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Societies' Views Towards Women In Shakespeare's Hamlet

1790 words - 8 pages

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare is a well known play, that not only tells a tragedy about revenge and philosophical thinking, but it indirectly emphasizes societies’ views toward women. Shakespeare does a fantastic job at depicting the expected behavior and roles of women through his female characters; Ophelia and Gertrude. Gertrude and Ophelia are portrayed as weak and dependent, a common belief of society toward many women of the time. Hamlet was written and published during the late middle ages (14th -15th century). A time when women were necessary, simply due to their child bearing abilities. They were to be seen as their husband's property, and if they were unfortunate enough to lose ...view middle of the document...

Ophelia’s behavior supports the idea that women are dependent and need guidance even in the most personal of subjects. Shakespeare was able to portray women as dependent and weak through Ophelia’s unwillingness to stand up for herself. Ophelia hardly ever thought for herself. She was always being told what to think and do. This supports the idea that Shakespeare wanted to convey the idea that women are dependent upon men, and must be told what to do.
In regards to Ophelia, Hamlet is no saint. He too is guilty of disrespecting her. When Ophelia comes to Hamlet, he disregards her gifts, and goes on a rant about the fallacy of his love for her, “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.” (3:1:119-121) Hamlet has decided that the world is a terrible place, and that although he led Ophelia to believe he loved her, he does not. His rant continues as follows, “ If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry. Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.” (3:1:136-139)This is degrading on so many levels. Mostly because of the dual meaning a nunnery carries. It is fair to say that in this case a nunnery could mean a place for nuns, or a whorehouse. Either way this statement is demeaning, and it shows that men feel they had the right to dictate the decisions that the women should be making.
Aside from being controlled, Ophelia shows the ultimate sign of weakness when she decides to kill herself. Victims of suicide are often viewed as weak, even though this may not always be the case. Shortly after Ophelia realizes her father was murdered, she falls into a rapid spiral of grieving and sheer craziness.Not long after her spiral Ophelia commits suicide. Therefore, it makes sense that Shakespeare would choose a female character to commit suicide. Shakespeare is portraying the idea that the mind of a women is so weak that in the case of a tragic event, it is likely she will not be able to handle such tragedy, and in some cases she will take her life. In addition to weakness, this statement also implies that women lack rational thinking, and above all authority of their own life. If in the play, Ophelia decided that her father’s passing was upsetting, but she could get through it, and eventually avenge her father, the play would have a completely different message. Instead, Shakespeare uses Laertes, Ophelia’s older brother, to be the strong character who is genuinely phased by the death of his father, but manages to move forward in the hopes of avenging his father’s death. This was strategically written. It is not a coincidence that Ophelia plays the role of a weak minded girl, and Laertes plays the strong man of action. Shakespeare wrote it as it is, to...

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