions calling out the commoners (and trying to persuade them to think otherwise) continues with Cassius responding to Casca’s assertion that any man has the power to free himself .Cassius explains:

And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?

Poor man, I know he would not be a wolf

But that he sees the Romans are but sheep.

He were no lion, but not the Romans hinds

Those that with haste will make a mighty fire

Begin it with weak straws. (1.3.102-107)

Here, cassius is clearly aligning the Roman people with the image of a mindless pack or herd in mind, He does not believe that the Roman people are capable of thinking for themselves. with the commonfolk so gullible and devoid of thought, Caesar did not have a very challenging task in winning them over. Out of all of this, my argument here is not that the Roman people aren’t gullible. They are quite gullible, especially when we think back to the video watched in class today while Brutus and Mark Antony were giving their respective speeches- sheesh. My argument is that it is wrong for Cassius and these other men in power to degrade the free-thinking abilities of the common people if they themselves are going to use tactics ( both to the Romans and to Brutus) to persuade and manipulate thinking!

Cassius begins by convincing Brutus that since his ancestor was the founder of Rome that he (Brutus in the play) be just as great as Caesar.

It is clear that Cassius is aggravated with the commoners’ support of Caesar to be king, because he views Caesar as weak due to his seizures and if Caesar is to be thought of as anything, he should be thought of as no different than he or Brutus (1.2.143-147).

Shakespeare’s use of rhetoric

The rhetoric used in this play is the most interesting to me; we see most characters use it to direct people’s opinions and views. For example Cassius uses rhetoric to convince Brutus that he should be ruling not Caesar, he compels him by explaining that Caesar is weak and suffers from illnesses, therefore will not make a very strong ruler, this appealing to the character’s and readers logic. The power of making people do things based off of using words as persuasion is very powerful; we especially see this particular gift in Antony. First we see Antony convince the conspirators that he is on their side when he says, “Let each man render me with his bloody hand” (III.i.185). We then see Antony sway the forum against Brutus after Brutus convinced the public that he was honorable and just for killing Caesar. We see Antony use specific strategies such as repetition, sarcasm and figurative language when he discusses the death of Caesar and says, “Brutus said he was ambitious,” and he ends with “But Brutus is an honorable man” (III. ii. 103-104).

In addition to his persuative words, Antony uses props in his oration with his audience, he first uses Caesars will, and reminds the audience that Caesar was once begged to rule Rome, that he loved his city. This adding anticipation, making the people curious with passion about what could be written in Caesar’s will that pertains to them. We then see Anthony using the cloth that covers Caesar’s dead body, displaying where the blood has soiled and how the “honorable men,” brutally murdered their once desired ruler. To add more of an effect to his argument, Antony then shows the audience Caesar’s dead body, this playing with the audiences emotions, allowing them to contemplate how the men they just were agreeing with could possibly be trust worthy if they brutally murdered their once beloved aspiring ruler.

Over all the rhetoric used especially so far by Antony has been very intriguing, it makes me contemplate the use or Oratory in Rome historically. The rhetoric used by Antony is reminiscent of Plato’s Gorgias, and the analysis of rhetoric Plato tries to articulate. It is essentially determined by Plato that oratory is a “knack” used in order to deceive people, even the most educated. This leads me to wonder what Shakespeare is trying to accomplish in alluding to the English monarchy, so far the play has been making the greater population seem very impressionable and unable to act rationally with out a ruler or proper persuasion. Over all, I’m excited to see more rhetoric being used and what trouble arises from it.

What Are Shakespeare’s Intentions?

In any of Shakespeare’s plays, it is difficult to exactly understand the political or social stance the playwright is taking. His ideas are not stated outright; they are usually more subtly revealed through characterization, prose, and the context in which the play was written.

In Julius Caesar this ambiguity is no exception. Set in the context of Roman political upheaval, one could be quick to assume Shakespeare is advocating for the denouncement of the monarchy, a parallel to the monarchy he is living in when he wrote the play in 1599. However, Shakespeare—while trying to promote his own radical ideas about politics and social order—wanted ultimately to please his audience and specifically those audience members that supported his plays with monetary compensation by way of ticket sales and promotion. This idea suggests that those who were in power dictated the ending outcome of the plays, no matter what Shakespeare may have thought himself of those ideas. In the case of Caesar, that meant that the monarchy would ultimately be the ending order of Rome, paralleling the monarchial government of his time period.

There are a few ways that Shakespeare rhetorically points to a monarchy as the ideal government. Firstly, the characterization of Antony and his contrast in Brutus. Anthony is given many opportunities for persuasive, rhetorical argument which called for the restoration of the monarchy and the goodness that was Rome under Caesar. Brutus, later in 3.1, is given less time to speak and does so more in a way that does not benefit those who he is speaking to. Antony, in his appeal, offers the regular plebeians of Rome, tangible objects such as “seventy five drachmas” and “all his walks, / his private arbours, and new-planted orchards, / on this side. He hath left them you, / And to your heirs forever—common pleasures / To walk about and recreate yourselves” (1593 3.3 233-240) while Brutus can only offer intangible gifts of freedom and honor. For those regular, working class people, the promise of money and gifts is alone a persuasive argument in support of the monarchy.

Lastly, the way in which Shakespeare writes the speeches of Antony and Brutus is indicative of his stance in the matter of monarchy versus democracy. Antony’s speeches are written in verse, giving them a melodic quality that is more appealing to the ear of the listener. Brutus, on the other hand, has his speech written in dense prose, which could be more difficult to make appealing and therefore give his cause less force and rhetoric.

So although there are some  instances that could be indicative of Shakespeare’s ideas leaning towards a democracy—the fact that the play so far has focused on Brutus and his cause is indication enough that Shakespeare may have had some democratic tendencies—he obviously falls by the way of the monarchy if not because he believes in it, but because he wants to keep those who fund and support him happy, and that is what they would most want to hear.