Oh, Shakespeare, Shakespeare,
With a play so fine,
Wherefore dids’t thou make of Hamlet
Such a misogyne?
In plain speech: Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play, but the misogyny rankles. It’s true that Hamlet’s scornful judgement falls on men and women alike, and it’s true that Shakespeare is quite clear on the sexual double standard between men and women, but at the same time, there’s way too much “Frailty, they name is woman.” I wish the play did more to redeem both Ophelia and the queen.
In any case, the play can perhaps be improved (or utterly destroyed) by a bit of reshuffling. With no further ado . . .
Ophelia’s conversation with Hamlet
(In which Hamlet sensibly takes accountability for his own actions.)
My lord, I have rememberances of yours
That I have longed long to redeliver.
I pray you now receive them.
Take these again, for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
Take them, my lord.
I did love you once.
Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.
Hamlet’s conversation with the king and queen
(In which Hamlet decides to stay out of the whole affair, or maybe leaves Elsinore plotting a coup.)
For your intent in going back to school in Wittenberg
It is most retrograde to our desire,
And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye
Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.
Denmark’s a prison.
Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet.
I pray thee, stay not with us. Go to Wittenberg.
I shall in all my best obey you, madam.
Opehlia’s conversation with the king and queen
(In which the king and queen hold Hamlet accountable for his behavior toward Ophelia.)
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack and fie for shame,
Young men will do ‘t, if they come to ‘t;
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she “Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.”
“So would I ‘a done, by yonder sun, An thou hadst not come to my bed.”
Alas, sweet lady, what imports this song?
He hath, my lady, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.
‘Tis most true,
And he beseeched me to entreat your Majesties
To hear and see the matter.
And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish
That your good beauties be the happy cause
Of Hamlet’s wildness,
and will bring him to his wonted way again.
Madam, I wish it may.
Laertes’ conversation with Ophelia
(In which Ophelia dodges the whole affair in a clever role reversal, leaving the rest of Elsinore to its fate.)
My necessaries are embarked. Farewell.
And, brother, as the winds give benefit
And convey is assistant, do not sleep,
But let me hear from you.
Do you doubt that?
For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor,
Hold it a a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute,
No more but so?
Think it no more.