The Dark Side of Masculinity in Hamlet and the Dark Side of Femininity in Beloved
Authors may choose either to highlight significantly on masculine traits or feminine traits depending on their desires or intentions. The analysis examines who between Shakespeare and Morrison depicts the dark side of masculinity and the one that best portrays the dark side of femininity. Based on the examination of both works, it is apparent that Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, best illustrates the dark side if masculinity, while Morrison’s Beloved, best shows the dark side of femininity. These are apparent based on the roles of the major characters, and whether they really depict a dark side of them. In Hamlet, the dark side of masculinity is best illustrated through the actions of the recently deceased King Hamlet, Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, and Claudius, the incumbent king of Denmark. Their actions illustrate how as a man, a person can act wickedly with the intention of achieving a goal. Whereas the story incorporates some women, their influence is not as significant as their male counterparts who impact is immense, with the entire story revolving around masculine aspects such as power and leadership. On the other hand, the leading characters in Beloved are females. Some, including Sethe and Beloved, evidently depict the dark side of femininity through their actions and behaviors that defy natural circumstances and norms. The fact that both texts present dark sides of masculinity and femininity suggests that not either males or females has a darker side than the other, thus reaffirming that all humans are the same regardless of their gender. The argument reaffirms that all humans have feelings and are likely to depict their dark side when provoked by particular circumstances as shown in both works.
How Hamlet Best Portrays the Dark Side of Masculinity
Hamlet that is perceived to be among the highly influential and powerful works of Shakespeare tells the story of Hamlet who is tasked with the duty of avenging the death of his father. Claudius is responsible for the killing, primarily with the intention of taking over the kingship. Thus, examining the roles of each of these characters and how they indulge in actions that contravene social norms and what the society could be termed as acceptable, helps to understand why the play best portrays the dark side of masculinity.
Late King of Denmark
The root cause of the tragedy that happens in the play commences with directives that the ghost of the King of Denmark issues to his son, Hamlet. The ghost directs his son to seek avenge for his death by murdering the new king, Claudius who is also Hamlet’s uncle. The story of the ghost mostly appears in Act I. Late in the night, guards manning the castle talk to Haratio, who is Hamlet’s colleague from school (Shakespeare). They inform him of a ghost that appeared earlier and resembled Hamlet’s father who recently died. At the very moment, late king of Denmark’s ghost reemerges, which compel the witnesses to pass the information to Hamlet. In Act 1 Scene 3, the ghost reappears to Hamlet, claiming to be the reflection of his father (Shakespeare). The ghost narrates how Claudius organized his death and asks his son to revenge against the reigning king. In Act III again, the ghost reemerges urging his son not to prolong the revenge, a directive that sound even more weird and unlikely.
The directive that the ghost gives to his son is what portrays the dark side of this masculine character, in addition to the fact that it appears as a ghost, which not a common phenomenon. It is unusual to order for the killing of another person, and in many instances, taking away the life of another person is forbidden by law and societal norms. Those find culpable may be sent to jail, or in some nations, particularly developing economies, one may be subjected to a mob justice as price for taking away the life of another person. Therefore, ordering Hamlet to avenge against Claudius is unexpected and expresses the dark side of this character. Moreover, many people think that ghosts are bad or frightening and may not want to have an encounter with one. Some people may associate ghosts with black magic, while others may think of other nasty things when they hear about ghosts. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that not all ghosts are harmful, and some even embrace them and argue that they relay fundamental information, some that could be spiritual. However, based on the perception of the majority of people that ghosts are freighting and often depict something evil, it could be argued that the late king depicts a dark side of the masculine characters that dominate the play.
Upon hearing the message that the ghost delivers to him, Hamlet takes it upon himself to avenge the case. In Act 1 Scene 3 where the ghost informs Hamlet about Claudius’ ill intentions that he fulfilled by killing him, the protagonist swears vengeance for his late father. As a way of executing his plan, Hamlet chooses to conduct himself as a mad person, while he tries to find out the basis and truth behind the information by the ghost. In Act II, Hamlet continues with his strange behavior that catches everyone by surprise (Shakespeare). He even chooses to stay away from his lover, Ophelia, as a way of making the act real. By this alone, readers get an insight into the dark side of this masculine character. It is apparent that he uses false presentation to gain particular information as he progresses towards executing his chief intention (Shakespeare). Whereas it is moral to act truthfully and honestly in all circumstances, Hamlet chooses to disguise himself, which to some extend contribute towards illustrating the dark side of masculinity in the story.
Another instance involving Hamlet, and which depicts the dark side of this character, and which also contributes toward showing the dark side of masculinity in this story is how he kills Polonius, who is the chief advisor to the king. Hamlet knows that the reigning king has planted people to watch over him and find out why he behaves strangely. Polonius is one of them. The king orders him to watch over Gertrude, the Queen and protect her from her son’s unbecoming and unpredictable behavior (Shakespeare). In Act III Hamlet arrives in his mother’s room to scold her and hears something moving behind the curtains. He stabs the curtain and in doing that kills Polonius. The act is morally wrong, and becomes inhumane when it happens voluntarily. Thus, in killing Polonius, Hamlet emerges as not being kind-hearted and one who is likely to indulge in other threatening acts (Shakespeare). Later in Act V when the story comes to an end, Hamlet kills Claudius, which makes his second murder. The action further illustrates the dark side of masculinity in the play.
Claudius recently marries Hamlet’s mother upon becoming the new king of Denmark. An evident action that shows how the character contributes towards the dark side of masculinity in the play is how he masterminds the death of former king of Denmark. In Act II, Hamlet composes a play, which encompasses scenes that simulate the death of his father (Shakespeare). During the performance of the play in Act III, Hamlet monitors Claudius keenly to study how he responds to the show. The play insults Claudius who due to anger and inability to control the tension in him stops the play midway before storming out of the arena. The incident reassures Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for his father’s death, an incident that motivates him to go ahead with his plans to kill the king (Shakespeare). The plan to kill Hamlet’s father as executed by Claudius certainly illustrates the dark side of masculinity in the story. As already stated, killing another person is unacceptable unless it is defined by law. However, taking away the life of another person for selfish gains as it happens with the king who kills the other solely to take over power is incorrect, disheartening, and paints an image of one who is ruthless and inhumane. The act is one of the major incidences in the play that portrays the dark side of masculinity.
Another instance that depicts the dark side of masculinity in the play is how Claudius plans to kill Hamlet. The king comes up with the plan after sending Hamlet to England as an ambassador. The king plans to kill the protagonist soon after he arrives from his mission abroad. Upon returning to Denmark, Claudius liaises with Laertes, Polonius’ son, to kill Hamlet (Shakespeare). They settle on killing him by poison, particularly by poisoning his wine. However, the plan does not go as expected because instead Gertrude becomes the victim of the toxic drink. The Queen dies as a result. Hamlet and Laertes on their part are harmed by the poisoned blade, and Polonius’s son succumbs to the injuries (Shakespeare). It is while Hamlet fights for his dear life that he get an opportunity to cut him with his rapier. The action by the king once more depict the dark side of masculinity in this story that adequately displays the concept.
How Beloved Best Portrays the Dark Side of Femininity
Contrary to Hamlet, the Beloved by Morrison presents females as the leading characters. Analyzing the characters and conduct of the leading female casts in Beloved presents clear evidence that the book gives a perfect illustration of dark side of femininity compared to Hamlet. Actually, in Hamlet, the Queen is the only female character who feature prominently. The dark side of her is how she enters into another marriage immediately after her husband’s death. She does not seem to be bothered about the cause of the death, and does not become bothered even when Hamlet starts to show hints that Claudius could be responsible for the death. The other female who also features prominently in Hamlet is Ophelia, who is Polonius daughter, and Hamlet’s lover. However, she dies of stress after realizing her husband’s cold reception towards her and sudden change of behavior. The story does not develop much of the dark side of Ophelia. The play does not shed much light onto other women as it does to these two female characters. However, the case is different in Beloved where readers can easily identify the dark sides of the feminine characters who dominate the story. Thus, examining the role of each character while shedding more light onto how they contravene acceptable values and norms help to understand why Beloved is more pronounced in showing the dark side of femininity.
The maternal attachment between Sethe and her children prevent her from imagining life without them. She develops a strong maternal relations to the children that causes her to take the life of one daughter. Her only surviving daughter becomes entangled with the Black community. The psychological impact of slavery are so much alive in Sethe that compels her to consider killing her own children as a way of preventing them from being confined at a slavery station (Morrison). However, he only manages to kill her two-year-old daughter with two boys escaping never to return again after learning of their mother’s wicked intention. The incident clearly illustrates the dark side of the feminine character. Whereas the mother has good intentions for her children and wishes that they do not become confined to the slavery station, the approach she takes is rather extreme and represents her as being heartless. One could argue that Sethe could find alternative ways of saving the children from slavery, including relocating them to other places or moving out of the area altogether. However, choosing to kill them only emphasizes how the story evidently shows the dark side of femininity.
Beloved appears like a ghost, which makes Sethe to believe that she represents her dead daughter. However, her characters give a worrying impression, and help to perceive her character as contributing toward the dark side of femininity. An evidently unique feature about Beloved is that she has the power to appear and disappear, hence could be referred as a ghost. Her extraordinary powers make Paul D to suspect if her intentions are really good, and whether Sethe should believe her (Morrison). In another confusing scene, Beloved confronts Paul D who has a romantic relationship with Sethe and demands that they indulge in sex. Paul gives in to the confusing request, and later admits that he does not know how he gives in. The incident further portrays the dark side of Beloved who despite knowing that Sethe is attached to Paul, still tricks the man who had served as a slave into unplanned and unintended sex.
Judging from the actions of these two leading female characters, it can be argued that they adequately depict the dark side of femininity more clearly as opposed to Hamlet that largely incorporates male characters. Thus, it appears that whereas Hamlet takes the lead in showing the dark side of masculinity, Beloved clearly exemplifies the dark side of femininity. Consequently, it is essential to consider these factors while examining each the works separately.
Relevance of the Analysis
The way both stories show the dark sides of male and female characters help to reinstate that despite the variations in physical appearance, people’s emotions are the same, and are likely to respond in similar ways when situation demands. In both scenarios incidences of taking away the life of the other person feature prominently, and what stands out is that both men and women are responsible. Typically, humans react to scenarios or show emotions as a result of the hormones within them. For instance, both males and females can react abnormally as depicted in both works when their brain does not produce adequate dopamine and serotonin to regulate the depression levels. The production of serotonin works the same way in both males and females where the hormone is generated in the midbrain. Also in males and females, the biochemical transformations need magnesium, vitamin B12, and iron among other fundamental minerals that facilitate the production of the hormone (Duarte et al. 71). Similarly, the production of dopamine in the frontal lobes of the brain happens in the same way in both males and females, yet the neurotransmitter plays essential roles in influencing one’s emotions (Duarte et al. 72). Thus, based on the biological analysis of how the human body regulates emotions, it is highly likely people would react in the same manner regardless of their gender. It is the reason why those who are responsible for heinous acts in the selected works comprise both of males and females. The analysis further illustrates how males and females are the same, and the need to treat each side as equal partners. Nonetheless, one can only identify this similarity by keenly analyzing the works and noting how the leading characters, regardless of their gender, respond to threatening situations in almost similar manner – contemplating killing the other person.
Comparing Hamlet and Beloved, the former best illustrates the dark side of masculinity. The analysis shows that most of the leading characters who form the basis of the story are males and each has a dark side to show. The ghost of the former king directs his son to avenge against his death, a directive that inspires Hamlet to retaliate against the one who killed his father. Hamlet takes a completely new form, which is hasted with his disguised form a mentally ill person. In the long run, Hamlet is responsible for the death of two people, Polonius and Claudius. Other than acting dishonestly, the killings impact significantly on how the story develops the dark side of masculinity. Claudius also contributes significantly in portraying a dark side of masculinity the Shakespearean play. He kills the former king to take over his position, he remarries Gertrude soon after her husband’s death, thus depicting his lack of remorse and empathy, and ultimately plans to kill Hamlet. These actions evidently shows the dark side of this masculine character, and helps to show how the play best illustrates the dark side of masculinity. On the other hand, Morrison’s Beloved best illustrates the dark side of femininity. The leading characters behave weirdly and take actions that defy social norms and regulations. The actions of Sethe and Beloved adequately develops the dark side of femininity in the story. A critical analysis of both stories reveal that men and women are likely to behave in the same manner when responding to issues that impact on their emotions.
Duarte, Neiane et al. “Relation between Depression and Hormonal Dysregulation.” Open Journal of Depression, vol. 6, 2017, pp. 69-78.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Vintage International. 2004.
Shakespeare, William.The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html