Gender Identity In Hamlet

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The human psyche seeks to find common ground amongst peers, and, as part of this herd mentality, an early distinction was created to separate men and women. As with any distinct groups, certain traits come to define members, based on their traits and ideals: this reality creates the mental interpretation of gender identity. Although some nowadays would assert that gender identity has never been a bigger issue, Shakespeare uses Hamlet to thoroughly investigate the topic, draw his own conclusions, and share these conclusions with his audience hundreds of years ago. The struggles each character faces paint Shakespeare’s thoughts on the role of gender identity in everyday life. Men in the play, including Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, Laertes, and…show more content…
Having been raised in this society, and taught the expectations of one’s gender, each character must carefully choose their actions so as to conform. Hamlet laments his failure to do so when he does not take action on the knowledge of his father’s murder, and, having recently witnessed an actor expend all his effort to play a part, exclaims: “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” (2.2.471). Hamlet’s tone and sorrowful diction depict the disdain with which he holds himself for his failure to be brave, honorable -- manly. His continued scrutiny, depicted and described through the question: “What would he do, Had he the motive and the cue for passion That I have?” (2.2.481-482) exposes another effect of gender expectations, one which sparks the internal conflicts which Hamlet is grappling with in this scene: comparison between oneself and others is magnified and assigned importance due to the presence of gender attributes and expectations. One can also tell the effect of such a situation: Hamlet’s description of himself as “A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause” (2.2.488-489) and self doubting question of “Am I a coward?” (2.2.492) both decry the negative effect which self-depreciation due to failure to meet gender expectations has. The internal doubt,…show more content…
Throughout the play, prestige, power, and public opinion are changed by whether a character meets or fails to meet the gender expectations and norms. Fortinbras provides a strong example of this phenomenon: even though his actions are against the throne of Denmark at the outset of the play, laying aside his conflict and agreeing to fight the Poles improves his public standing heavily. Fortinbras’s actions exemplify significant bravery, discipline, and honor: all key traits for one to be “masculine”. Hamlet’s declaration: “Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honour's at the stake.” (4.4.54-57) not only proves the traits which are valued, but also suggests that Fortinbras is “great”- because he embodies these traits. Conversely, Hamlet loses his standing, and his reputation, due to his lack of masculinity. When Hamlet is making wild accusations and using extensive hyperbole, arguing at Ophelia’s funeral, The King brushes him off, saying “Oh, he is mad, Laertes” (5.1.252). The King’s offhand tone describes perfectly how Hamlet’s public standing has changed: his extensive bouts of madness and sorrow have stripped him of his masculinity, and with it his importance. Hamlet’s lack of masculinity detracts greatly from the sway he would have held in the
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