Women's Role in Shakespearean Tragedy

Topics: William Shakespeare, Gender, Woman Pages: 5 (1753 words) Published: June 30, 2005
In Shakespeare's tragedies and his plays in general, we can come across several types of female characters. Their influence with other characters and their purpose or role, often underestimated like women themselves, will be this essay's main subject. Women in Shakespearean plays have always had important roles, sometimes even the leading role. Whether they create the main conflicts and base of the plays, or bring up interesting moral and cultural questions, they have always been put in challenging situations. Some women are stronger than others, and their effect on the play is different for each one. They often even surpass the male heroes. It's almost unbelieveable, if we take into consideration the status of women, of course with its discrimination and cruel conditions, in Shakespeare's days - sixteenth century Elizabethan England. But there could have been many reasons, why he gave his characters such qualities. It could have been the Queen Elizabeth I. on the throne, or a certain influence of his marriage with older woman. Some modern critics claim, he was a feminist, or on the contrary it is historically incorrect, because we shouldn't forget that he wrote maily for a male entertainment. Particulary in his comedies we frequently see a woman take on the strongest character, while often in his tragedies he has a male play the isolated tragic hero. It's highly necessary to know the context to fully understand it. The women couldn't do much of anything but cook and clean for their husbands. They were also spoken to and commanded like they were common dogs. Also the women did not get to choose who they married. They were supposed to act like dolls. Their loyalty belonged first to their fathers and then to their husbands. This patriarchal structure has forced them to become repressed and helpless, not only in the eyes of men and society. Overall women were treated horrible compared to today's time. There's evident inspiration and writer's reaction. Nevertheless, in the midst of this male-dominant society Shakespeare portrays women with strengths at least equal to those of men. Shakespeare's views on women clearly define his plays and how, by using the women as some of the most powerful and stage dominating characters, and he shows a remarkable gift for breaking down the barriers that held women captive. Shakespeare was obviously alive to the fact, that the woman pull the strings, desire power and be up to men. And that was more than unnatural and almost provocative, considering society of that period.

For example, "Hamlet" has an interestingly strong female in it. Queen Gertrude, widow of Old Hamlet, remarried to Claudius, has a type of conditional strength. When she and Claudius get married, that alone takes a lot of guts. Her marriage so soon after her husband‘s death would be subject to gossip in the people she was ruling. In this play the negative view toward the women is exhibited by Hamlet. He says harsh things to women and treats them as if they are inferior to him. At first it seems as if he is just very misogynistic, but he actually treats the women this way because of how they've betrayed him through their actions; his mother Gertrude married only a month after Hamlet's father's death, and second female Ophelia heeds her father's command not to see Hamlet despite professing her love for him. Hamlet sees both women as weak and too dependent on the men in their lives, and his bitterness leads him to believe that all women are untrustworthy. He becomes cynical about women in general, showing a particular obsession with what he perceives to be a connection between female sexuality and moral corruption. This motif of misogyny, or hatred of women, occurs sporadically throughout the play, but it is an important factor in Hamlet's relationships with Ophelia and Gertrude. In spite of fact that both woman are being given unique personalities which influence the outcome of the story,...
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