Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay: Comparison of Gertrude and Ophelia

2850 Words12 Pages
Comparison of Gertrude and Ophelia within Hamlet Shakespeare developed 126 female characters in his dramas. In his tragedy Hamlet there are Ophelia and Gertrude. This essay will explore the similarities or commonality of these two characters. One obvious feature which both Ophelia and Gertrude have in common is that they are both recipients of Hamlet’s ill-will. T.S. Elliot in his essay, “Hamlet and His Problems” explains how Gertrude is the object of the protagonist’s disgust: Hamlet is up against the difficulty that his disgust is occasioned by his mother, but that his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it; his disgust envelops and exceeds her. (25) L.C. Knight in “An Approach to Hamlet,” agreeing with T. S. Eliot, comments on the “obsessive passion” which the prince exercises in his chastisement of Gertrude: I am of course aware that what Hamlet says to his mother in the Closet scene may be regarded as part of a necessary and proper attempt to break the alliance between her and the smiling murderer; but through it all runs the impure streak of the indulgence of an obsessive passion.[. . .] If with genuine, even with passionate, concern, you want to help someone in great need, someone in desperate ignorance of his true condition, do you, I wonder, say, “This is what you are: see how ugly you look”? Well, perhaps you may; but certainly not in such a way that you seem about to make an aggressive attack. (70) In similar fashion, Ophelia is verbally abused by the hero; and this episode is elaborated on in detail later. In the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet, David Bevington enlightens the reader regarding the similarities between Gertrude and Ophelia as the hero sees them: Yet to Hamlet, Ophelia is no better than another Gertrude: both are tender of heart but submissive to the will of importunate men, and so are forced into uncharacteristic vices. Both would be other than what they are, and both receive Hamlet’s exhortations to begin repentance by abstaining from pleasure. “Get thee to a nunnery”; “Assume a virtue if you have it not.” (9) As Bevington says, both Gertrude and Ophelia are “tender of heart,” motivated by love and a desire for quiet familial harmony among the members of their courtly society in Elsinore. At the first social function in the play, Gertrude is motivated out of love for her son to advise:
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