Hamlet: A Feminist Approach
Sexism: the belief or attitude that one sex is inherently superior to, more competent than, or more valuable than the other (most commonly used for male superiority). This idea that women are weak is not a new one in the modern world. It has been studied for countless years along with the concept of a patriarchal society. A patriarchy is defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Such systems currently exist in several forms and areas around the world; however, the most common place for these patriarchies is in literature. Novels, plays, works of nonfiction, and other forms of literature have shown to either “reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" (Tyson 83), often creating controversy and causing criticism from feminists and other readers. Tragic play Hamlet, by author William Shakespeare, is a story that displays characteristics of a patriarchal society and fails to acknowledge a female perspective. The application of the feminist criticism lens reveals that Shakespeare is sexist in his portrayal of characters in Hamlet, and allows the reader to develop further understanding of the characters and their interactions throughout the play.
Ophelia is one main character through which the reader is able to sense Shakespeare’s sexism. A central character in the story, Ophelia is first seen in the company of her brother and father, who both give her advice about her lover (Hamlet) and life in general. The focus at this point is upon how Polonius (Ophelia’s father), acts with Laertes (her brother) and how different those interactions are from Polonius’ dealings with Ophelia. Polonious’ level of sophistication in conversing with his son not only is filled with dignity, but also with legitimate advice, such as “to thine own self be true” (Shakespeare 29). In his conversation with Ophelia, however, Polonious...
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