Essay Contrasing Gertrude and Ophelia of Shakespeare's Hamlet
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Contrast of Gertrude and Ophelia in Hamlet
Queen Gertrude and Ophelia, the main female characters in Shakespeare’s dramatic tragedy Hamlet, have a variety of contrasting or dissimilar personal qualities and experiences. This essay, with the help of literary critics, will explore these differences.
John Dover Wilson in his book, What Happens in Hamlet, discusses what is perhaps the greatest dissimilarity between Ophelia and Gertrude – their morality:
His [Hamlet’s] mother is a criminal, has been guilty of a sin which blots out the stars for him, makes life a bestial thing, and even infects his very blood. She has committed incest. Modern readers, living in an age when marriage laws are the subject of free discussion and with a deceased wife’s sister act upon the statute-book, can hardly be expected to enter fully into Hamlet’s feelings on this matter. Yet no one who reads the first soliloquy in the Second Quarto text, with its illuminating dramatic punctuation, can doubt for one moment that Shakespeare wished here to make full dramatic capital out of Gertrude’s infringement of ecclesiastical law, and expected his audience to look upon it with as much abhorrence as the Athenians felt for what we should consider the more venial, because unwitting, crime of the Oedipus of Sophocles (39).
Quite opposite the criminality of the king’s wife is the innocence of Ophelia, who might be called a “broken lily” (O’Donnell 241). In the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet, David Bevington enlightens the reader regarding this dissimilarity between the two ladies:
Characters also serve as foils to one another as well as to Hamlet. Gertrude wishfully sees in Ophelia the b...
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...ffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Boklund, Gunnar. “Hamlet.” Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Lectures and Notes on Shakspere and Other English Poets. London : George Bell and Sons, 1904. p. 342-368. http://ds.dial.pipex.com/thomas_larque/ham1-col.htm
O’Donnell, Jessie F. “Ophelia.” The American Shakespeare Magazine, 3 (March 1897), 70-76. Rpt. in Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900. Ed. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts. New York: Manchester University Press, 1997.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html No line nos.
Wilson, John Dover. What Happens in Hamlet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.