Women in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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Women in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. In this essay I will look at Hamlets perception of women in general but particularly Gertrude and Ophelia. I will also look at the historical presentation of women, comparing Hamlets time to today and seeing if the symbolic role that the females characters have is related to the period. Also I will look at Hamlets madness, whether it was real or not and also whether women could be the cause of it. Finally I will look at a possible ‘Oedipus complex’ in Hamlet. ‘Hamlet’ as the title suggests is based around the character Hamlet Prince of Denmark. This is why women are often presented the way that Hamlet sees them. Also Hamlet lives in a very enclosed world with only a small circle of friends and family. Only 2 women, Gertrude and Ophelia, enter into his world, so he used their characters as a complete character assessment of all women. Hamlet directs the insult ‘frailty thy name is women’ at Gertrude, and in some ways this remark is justified. Hamlet is disillusioned with her because of her ‘o’erhasty marriage’ to Claudius. He thinks it is incestuous and at times seems angrier about it then his father’s murder, ‘in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed.’ This is why often people say that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex. This is an idea developed by Freud who says all sons want to sleep with their mothers and kill their fathers. There are many arguments that go against this though. Hamlet is very outspoken about Gertrude’s ‘incestuous behaviour’ so isn’t likely to want it himself. Hamlet seams repulsed by sex. Also Hamlet seems to view his father as a type of god and so isn’t very likely to want to kill him. In fact the exact opposite, as he is trying to revenge the murder of his father. Gertrude is also suspected by Hamlet of being involved in the murder of Old Hamlet although we are led to believe that she is not. This is because the ghost of Old Hamlet tells Hamlet to say nothing against her as though she is an innocent party in Claudius plan ‘against thy mother aught; leave her to heaven’ She also she turns to support Hamlet at the end of the play, even by saving his life by drinking the poison intended for him. Hamlet only sees the ‘incestuous behaviour’ from Gertrude though and as for him, she represents women in general, he is suspicious of all women. We do get a view of Gert...

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...odshed that he predicts is going to happen. Hamlet is often sceptical against women. He says to Ophelia ‘or is thou wilt need marry, marry a fool, for wise men know what monsters you will make of them.’ This shows how bitter he is towards women and how bitter he is towards the world. This bitterness may be because he feels he has been betrayed by the 2 main women in his life. His mother by marrying Claudius and Ophelia by rejecting him. Women often have symbolic roles in Hamlet. Gertrude isn’t an evil character but is tainted by Claudius. This proves that Shakespeare presents women as being morally week, and led by men, rather than making their own choices. Even when Gertrude breaks away from the evil of Claudius she is led by another man in her son Hamlet. Although this is a more positive reflection of Gertrude/women it still shows how women are shown as easily led and not able to make their own decisions. It isn’t decisive whether Shakespeare is showing this presentation of women as a way of showing that this is wrong, or whether it is just a part of the play that fits in with historical setting. Or he may have been agreeing that this is the way that women should be portrayed.
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