Perception of Women in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Perception of Women in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

In Hamlet, Shakespeare carefully represents Getrude and Ophelia.

Individually, Gertrude is essentially seen as weak and immoral whilst

Ophelia is seen as meek and a victim of society. Collectively, they

are seen to fulfil a conventional 16th century role, and it is as our

beliefs and views of women change that we are able to perceive the

characters in a different angle.

At the beginning of the play, we get a very biased insight into the

character of Gertrude and how those around her perceive her. This is

because Hamlet and the ghost of Hamlet are both very biased as they

feel a sense of injustice at Gertrude's marriage to Claudius, her

brother-in-law. For example, Gertrude is chiefly seen as very uncaring

and "unrighteous," as the "incestuous" marriage, according to Hamlet,

was carried out with "dexterity" and scarcely a month after King

Hamlet's death. This depiction makes the audience form a very strong

opinion of Gertrude from the outset. It creates an ominous feeling

about Gertrude as the first insight we get into her character is given

by people who have been hurt by her in some way. This suggests that

she is someone to watch out for and that Gertrude is weak and unable

to live without a man who can provide self-protection. Hamlet

personifies this when he says that "frailty" is "woman" and thus a

theme that indicates women are weak runs through the play.

Gertrude's weakness and fickleness is shown in Act 3 Scene 4 where we

are given an insight into Gertrude's actions and personality. She

commences in an arrogant manner for the performance of The Mousetrap,

and then afrai...

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... ambiguous, to appeal to the different classes of people who would have

seen the performance in the 16th Century. This is because she is a

character that can be sympathised with, but more prominently, someone

that is easily criticized. This fallible characteristic reminds us

that Gertrude is merely trying to survive in an oppressed world and so

should not constantly be judged. This is effectively shown when

Gertrude is first introduced and emulates the role in society that

women were supposed to conform to during the 16th century. In this

way, Shakespeare manages to make the characters more lifelike, through

their respective weaknesses and strengths as characters.



1. 'Hamlet' - penguin popular classics

2. Notes from teacher


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