Feminism in Hamlet

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“Feminist Criticism and Its Integration in Hamlet”
In the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, many controversies arose from the text, one of which was feminism. Feminism in the most general of terms is known as the principle advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. Feminism was a largely debated issue in the context of eighteenth century literature specific to many of Shakespeare’s texts. Feminist Criticism is similar in content but is more specific and pertains to the “lens” through which a text is viewed or perceived. During the era of Shakespeare’s existence, many of his female characters and the plots surrounding them were considered antifeminist due to the role that the women played or even just because of how they were referred to within the text by him or other characters. Some assumptions that go along with the analysis of Hamlet through the feminist lens is that the women, such as Gertrude and Ophelia, are given marginalized opinions and roles within the play, that the play is from a male-centered viewpoint, and that it solely focuses upon the male characters and their experiences instead of integrating the views and impacts of the women as well.

A specific example of marginalization of a woman character within Hamlet is in Act III where Gertrude is told to leave the men to their plans even though they should include her and what opinions that she might have had over how to fix the situation. (Sweet Gertrude, leave us too…Act III-1, pg 136). When this scene is read by a person through the feminist lens, it can be seen as her being dismissed due to an opinion of Claudius that she is unnecessary and that he knows what is best when it comes to important matters. When focusing on the feminist view, readers may also look at Gertrude’s response to Claudius as being submissive and lacking forethought which brings to mind that this sort of dismissal is common between the two and that Gertrude is constantly undermined. (Fienberg, Nona). Another scene that brings forth similar analysis, of a woman character as aforementioned, is when Ophelia is mourning her dead father and the songs that she sings “introduce the protesting voice of oppressed women in society through the veils of a ballad culture”. Ophelia “is not understood by her male audience but her rebellion against the double standard and its oppression of women arouses fear in Gertrude, who understands”. (Fienberg, Nora) When Ophelia mourns her father, people instantly think that her weak mind must have “shattered” and her only escape from insanity is death. In Act V, after Ophelia’s death/suicide, the scene starts with Hamlet spying upon Laertes during his sister’s burial. When Laertes speaks in wonderment over his sister’s death, he surmises that she must have killed herself in an attempt to escape the madness that some man must have caused. He believes that in her weak feminine state that a man must have taken advantage of her and destroyed her mind. (Oh, treble woe, Fall ten times treble on that cursed head, Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense deprived thee of!, Act V-1 pg 294). Through the feminist lens, this scene is portraying the ultimate possessive action that men believe that they have the right to have. Hamlet and Laertes both lay claim to Ophelia’s mind and then use the fact that she is female as a way to push her already frayed reputation over the edge as a subservient and unwittingly innocent girl. An example of a female versus a male role in Hamlet is introduced throughout the middle of the play. Hamlet and Ophelia “are threatened with mental breakdowns, rendering their need to define their experiences and re-define themselves particularly acute. Hamlet attempts a ‘self cure’ to deal with his mental instability. He uses his control over the written word to empower himself in emotionally disturbing situations, examples of which include the letters to Ophelia, his...
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