Glossary Home Shakespeare Quotes

Frailty, thy name is woman

“Frailty, thy name is woman” is a well-known line from Hamlet’s first soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It appears in Act I, Scene 2.

The quote is an early indicator of Hamlet’s lasting misogynistic attitude towards the women in his life. It’s a view he held before the play began and one that is only bolstered by his opinion of the various actions the women in his life take throughout the scenes of the play. His mother’s choice to remarry her husband’s brother, Claudius, is, to Hamlet, an indicator of her frail character. 

Frailty, thy name is woman meaning


“Frailty, thy name is woman” Meaning

The quote is directed at Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark. He sees her as frail due to the fact that, without hesitation, she married Claudius, her recently deceased husband’s brother.

His disdain for his mother only grows as he comes to realize that it was likely Claudius who murdered his father.

Where Does Shakespeare Use “Frailty, thy name is woman?”

William Shakespeare uses this commonly quoted line in his tragedy Hamlet. It appears in Act I, Scene 2, and is spoken by the title character—Hamlet. He uses the quote in line 150. The quote is part of a long speech, starting in line 133 and ending in line 164. 

Here is the quote within a portion of the longer soliloquy Hamlet delivers: 

[…]Heaven and Earth, Must I remember? 

Why, she would hang on him 

As if increase of appetite had grown 

By what it fed on. And yet, within a month 

(Let me not think on ’t; frailty, thy name is woman!), 

A little month, or ere those shoes were old 

With which she followed my poor father’s body,

Like Niobe, all tears—why she, even she 

(O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason 

Would have mourned longer!), married with my uncle,

Within these lines, hamlet is reacting (alone on stage) to the news that after the death of his father, the king of Denmark, his mother married hamlets uncle, his father’s younger brother, Claudius. Before this, hammered already held a distrust for his uncle, and upon learning the news that his mother has already remarried, his dislike for the new King of Denmark only grows. 

Why Does Shakespeare Use “Frailty, thy name is woman?”

Shakespeare uses this quote as one of many examples of Hamlet’s poor opinion of women, and especially his declining opinion of his mother after her husband and Hamlet’s father (the King of Denmark) dies. When Hamlet says “woman,” he is might as well say “Gertrude.” He is speaking about his mother’s frailty and weak moral character. She immediately remarried to protect herself rather than remain true to her past husband. 

Claudius has taken over the role of king very quickly. Hamlet is devastated by this turn of events and appears to be far more depressed by the death of his father than his mother is at the loss of her husband. In fact, both the new king and Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude the Queen of Denmark, urge him not to mourn too much. Once he is alone on stage, he expresses his feelings in full. The first lines of the soliloquy, which directly proceed the excerpt quoted above, read: 

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!

Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this!

But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:

So excellent a king; that was, to this,

Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother

That he might not beteem the winds of heaven

Visit her face too roughly. 

These lines, and the rest of the speech, foreshadow Hamlet’s continued declining opinion of the women in his life. It begins with the devastation over his mother’s remarriage and continues in his poor opinion of his past lover Ophelia. He treats her cruelly and with a clear disregard that can be seen throughout the rest of the play. He believes that the women in his life, through their frailty and lack of moral character, brought their deaths upon themselves. (This is despite the fact that Hamlet is the one who eventually drives Ophelia to suicide.) 

FAQs 

What does Hamlet mean when he says, “Frailty, thy name is woman?”

Hamlet is declaring that women are inherently weaker than men. Their frailty is one of their defining characteristics in his worldview. In this particular instance, he is referencing his mother’s frailty in her decision to remarry quickly. 

Who says “Frailty, thy name is woman,” and who is this character talking about?

Hamlet uses this line in Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. He is talking about his mother, Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark. He sees her decision to remarry soon after her husband’s death as an indication of her moral weakness and frail character.

What has Hamlet’s mother done to make him exclaim, “Frailty, thy name is woman?”

She has remarried soon after her husband’s death. She chose to remarry Claudius, her husband’s brother. The quote is a way of stating that if one calls something “frail,” they may as well call it a “woman” as they are one and the same. 


Related Quotes from Hamlet


Other Resources 

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap