Oscar Wilde wrote, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Many adults think that just because they are older, they know better. However, in Hamlet, the younger characters act more intelligent than the older characters. The exception to this is Ophelia, a younger character, who comes across as less intelligent as the younger male characters. This hints to signs of Shakespeare’s misogyny, as she seems singled out as not showing her wit or intelligence. This touches upon a broader idea, that in the play, women not only have less opportunities than most male characters but, also are used and manipulated by the male characters.
There are many examples in the play which show how the younger characters are portrayed as more intelligent than the older characters. Marcellus and Barnardo, two of the older characters, are unsure about what to do concerning the ghost so they look to Horatio, a younger, smarter character. They want his opinion because, Horatio is a skeptical person, and if he accepts it as reality, they would as well. Even though they are older, they are looking to be validated by a younger character. Not only does Horatio, accept the reality of the situation, he begins to interpret its meaning , “In what particular thought to work I know not; But in the gross and scope of my opinion, This bodes some strange eruption to our state.” (Act 2 Scene 2). The fact that Horatio attempts to understand this situation, and explain it, shows he is comfortable with his intelligence, to be able to share it with others. Later, we find that the ghost wants to speak with Horatio because he was known as a scholar. These examples show how his intellect, is unlike the older characters of the play.
Hamlet, like Horatio, is also a young scholar and skeptic. He is philosophical and contemplates each decision he makes, especially in the killing of Claudius. Additionally, he is able to show his personality in different ways and acts as if he is crazy, to some characters, which is something that only a intelligent and witty person can do. For example, in Act 2 Scene 2 Polonius speaks to Hamlet as if he is an idiot. Because of Hamlet’s quick thinking, he immediately reacts by playing along with it. For example, he calls Polonius a “fishmonger”. (act 2 Scene). Hamlet also shows his intelligence when he speaks. He uses phrases and words to hint to what he really is trying to say which is a very unique trait. Like when speaking to Polonius, Hamlet uses many phrases that talk about Ophelia that although seem crazy at first, have a much deeper meaning then one would originally think. For example, “For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion-Have you a daughter?” (Act 2.Scene 2.197). Overall, the general portrayal as well as these examples of Hamlet throughout the play show what a unique character he is and once again proves how younger characters in the play are more intelligent than older characters.
One case of an older character being recognized as much less intelligent than the younger characters would be Polonius. During the play, Polonius says and does many things which leads us to thinking he is naïve and simple minded. In the case of Hamlet and Ophelia, Polonius constantly assumes that the reason Hamlet has gone mad is because his love for Ophelia has driven him crazy. He sticks to this concept throughout the play even when it may not show. While speaking to the King and Queen, he fails at being brief and says a lot of nonsense in an effort to sound more intelligent, “My liege, and madam, to expostulate what majesty should be, what duty is, what day is day, night night, and time is time were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.” (Act 2. Scene 2. 92). This pattern illustrates that Polonius is narrow-minded and is more laughable than intelligent.
While Ophelia is a younger character, she seems to be an exception to the rule that younger characters are more intelligent than older characters. She is obedient to what her father and brother tell her and we never really get a chance to hear what she has to say about the matter. Ophelia is used similarly by Hamlet. Because of her obedient personality, she would not fight back when Hamlet would bash her and speak poorly to her, “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (Act 3. Scene 1. 131). These examples make her seem as if the only reason she is a character is in order to please and adhere to her fellow male characters.
Gertrude however, is a part of the older characters. Gertrude does not realize that her marrying Claudius only two months after the death of her late husband and Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, would affect Hamlet in a negative way. She also always seems to agree with Claudius even if it has to do with the well being of Hamlet, like sending him away to England. Gertrude also does not know how to handle her son, which causes him to have very little respect for her. An example of this would be when Gertrude is speaking to Hamlet about the King and how he offended him with the play. ” Mother you have my father much offended.” (Act 3. Scene 4. 13.) This would portray her as naïve and incapable of not even being able to handle and control her own son, Hamlet.
The role of Gertrude and Ophelia in the play shows how women are used by the male characters to acquire what they want and are also frequently put down by these male characters which exhibits Shakespeare’s general misogyny in the play. Shakespeare also seems to hint that in the play, virginity and sexualtiy is something that determines how desirable she is to other women as well as her status in society. These several examples showcase Shakespeare’s misogyny in “Hamlet”, being that the only two female characters in the play are portrayed as insignificant and are used by the dominant male characters.