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

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

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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)

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