Abstract: This essay employs Feminist Criticism, New Historicism, and Marxist Criticism, to analyze the portrayal of Queen Gertrude and Ophelia.
Because Shakespeare's Hamlet centers on the internal struggle of the Prince of Denmark, the reader focuses primarily on his words and actions. An often overlooked or under appreciated aspect of the play is the portrayal of the female characters, particularly Queen Gertrude and Ophelia. There are two scenes in particular that provide insight into this topic. In Act I Scene III, Ophelia receives advice from her father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes. Similarly, Gertrude is confronted and advised by Hamlet in Act III Scene IV. The three most useful and engaging methods of interpreting these scenes include Feminist Criticism, which views literature from the perspective of women; New Historicism, which observes literature in terms of history and culture; and Marxist Criticism, which examines literature within the parameters of social structure and class hierarchy. These schools of criticism provide a unique understanding of the scenes; each one provides a different focus, offering maximum insight from the text.
In both highlighted passages, the theme of feminine representation is explored. In Act I Scene III, both Laertes and Polonius counsel Ophelia on her relationship with Prince Hamlet. They warn her of the implications of her actions and the consequences of even the hint of impropriety. Both men advise her to "keep you in the rear of your affection, out of the shot and danger of desire" (1.3.33-34). For her own reputation and that of her family, she must not become (or stay) involved with the pr...
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...ction and Hamlet." Wofford. 283-293.
---. "Feminist Criticism and Hamlet." Wofford. 208-215.
---. "Psychoanalytic Criticism and Hamlet." Wofford. 241-251.
Nevo, Ruth. "Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging." Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Form in Shakespeare. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Pennington, Michael. "Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven." Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of "Hamlet": A User's Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.
Pitt, Angela. "Women in Shakespeare's Tragedies." Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint of Shakespeare's Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. T. J. B. Spencer. New York: Penguin, 1996.
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