The Role of Women in Hamlet in William Shakespeare's Play

2037 Words9 Pages
The Role of Women in Hamlet in William Shakespeare's Play

Gertrude and Ophelia, the only two women in Hamlet, reflect the

general status of women in Elizabethan Times. Women were suppressed by

the males in their lives (brothers, fathers, and partners) and were

always inferior. Ophelia and Gertrude have little or no power due to

restricted legal, social and economic rights that were found in

Elizabethan society. The male characters in Hamlet reflect this sexist

view point, represented by Hamlet’s judgement that “frailty, thy name

is woman”. This view was not uncommon in Shakespeare’s time and

heavily influenced Shakespeare to present women the way he does in

Hamlet. In a critical essay, Judith Cook[1] noted that in many of

Shakespeare’s plays major women characters ‘die because of direct

association with the fate of a tragic hero’. This could be seen as

Shakespeare trying to convey women’s fate being a ‘by-product’ of the

fate of men- men are superior.

On the other hand, Ophelia is crucial in understanding Hamlet as a

character and gives an insight into different motifs of the play. Some

may argue that Ophelia is one of the causes of Hamlet’s ‘madness’ and

his recoil from love. The reaction Hamlet has to Ophelia, at the play

for example, allows us to watch Hamlet’s disintegration- he is crude

and sexually offensive towards Ophelia which allows us to see the way

Hamlet is changing throughout the play.

Gertrude is also arguably crucial in displaying motifs of the play.

Hamlet sees his mother as a representation of how weak and frail women

are-she is the reason he views women in this way. This shapes Hamlet’s

opinion of women dur...

... middle of paper ...

...Women, Madness and the Responsibilites of

Feminist Criticism’ page 113 in Martine Coyle (ed) ‘New Case Books:

Contemporary Critical Essays” (C Palgrave 1992)

[3] Elaine Showalter ‘Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness and the

Responsibilites of Feminist Criticism’ page 114 in Martine Coyle (ed)

‘New Case Books: Contemporary Critical Essays” (C Palgrave 1992)

[4] Vieda Skultans, ‘English Madness: Ideas on Insanity 1580-1890’

(London, 1997) in Elaine Showalter ‘Representing Ophelia: Women,

Madness and the Responsibilites of Feminist Criticism’ page 118 in

Martine Coyle (ed) ‘New Case Books: Contemporary Critical Essays” (C

Palgrave 1992)

[5] Rebecca Smith, ‘A Heart Cleft in Twain: The Dilemma of

Shakespeare’s Gertrude’ page 82 in Martine Coyle (ed) ‘New Case Books:

Contemporary Critical Essays” (C Palgrave 1992)

More about The Role of Women in Hamlet in William Shakespeare's Play

Open Document