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Comparing Hamlet’s Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude

Hamlet’s Treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude

Modern folklore suggests women look at a man’s relationship with his mother

to predict how they will treat other women in their life. Hamlet is a good

example of a son’s treatment of his mother reflecting how he will treat the

woman he loves because when considering Hamlet’s attitude and treatment of the

Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, one must first consider how

Hamlet treated his mother. A characteristic of Hamlet’s personality is to make

broad, sweeping generalizations and nowhere is this more evident than in his

treatment toward women. Very early in the play, while discussing his mother’s

transgressions, he comments, “Frailty, thy name is woman. (Hoy, 11).” Hamlet

appears to believe all women act in the same manner as his mother.

The first time the audience meets Hamlet, he is angry and upset at Queen

Gertrude, his mother, for remarrying his uncle so soon after the death of his

father. In his first soliloquy he comments on the speed of her remarriage

Within a month,

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears

Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,

She married. O, most wicked speed, to post

With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

It is not, nor it cannot come to good. (Hoy, 11)

It is understandable Hamlet is upset with his mother for forgetting about his

father and marrying his uncle, Claudius. In Hamlet’s eyes, his father deserves

more than one month of mourning and by remarrying so quickly, the queen has

sullied King Hamlet’s memory. This remarriage is a sin and illegal, however

special dispensation was made because she is queen.

Hamlet’s opinion of his mother worsens as the play progresses because

his father, who appears as a ghost, tells him of his mother’s adulterous

behavior and his uncle’s shrewd and unconscionable murder. Although Hamlet

promises to seek revenge on King Claudius for murdering his father, he is

initially more concerned with the ghost’s revelations regarding his mother.

King Hamlet tells Hamlet not to be concerned with his mother but after the

apparition leaves, it is the first thing Hamlet speaks of. Before vowing to

avenge his father’s death, he comments on the sins his mother committed.

Although Hamlet decides to pretend to be insane in order to plot against

the King, it is clear, he really does go mad. His madness seems to amplify his

anger toward his mother. During the play scene, he openly embarrasses her and

acted terribly toward her in the closet scene. The closet scene explains much

John Milton’s Paradise Lost Essay: Allegory of Sin and Death

Allegory of Sin and Death in Paradise Lost

That Milton’s Paradise Lost is unsurpassed–and hardly equaled–in English literature is generally accepted by critics and scholars. Whether it may have serious flaws, however, and what they may be, is less certain, for it is here that opinion varies. Of particular interest to some is the allegory of Sin and Death (II. 648-883). Robert C. Fox wonders that it has not been the subject of much more critical discussion, asking “Is it that Milton’s readers are puzzled by this episode and, unable to explain its significance, prefer to pass it over in silence? Or do they regard it as so obvious in meaning that no interpretive remarks are necessary?” (“The Allegory” 354). Whatever the answer to Fox’s query, his point is well taken; in a survey of the bibliography of the Modern Language Association from 1950-1980, fewer than twenty references specifically devoted to this allegory can be located, and many of these, rather than pursuing the question of its appropriateness and/or its importance within the total work, simply investigate its tradition and sources.

Merritt Y. Hughes, in referring to those scholars who have commented on the allegory, writes that “for two centuries critics agreed that the step into pure allegory in Sin and Death was a blemish on the poem and an external incrustation. Recently they have been wondering whether it is not a part of the structural irony of the whole design” (177). It is this latter view on which this paper focuses; the allegory is indeed an integral part of the whole of Paradise Lost, not an error of judgment on Milton’s part, as some critics believe. It is defensible on two levels, both in terms of structure and in terms of content.

Since it is the presence of allegorical figures–abstractions–in the epic to which some critics object, it is necessary here to discuss both allegory and epic form. Allegory, according to William Flint Thrall and Addison Hibbard, is defined as “an extended metaphor in which objects and persons in a narrative . . . are equated with meanings that lie outside [it],” uses characters that “are usually personifications of abstract qualities, the action and the setting representative of the relationships among these abstractions. Allegory attempts to evoke a dual interest, one in the events, characters, and setting presented, and the other in the ideas they are intended to convey or the significance they bear” (7-8).

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