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'Are Gertrude and Ophelia merely pawns in the world of Hamlet? Explore the plays representation of femininity, paying close attention to the role and function of each of these two characters in the play'.

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Introduction

Hamlet 'Are Gertrude and Ophelia merely pawns in the world of Hamlet? Explore the plays representation of femininity, paying close attention to the role and function of each of these two characters in the play'. William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' can be seen as a chess game bought to life. The play depicts the events in a 16th century Danish royal family that unfold after a suspicious murder of the king. The plays two female characters Gertrude and Ophelia can be likened to pawns in this intricate web of lies and deceit, as their words and actions are dictated by the males of the play. This can be directly linked to the broader cultural understandings of gender roles in 16th century England, as women were portrayed as passive, weak and submissive to the males power strength aggression and action . As all texts position readers to interpret different characters in different ways, this text to can be read as empowering the females, by appearing to be submissive, in order to manipulate the men. However, as essentially Gertrude acts as a vehicle for Hamlets emotions, and Ophelia is primarily shaped to conform to external demands to reflect the male characters desires, the role of the women in Hamlet is primarily that of a manipulated pawn in a chess game that not even the kings can win. ...read more.

Middle

This culminates in her untimely suicidal death that sums up the purpose her role had in the play, to merely conform to the males desires and needs. She is Laertes 'angel', Polonious's 'commodity' and Hamlets 'spectre of his psychic fears' . Ophelia could be called an unstereotypical female in the play, because she does not play the innocent virgin role, and she goes mad after the death of her father instead of quietly accepting it. However this more strongly reflects the weaknesses of her character ,the absence of her inner strength and reveals that she is too easily overcome by emotion, traits that are more prominently associated with females, especially in the 16th century. Thus Ophelia is dominated by the males in the play, due to her weaknesses that lead to her demise, much like a pawn on a chess board. Gertrude's role in the play of 'Hamlet' is controversial, considering firstly her position of power, that she has continued to hold despite her late husbands death, as queen of Denmark. One would assume that Shakespeare, by placing Gertrude in this highly respected role is empowering her and her authority, therefore moving against broader cultural assumptions of femininity. This is certainly a possibility, given the lengths Claudius went to in order to satiate his lustful desires, as with the romanticized story Helene of Troy. ...read more.

Conclusion

Gertrude and Ophelia, whilst looked down upon throughout the play for being blatantly sexual and susceptible to her passions and are thus blamed by Hamlet, are merely acting the role of pawns in a chess game, manipulated by the males. Each female appear only to fulfill the role of reflecting the males desires as is in keeping with the representations of femininity by Shakespeare. Whilst readers may emerge initially from a reading of Hamlet with the impression that Hamlet is the misunderstood hero, with Ophelia and Gertrude playing the interfering adulterous 'ugly stepsister' role, another reading is possible. That, through no fault of their own, the female's submissive roles in fact corrupted the males to such an extent that they, even Hamlet became obsessed with the idea of power. So, although the females were manipulated by the males, it caused the opposite effect by empowering them, as they ended up as the reason for the males actions. In conclusion, though controversial, it is evident that due to the role and function of the females in the play, Gertrude and Ophelia were used by the males to such a point, that although the end result would suggest otherwise, their role consisted of nothing more than pawns in a chessgame. http://www2.students.sbc.edu/young02/hamlet.html ibid http://www.turksheadreview.com/library/introlit.html http://www.freeessays.tv/c2951.htm T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. 1922. ...read more.

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