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Women’s Roles in Hamlet

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Women’s Roles in Hamlet

In the play Hamlet, Shakespeare, the author, creates female characters that occupy very different roles than in his other plays. In this play, Hamlet plays opposite two women who are used by the men around them in order to further their own interests. One woman is named Ophelia. In many of Shakespeare’s other plays, he creates women that are very strong and play a very real role in the life of the protagonist. In Hamlet, however, Ophelia occupies a very different role-she exemplifies a pawn of the men around her. She is used not only by her father and his associate the King, but also by her supposed lover, Hamlet. This is a very different role for a woman in a Shakespearian play. Also, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, also plays a very frivolous role in the novel. Hamlet continually criticizes her incestuous liaison with his uncle, her brother-in-law, and uses her connections with his uncle in order to further his plan to have revenge on his uncle. In other Shakespearian plays, the male characters usually have respect for the women that they are associated with; in Hamlet, however, Shakespeare chooses to instead portray women more realistically. At the time when this play was written, it was very common for women to be used merely as pawns for either their fathers, brothers, husbands, or lovers. This shows Shakespeare’s deviation in this play from his characteristic style of writing-it questions that very style in which his other plays were written.

Ophelia, as the protagonist’s love interest, generally would occupy a role in which the main character would be openly smitten with her. In Hamlet, rather the opposite is true. Ophelia’s character is very obviously in love with Hamlet, however, her father and b...

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...in that the most important men in her life expect differing things of her. Therefore, she also finds herself caught in the middle of a male feud.

Ophelia and Gertrude’s positions are typical of the positions that women were placed in at the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Many of Shakespeare’s other plays deal with a more idealistic society, one in which women have more control over their lives and aren’t controlled by the men which play roles in their lives. Hamlet is a play in which Shakespeare somewhat criticizes his own style of writing. In this play, he attempts to depict the emotional aspect of the play in a more realistic way. He especially does this with the roles of the women, by making them more typical female characters of the era. This lends more legitimacy to the story, in that the audience is better able to relate to the characters.
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