Woman Roles in Hamlet

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Shakespeare incorporates several different, reoccurring themes throughout his well-known play Hamlet. Misogyny, the hatred of women, is one of these themes. The only two female characters, both of significant importance are mistreated and disrespected by several male characters. Queen Gertrude is mostly under attack from Hamlet and Ophelia is mostly controlled by Polonius. However, Ophelia does receive ill-treatment from her brothers Laertes and Hamlet, as well as her own father, Polonius. All of these men contribute to her weak female character individually and on different levels. They also appear to influence Ophelia's later developed insanity and suicide.

The opening act of the play introduces all important characters, tells much of the plot and projects an important, lasting image of Ophelia. In act 1, scene 3, Laertes is biding farewell to his sister Ophelia and he offers her advice, or rather gives her orders, disguised as advice. Laertes tells her that she should not love Hamlet or be with him because he is Prince of Denmark. Due to his royal blood and status, Laertes tells Ophelia that Hamlet will not choose who to marry: "Perhaps he loves you now,/And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch/The virtue of his will, but you must fear,/His greatness weighted, his will is not his own,/For he himself is subject to his birth" (1.3. 14-18). Laertes does not, as Polonius will later do, tell Ophelia that her feelings are false, but rather tells her that she should realize that Hamlet may love her today, but that he will never marry her. Although Laertes might be right in advising Ophelia to be cautious, this advice was unsolicited by Ophelia. Laertes simply assumes that position of power over his sister because of gender. This is the first unequal relationship that Ophelia is a victim of.

Polonius' treatment of his daughter is much harsher and occurs much more frequently then Laertes' throughout the play. The first encounter between this father...
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