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Shakespeare's Portrayal of Women

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As Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, the fiction was set in the Renaissance era and therefore the persona of women was reflective of that period. The natural stereotype of that time viewed women as weak, fickle, and dependent of the men in their society and subject to the decisions that men make for them. It was an exceedingly common depiction and very rarely was it proven wrong to the men of that time. Women’s rights were nonexistent in this time period so it wasn’t unusual for the portrayal of women to be so negative and offensive. Given that women of that age had known nothing else they attempted to fit the stereotype to please the ‘natural order’.

The role women played in Hamlet was complicated. Their distinct purpose as characters in the tragedy was to illustrate Hamlet’s warped view of women and give the audience an obvious understanding of Hamlets madness and distress. Hamlets strong unwavering judgment of women was caused by his mother. He had been delusional about women by Gertrude’s actions. He is consumed by the absurdity of his mother’s love for his uncle and is justified to feel disgust towards his mother, her actions and implications and in doing so provoked hamlet’s unforgivable treatment of all women as a whole. Although Hamlet gives off the illusion that Shakespeare is enormously disgusted by the female race Hamlet’s outlook doesn’t really reflect Shakespeare’s attitude of women.

In Gertrude’s choice to marry so soon after her husband’s death she transgresses the patriarchal bound of femininity. She refuses to remain in passive grief and obedient devotion to his memory. Gertrude’s sin was her inaction. She was willing to accept Claudius and didn’t think twice of rejecting him. In Hamlet’s eyes his father was the very d...

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...er of. Only in her insanity does she live up to Hamlets false perceptions of her as a provocative woman as she sings of lost virtue and sinful matters.

When Ophelia commits suicide Shakespeare proves he doesn’t only view women as passive and accepting. In Ophelia’s self intended death she refuses to live miserably in a life that denies her. In her death she lashes out at the world accusing it of being so in tolerable that even death was preferable to living. In Ophelia’s character Shakespeare places vulnerability on one hand yet a kind of nobility in the other demonstrating his opinion of women is not of single mind and temperament but each character has her own vices and virtues, her own ideas and beliefs. Shakespeare portrays women as both, passive and active, disgraceful and noble, apathetic and loving; they are themselves.

Works Cited
Hamlet by Shakespeare
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