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Women in Hamlet

By hhohn123 May 21, 2013 889 Words
“Frailty thy name is woman”
Women in society’s eyes are seen and looked down upon as weak, insignificant and a lower species than that of men. Similarly in the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, Hamlet’s view of women is decidedly dark. There are only two female characters in the play of Hamlet; Gertrude and Ophelia. In the play, the roles of women are minor yet essential to the plot and flow of the play. Ophelia and Gertrude are both unappreciated women that are considered frail and weak-minded by the men in their lives. Throughout “Hamlet” it is utmost apparent that women are completely dependent on men and they constantly need help and support from the men in their lives. Although both Gertrude and Ophelia are seen as insignificant figures, they are crucial to the plot and enhance the play.

Gertrude is the first female character presents the reader that women are wholly dependent on men. This is obvious when she remarries her brother-in-law Claudius just 2 months after old King Hamlet’s death. Women are portrayed as beings that are unable to live without a man and constantly need one in their lives. “That it should come to this! But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: So excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! Must I remember? why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on: and yet, within a month—Let me not think on't—Frailty, thy name is woman!—” (1.2 Line 6) Gertrude’s quick marriage may seem immoral to people but it is the only way for her to maintain her status as queen. However Gertrude’s role as a queen is overshadowed by King Claudius. Gertrude loves Hamlet, but her shallow and weak character flaws lose Hamlet’s respect. Hamlet is devastated by his father’s death and even more so by his mother’s quick remarriage. “So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother”(1.2 Lines 139-140) His hatred is see in this quote as he calls Claudius a Satyr, half man half beast. This very hatred consumes him and further fuels his desire for revenge. Another female figure present throughout the play is Ophelia who is Hamlet’s love interest and like Gertrude she is also controlled including her father and her brother. Both men play a rather dominant role in her life. This is obvious when Ophelia fully takes their advice and stays away from Hamlet :“Then if he says he loves you, It fits your wisdom so far to believe it As he in his particular act and place --- Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open To his unmaster'd importunity. Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,”(1.3 Line 3) Ophelia is also incapable of thinking for herself. She relies on her father to instruct her and submits entirely to his will. “Ophelia, Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers, Not of that dye which their investments show : I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth, have you so slander any moment leisure, as to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. Look to't, I charge you: come your ways.” OPHELIA: I shall obey, my lord. (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 8) In this quote, she proves her loyalty and dependence when she agrees to stay away from Hamlet and his false sentiments. Ophelia’s actions show that she will do anything to appease her father, even making a personal sacrifice which she does not agree with. Ironically, Ophelia’s dependence upon the men in her life ultimately leads to her tragic suicide. Each male character plays a key role in the cause of her suicidal death. While Laertes physically leaves Ophelia to live abroad, Hamlet abandons her as a lover and is at times ruthless and cold towards the innocent Ophelia. The last straw is the death of her father, Polonius, who is the most influential man in her life. Ophelia’s death strengthens the theme of revenge in the play as it makes Laertes resent Hamlet more because Hamlet has taken away the two people dearest to him. A comparison to real life can be made to American women in the early 40’s. During the 1940’s in the states, women were supposed to fulfill certain roles, such as a caring mother, a diligent homemaker, and an obedient wife. The perfect mother was supposed to stay home and nurture so society would accept them. A diligent housewife had dinner on the table precisely at the moment her husband arrived from work. Women were considered weak and looked down by society.

Throughout the play “Hamlet”, Shakespeare focuses in portraying women as weak and incompetent figures. Both Gertrude and Ophelia allow themselves to be dominated by their male counterparts which lead to their demise at the end of the play. They play passive roles in the play, but are key to the flow and progression of the plot. Shakespeare effectively presents a weaker side of women in “Hamlet” which still remains a classic among many works of literature.

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