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Shakespeare is unable to present women other than as passive victims or deceivers of men With reference to the characters of Ophelia and Gertrude explore to what extent you agree with this statement.

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Introduction

'Shakespeare is unable to present women other than as passive victims or deceivers of men" With reference to the characters of Ophelia and Gertrude explore to what extent you agree with this statement. It could be argued that Shakespeare constructs both Ophelia and Gertrude as weak, powerless and vulnerable in contrast to the powerful men around them. At the same time however, he is also reflecting women's social position at the time through these characters, so his view is something that would be traditional for the audience. In the actual play, their roles are minor compared to those of Hamlet, Claudius or Polonius. Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses Hamlet to undermine their position in society. For example, he says 'Frailty thy name is woman' 1, thus equating womankind with the attribute of frailty. Both Gertrude and Ophelia are overshadowed by the male characters, with no voice of their own, as Shakespeare uses them to recreate the position of women in Elizabethan times, which was basically that of a 'maid, wife, or widow, with whores alone outside of the stereotype.'2 Hamlet not only treats both his mother and Ophelia as inferior human beings, but also introduces another stereotype of 'whore' when talking about his mother, making him a complete misogynist. Women in Elizabethan times were seen as inferior in comparison to men and this is shown in 'Hamlet' through Ophelia and Gertrude. ...read more.

Middle

This shows that Polonius considers his daughter's love story with Hamlet to be of a commercial, materialistic nature and not of true loving feelings. Again, this shows the lack of consideration towards his daughter's feelings. Further on in the play, in Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet carries on insulting Ophelia but she is unable to answer back with anything other than monosyllabic, obedient phrases, like 'At home, my Lord'13. Shakespeare's construction of Ophelia's language, through end-stopped lines and monosyllabic words is a reflection of her position at the time and shows just how little she is allowed to say. End-stopped lines suggest that she is constantly being cut short by Hamlet who does not give her the chance to speak properly. Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a misogynist, as he criticizes Ophelia strongly, calling her a 'breeder of sinners'14. Shakespeare uses a crude choice of words when Hamlet starts 'ranting' at her, but Ophelia on the other side is shown to really care for Hamlet, believing his 'antic disposition'. This is shown by the use of prose for when he speaks instead of blank verse, and it leads her to thinking that he has gone insane, as we see when she constantly pleads for help for him, 'O heavenly powers, restore him'15 However, although in my opinion Ophelia is shown to be weak and powerless, as she is not allowed to have a voice of her own, it could be said that her short, obedient responses in Act 1, Scene 3 are actually sarcastic and witty remarks. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is ironic that the one time she disobeys a man, unexpected in those days, it leads to her death, showing perhaps that women making their own decisions could lead to tragic consequences. Gertrude is also shown to be emotional and delicate when dealing with tragic situations, unlike Claudius who is shown to be unable to deal with Hamlet's 'antic disposition'. She describes Ophelia's suicide in a poetic and lyrical way, where images are used to enrich emotional force and intensify the poignancy, 'glassy stream...fantastic garlands... mermaid-like...melodious lay'22. This shows Gertrude in a different light, the complete opposite to what the 'combatants' in the play -the ghost, Hamlet and Claudius- see her as: a malleable, submissive sexual object. Overall, Shakespeare does present both Ophelia and Gertrude as weak and dependant on men, as neither of them have the chance to express their own voice. However, this was the common view of women at the time, so this presentation, which at first strikes a modern audience as misogynist, could simply be a reflection of women's position during the Elizabethan era. Ophelia, who is initially constructed as pure and virginal has to then suffer due to Hamlet's stereotyping towards his mother, considering her a whore and a prostitute for her behaviour after her husband's death. Ophelia's reputation is tarnished due to Gertrude's apparent incestuous attitude and in consequence, her position is undermined even more, leading to her descent into madness and eventual suicide. ...read more.

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