Female Power in Hamlet

Powerful Essays
Female Power in Hamlet

I. Introduction

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is characterized by its tragic conclusion and its memorable cast. As a reflection of the time period in which Hamlet was written, the predominately male cast views the female characters as inferior. What the men do not realize is that the women have more control than what is initially predicted. Throughout the play, Gertrude uses her influence over Claudius to gain political ground while Ophelia uses her sexuality to have control over her relationship with Hamlet. This sense of female power also has a lasting effect on the theme of sexuality and corruption in the play.

II. Gertrude

A. Governmental Influence

During the course of the play, Gertrude uses her status as a woman to establish herself as a capable and superior ruler. At the beginning of the play Hamlet chastises his mother for not only for her willingness to remarry after the untimely death of his father but for her marriage to Claudius, the brother of the recently deceased. Hamlet views this as incestuous; as did many others during the time the play was written (Pressley). We should keep in mind that she is the Queen of Denmark and has to make decisions that would best benefit her nation. Gertrude’s motivations were more political than unholy. Her marriage to Claudius gave the throne a more stable base of power which would make the people of Denmark feel more secure especially when facing a possible invasion by Fortinbras (Lenz). This union would also prove to the people that she was emotionally secure enough to be rule the state. King Hamlet also felt that Gertrude was strong enough to run the country because he made her the recipient of the throne after his death and not his eldest son which was traditional (Pressley). Gertrude uses her influence as a powerful woman to help make her country and her life more secure.

III. Ophelia

A. Sexual Power

Many critics find Ophelia to be a pawn to the men in her life, but



Cited: Fisher, Jerilyn. Review: Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003. 130-133. Print. Griffith, Ellen Lee. The Tale of the Mermaid: An Essay on the Folklore and Mythology of the Mermaid, Accompanied by Illustrations of Objects from the Exhibition. Philadelphia, Pa: Philadelphia Maritime Museum, 1986. Print. Lenz, Carolyn Ruth Swift, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, eds. The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1980. Neely, Carol Thomas. " 'Documents in Madness ': Reading Madness and Gender in Shakespeare 's Tragedies and Early Modern Culture." Shakespearean Criticism 19 (1991): 330-39. Peterson, Kaara. "Framing Ophelia: Representation and the Pictorial Tradition." Shakespearean Criticism 48 (1998): 255-62. Pressley, J.M. "Elizabethan England." Shakespeare Research Center. N.p., 17 Apr 2011. Web.15 May 2011. . Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Washington Square Press: New York, 1992.

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