Hamlet and Othello


In William Shakespeare’s tragedies Hamlet and Othello, he uses the powerful act of sex as a catalyst for chaos. In each play the protagonist is forced into confusion and ultimately a state of insanity. The role of women in each of the two plays is similar as well; they are objects upon which men vent their anger, as well as a tools used to propel the protagonists into madness. Shakespeare, the cunning playwright that he was, was able to add analogous motifs into each play. As the loss of reality is a usual side effect of insanity, it is used in the plays as a method of deterioration in which the characters crumble. In Shakespearian literature, the bonding of man and woman through the act of sex leads to confusion, and it is that desire that inevitably causes the characters destructive demise.


In Hamlet when we first meet the young prince who has just lost his father, we also learn about his mother’s incestuous and sexual marriage to King Hamlet’s brother Claudius. This has bound Gertrude and Claudius together, but has poisoned Hamlet’s mind. Gertrude’s bond to her new husband has taken her attention away from her still mourning child: “She is clearly sexually drawn and loyal to her new husband…but she is essentially inert, oblivious to the whole realm of human experience through which her son travels” (Arthur Kirsch, 110). Gertrude has abandoned her son for her marriage, resulting in Hamlet becoming a lost soul. Hamlet, who cannot come to terms with his mothers’ marriage, decides to admonish her: “Calls virtue hypocrite; takes off the rose/ From the fair forehead of an innocent love/…As from the body of contraction plucks/ The very soul, and sweet religion makes” (Hamlet, III.iv.43-48). He is scolding her about her incestuous marriage, on how her virtues now appear to be false, and how she cannot honor a marriage contract. In George Detmold’s essay, “Hamlet’s ‘All but Blunted Purpose”, he explains the outcome of Hamlet’s scolding: “He fails to realize that no amount of scolding will ever improve her… And because the sin may not be undone, and since it has destroyed his pleasure and purpose in living, he wishes to die” (125). He realizes that his mother will not change, no matter what he does; she does not pay attention to him anymore.


This neglect because of sex and marriage results in Hamlet’s downfall with respect to women. He feels that all women are the same, and since Ophelia is a woman, he cannot look at her the same way he used to. Hamlet begins to deny himself of love and sex, claiming that they are synonymous (Maynard Mack, 87). Hamlet claims that all women are naturally deceitful because they wear makeup: “God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another”(Hamlet, III.i.145-46). In his outrage toward Ophelia, he claims this to make her feel like a “whore”. She is actually pretty, but able to trick Hamlet into believing that she is truly beautiful. In this attack on Ophelia we are able to witness the inevitable breakdown of Hamlet. His miserable relationships with Gertrude and Ophelia, as Frank Magill points out: “amply reveal his self-destructive belief that his mother’s marriage…has transformed all women into strumpets” (1716). As in Othello, the degradation of women soon becomes the climax of the protagonist’s tribulations. Hamlet becomes ignored even more due to his brash treatment of women.


Hamlet’s madness in the play is also brought on by his later dismissal by Ophelia, which would not have occurred if it were not for outside influences like Polonius. During his conquest to kill Claudius, when he most needs Ophelia, she rejects him, because of Hamlet’s harsh treatment of her (and Polonius). To this we can attribute the start of his insanity: “He loses his mother, he loses Ophelia, and he loses his friends; and we can have no question that these losses are real and inescapable” (Kirsch, 131). Hamlet has been abandoned by everyone close to him, and mixed together with his false beliefs of women; we begin to notice a grave transformation within him. As people around him start to notice the change, they begin to care about his state of mind, but Hamlet does not, ultimately causing him