Mother-Son vs Father-Daughter Relationship

For the first time in studying Shakespeare this semester, a mother-son relationship has become relevant to the play. Hamlet and the relation to his mother is very important to the plot of the tragedy, and this is seen from he very beginning of the play. Queen Gertrude is not silent in the life of her young adult aged son; instead of letting him control her, in the first act, tries to remain dominant over her son. She scolds him for continuing on in the mourning of his father: “Good Hamlet, cast thy nightly colour/And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark./Do not for ever with thy vailed lids/ Seek for thy noble father in the dust./Thou know’st tis common– all that lives must die,/Passing through nature to eternity.” (Act I, scene ii, lines 68-74). Gertrude does not want Hamlet to continue on his path of apathy and she makes this known to him multiple time. Therefore, Gertrude can be seen as a reversal of the traditionally silent female roles seen in Shakespeare’s plays. She will not let her moody adolescent son dictate himself or her just because he is a male. Thus I find the contrast of the father-daughter relationship between Polonius and Ophelia so stark. Completely opposite of the relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet, Polonius only lists out orders for his daughter and how she is to handle her budding relationship with Hamlet: “This is for all– I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth/ Have you so slander any moment leisure/ As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet./ Look to’t, I charge you. Come your ways.” (Act 1, scene iv, lines 130-135). Following this indignation,Ophelia responds with “I shall obey, my lord.” (Act 1, scene iv, lines 135), a complete reversal of the gender roles Gertrude created as woman character in the novel. Thus, this contrast of the mother-son and father daughter relationship shows how gender rules could only be reversed in Shakespeare times if the woman was in a position of power over her son, like Gertrude and Hamlet. The dynamic between Ophelia and Polonius stayed true to how fathers and daughters interacted during the time period. Father’s had complete jurisdiction over their daughters life, whether it was in marriage or daily life, a daughter had no other direction to go besides the one set out by her father. Yet, unlike a father daughter relationship, Gertrude did not have complete power over Hamlet, as Hamlet retorts back to his mother while, Ophelia says she will obey her father without question. All of this goes to prove that despite the familial relationship, a son can overrule his mother, while a daughter has to be maintain being owned by her father, in the end continuing the theme of patriarchy in Shakespeare’s plays.

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About stewingthepot

Colleen Stewart is a freelance writer and photographer based in the Hudson Valley. She received her Master's degree in English Lit at SUNY New Paltz and has published work has appearing in The Valley Table, Hudson Valley Magazine, The Shawangunk Review and Edible Hudson Valley. She is also a self-taught cook and avid photographer.

One thought on “Mother-Son vs Father-Daughter Relationship

  1. klindberg94

    I really like how you point out the mother and son relationship between Getrude and Hamlet! I like how there is a mother figure in this play and how she is not simply there; she actually has dialogue and makes her opinions known.


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