Just kidding. Kind of.
I beg the reader to implore a modern concept to an amberized character by asking, was the Prince of Denmark a Nice Guy? Possibly dabbled in incel territory? What do all these words even mean? By speed running Feminism 101 via history as well as taking a close look at Hamlet’s dialogue towards his mom Mrs. Hamlet, and ex-girlfriend Ophelia, we can gain insight as to how to conceptualize Nice-Guyism within Hamlet with relative ease.
Before we begin,
We can conceptualize this concept via the Angel in the House. Despite being coined in the Victorian age, the idea of the Angel in the House exemplifies the domino effects of gender roles placed well since Shakesphere’s time as patriarchal values hardly change in subject.
First demonstrated in Coventry Patmore’s poem, the Angel represents the woman within this public sphere being that of angel: “passive and powerless, meek, charming, graceful, sympathetic, self-sacrificing, pious, and above all–pure,” (“The Angel in the House”). Opposite to the public sphere, we can see the dynamic between the oppressor vs the oppressee taking on the role of parent and child, (Hello, Yellow Wallpaper, anyone?) in which one instructs the other and the Other obeys.
Applying these ideas rooted in misogyny, whose sole purpose is to maintain control and power over women, we may turn our attention to Ophelia.
We can very much apply some of these concepts to Ophelia who is infantallized and chastised for her beauty and relationship to Hamlet throughout the play. She is instructed by her brother, Laertes, not to have sex with Hamlet otherwise compromise herself to being ruined for marriage, had Hamlet deceive her. Her father disregards Ophelia as a person and optimizes to use her as a tool in his own scheme to uncover Hamlet’s madness. And Hamlet straight up tells her to save herself for God, otherwise to live in a brothel to bore more sinners born from her inherent sin as a woman.
I suppose it’s true that Shakesphere’s writing reflected human construction so accurately that it has survived in one piece and can still be applied to us today, as Hamlet’s line of thinking towards Ophelia very much reflects the same kind of entitlement and projection of issues we see from incel and nice guy communities.
Incel, short for involuntary celibate, first originated in the 90s within a website called Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project. The project led by Alana, a bisexual woman, had created the page in order to create.a space for people who were not lucky in romance or intimacy due to sexuality or gender. The term, now reclaimed by the complete opposite of Alana’s goal (often far-right, straight cis-men) have since weaponized the identity through the online community of people stuck in an echo chamber expressing their hatred of women due to their undesirability based on the inability to perform peak masculinity (Kassam).
Incels, thus perform on a self-obstructing paradox in which they want a woman to have sex with, but at the same time hating women for not having sex with them; one aspect ultimately prohibiting the other. Nice-guyism puts this concept in motion as someone will identify themselves as a Nice Guy to a potential sex prospect, only to find out that most women don’t appreciate negging, dick pics, or sexually-charged comments.
Back to Hamlet.
Upon Ophelia attempting to give back Hamlet’s gifts to her, he puts on his Misogyny costume and gets to work, questioning Ophelia if she is honest, or “chaste.” He states, “That if you were honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty,” implying that one cannot be beautiful and chaste, but rather beautiful and unfaithful. Here, Hamlet sets up the main tenets of incel mentality, “Creating false or unsubstantiated ideas about sexuality,” i.e. if she has a pretty face she is capable of promiscuity. He goes on to angrily yell at Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery,” essentially both calling her a whore and to not… be a whore (?). According to Hamlet, Ophelia can save herself from contributing to the world’s issues by doing everyone a favor and never have children or else she’d just bring sinners into the world born from her own sin. This concept relates back to the overall theme of misogyny previously mentioned in incel and nice guy online groups in which one is quick to jump to slut-shaming in an attempt to exert power and dominance over the other.
Hamlet goes on to discuss the evil that is cosmetics, an issue that has seemingly persisted up to now by many men who simply want a “real” woman. He states, “I have heard of your paintings too…God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another. You jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nickname God’s creatures, and make your wantoness your ignorance…” This idea of beauty being deceiving shows up once again and this time seemingly with the thought that women actively use their sexuality to manipulate men for their own interest. Ophelia, whose beauty is her central attribute it seems, is to take this as a great insult from Hamlet.
However it is here that I posit the question to you, reader, was Hamlet an incel? If we consider the context of the plot as a whole rather than these instances of dialogue, there is the notion that Hamlet is performing madness, believing him to be watched in his exchange with Ophelia. We can extend this line of thinking to conceptualizing Shakesphere as a feminist (by today’s standard) by thinking of his portrayal of Hamlet’s dialogue being that of a madman. Through this line of thinking we can consider Hamlet not to actually believe these things, but instead is only acting as such in order to deceive Claudius.
Well, despite his incel performance possibly being a ruse on his own part, we can certainly refer to Hamlet’s perception of women by his speech towards his mother, Queen Gertrude. To which I argue he does showcase true attributes of incel mentality by means of misogyny.
Hamlet’s issue at the core of the play is anger and bitterness of his father’s murder and his mother’s lack of proper grieving. In this situation, much of Hamlet’s “incel” behavior toward Gertrude stems first from her betrayal towards his father. Thinking of this idea purely in feminist gender theory, Hamlet may feel the need to avenge and or assert his father’s authority over his mother. In my presented article I mention that the authors take special note that only Hamlet and the Ghost refer to Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage as incestous. Hamlet uses this aspect as a form of shame (or slut-shaming in today’s context) by constantly disparaging Gertrude for relishing in her incestous marriage (does she?). And while these marriages were often illegal in Shakesphere’s time, the idea of incest is inherently connected as an immoral and repulsive (despite Gertrude not being of blood relation to Claudius, still weird, but you know) and is thus weaponized against Gertrude as a form of shame from Hamlet.
Hamlet’s disparaging of Gertrude in Act 3.4 provides evidence to these seeds of incel-like mentality as he mentions again the hopelessness of marriage when his mother, “…makes a blister there, makes marriage vows as false as dicers’ oaths…” and in saying so very much argues for Hamlet’s own bitterness lying in the origin of his mother’s betrayal. From this Hamlet projects his perceived wickedness of Gertrude to that of all women. All women have the intention of lying with another man.
There is much to say about Hamlet’s own Oedipus complex, but also just as much to say about Hamlet’s mommy issues being the main contribution to his lack of faith in women as people rather than potential cheaters. In this sense, when deciding whether or not Hamlet is an incel, take into consideration that Gertrude could not see the Ghost in the room with them. Is Hamlet possessed by his father’s own desire for revenge, so much so that Hamlet takes on the role of a revengeful husband rather than mourning son? Consider what information was given about incels and how Hamlet treats his mother and in extension, Ophelia, in terms of misogyny, sexism, and hatred. Ask, is Hamlet and Incel, Nice Guy, or just possessed by his mom’s ex-dead-husband?
“The Angel in the House.” William Makepeace Thackery, 2 March 2011, http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/novel_19c/thackeray/angel.html
Kassam, Ashifa. “Woman behind ‘incel’ says angry men hijacked her word ‘as a weapon of war.’” The Guardian, 25 April 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/25/woman-who-invented-incel-movement-interview-toronto-attack