Portrayal of Women in Shakespeare's Hamlet

analytical Essay
1229 words
1229 words

Portrayal of Women in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Shakespeare was possibly the first writer to portray women as strong, crafty, and intelligent. However, he has still received criticism from feminists about his representation of women. Some have even accused him of misogyny. There are only two female characters in the play Hamlet - Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and Ophelia, daughter of Polonius. Any debate based upon gender roles must therefore focus upon these two characters.

Shakespeare portrays Gertrude as a woman of power and intelligence - she was Queen for a considerable amount of time - we can safely assume at least 30 years - and she is asked advice on matters by King Claudius - "Do you think 'tis this?" (II.2.152). Gertrude is a woman who married her own brother-in-law; perhaps to remain in her position of power. It is often debated whether or not Gertrude was involved in the killing of King Hamlet - either way, Gertrude seems to have complied fully in her marriage to Claudius - she doesn't seem at all offended by Claudius' presence - perhaps reason to suspect that she was unaware of Claudius' role in Hamlet's death, if she was uninvolved.

The ghost tells Hamlet not to judge his mother, or to seek revenge upon her, telling him "leave her to heaven" (I.5.86). This pours doubt upon Gertrude's 'guilt'. Further, her seeming innocence, when confronted by Hamlet as she exclaims "As kill a king!" (III.4.31) would indicate her lack of guilt in or even knowledge of, the murder of old Hamlet. Hamlet himself is certainly convinced, as he tries to 'win her over', later on in the scene: "Throw away the worser part of it, and live the purer with the other half." (III.4.158-159).

Gertrude's apparent innocence would highligh...

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...rch 1897), 70-76. Rpt. in Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900. Ed. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts. New York: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Pennington, Michael. "Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven." Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of "Hamlet": A User's Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.

Pitt, Angela. "Women in Shakespeare's Tragedies." Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint of Shakespeare's Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.

Sardone, Frances J.: Gertrude: Queen of Denmark, Available:

Shakespeare, William: Hamlet. Published by Penguin 1996.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995.

In this essay, the author

  • Opines that shakespeare was the first writer to portray women as strong, crafty, and intelligent. however, he has received criticism from feminists about his representation of women.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare portrays gertrude as a woman of power and intelligence. she married her brother-in-law, claudius, to remain in her power.
  • Analyzes how the ghost tells hamlet not to judge his mother, or to seek revenge on her, and pours doubt upon gertrude's 'guilt'
  • Analyzes how hamlet's attitude towards his mother changes throughout the play. he uses no daggers when he speaks to her, and calls her mother and good lady.
  • Analyzes how ophelia's madness shows a weakness that gertrude did not have. shakespeare is guilty of pointing out that people react to grief in different ways.
  • Analyzes how hamlet's feelings of love for ophelia can be interpreted in ways other than the misogynistic. he was angry at her for obeying her father and shunning his advances and gifts.
  • Analyzes how hamlet is sexually provocative with ophelia in a few scenes, but it could be an indication that he wanted her to know where his affections lay.
  • Opines that hamlet's criticism is about his generalisations of women. he is disillusioned with women because of his mother marrying his uncle.
  • Analyzes how hamlet implies that all women's love is brief. this would have been a criticism of ophelia’s rejection of him.
  • Analyzes how hamlet laughs off horatio's concern of the forthcoming fencing match, saying "it is such a kind of gaingiving as would perhaps trouble
  • Opines that shakespeare was not a misogynist. the main focus of evil and corruption in the play is on claudius.
  • Opines that it could be argued that shakespeare was a misanthropist.
  • Explains pennington, michael, "ophelia: madness her only safe haven" and "hamlet": a user's guide.
  • Explains that pitt, angela, "women in shakespeare's tragedies" and sardone, frances j.
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