Feminist Hamlet Criticism

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Female voices in classic literature are rarely allowed to be heard as they should, especially in a society like Shakespeare’s, where women are expected to make children and hot meals and not much more than that. While Shakespeare does take drastic steps forward in allowing such prominent female characters as Gertrude and Ophelia, he fails to make them strong or independent, and therefore an example for women everywhere. If it were not for the horrible mistreatment of Ophelia and the horrible misunderstanding of Gertrude, these women could have been powerhouses of feminine pride and women to look up to as equal members of an otherwise misogynist society. However, the reactions of those around Gertrude and Ophelia to their behavior and emotions make it extremely difficult for them to be heard over the cries of “Frailty, thy name is woman!”

Ophelia is one of the most used and abused characters in Shakespeare. She is walked on by everyone in her life, except for her brother. Laertes is the only man who seems to truly love Ophelia, no matter what. Her father, Polonius, takes advantage of the fact that Ophelia would do anything for him. When he instructs her to never see Hamlet again, she obeys. When he commands that she show Claudius and Gertrude the secret notes she exchanged with Hamlet, she brings them forth. When he tells her to confront him indirectly about his “love” for her while she reads a prayer book, she does so without question. Even though she probably knows that he is blatantly using her for his own personal gain, she mourns his death hysterically and it even drives her mad. Hamlet also uses Ophelia as a pawn in his scheme to avenge his father. When her love is no longer of importance to him, she is forgotten. In some cases, however, she is used to illustrate Hamlet’s madness, like at the play when his attitude and speech is so vulgar and unexpected. While it may be true that Hamlet only tells Ophelia he doesn’t love her to protect her...
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