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Elaine Showalter argues that Ophelias tragedy is subordinated in the play. Through comparison of Hamlet and Ophelia, how far do you agree?

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Introduction

Elaine Showalter argues that Ophelia's tragedy "is subordinated in the play". Through comparison of Hamlet and Ophelia, how far do you agree? In her article "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism", Elaine Showalter states that Ophelia's tragedy "is subordinated in the play". Hamlet is an Elizabethan play written by William Shakespeare - named after the protagonist. Hamlet, feels responsible to take revenge on his father's murderer, Claudius, and during this conflict he slays Ophelia's father and rejects Ophelia, whom he had previously courted. Whilst Hamlet is clearly the play's central character, Shakespeare allows his audience to see how the deaths of both Hamlet's and Ophelia's fathers lead to their madness, causing the audience to compare Hamlet's and Ophelia's tragedies and enabling us to examine whether Ophelia's tragedy in the play is subordinated to Hamlet's. Hamlet is an Elizabethan play and the audience would be aware that it is a play set in a patriarchal society. This is emphasised through Ophelia, who throughout the play is dependent on men and relies on her father and brother, Laertes. This is evident when she gives in to Polonius's scheme to spy on Hamlet with no indication that she might resist and only replies ...read more.

Middle

O God, God! How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world" Here is Hamlet's first soliloquy, where he starts to contemplate suicide and explains how it is desirable for someone whose life has become so pointless. Shakespeare, through these soliloquies, allows us to sympathise with Hamlet and we can relate to his emotions and therefore relate to his tragedy more. In this way Shakespeare prioritises Hamlet's tragedy over that of Ophelia, who has far less to say. However, we also learn that Hamlet is extremely philosophical and contemplative. Here, he contemplates suicide ("self-slaughter") but his thoughts are balanced by the fact that he realises it is forbidden by the Christian God ("the Everlasting"). Similarly, in the soliloquy in Act Three Scene One, Hamlet says, "To be or not to be"; again weighing the moral factors of suicide. Even the structure of this phrase, which has the infinitive verb 'to be' on either side, suggests the balanced nature of his mind. Hamlet represents a Renaissance, noble man; therefore to an Elizabethan audience the tragic end of a respected and educated man would create more impact as opposed to a "frail", dependent Ophelia. ...read more.

Conclusion

Therefore, her subordinate character could heighten her tragedy to a modern audience. However, we could argue that whilst Hamlet considers moral choices and alternatives, Ophelia takes action by committing suicide without procrastinating - something which Hamlet wants to be able to do. Therefore, it could be considered that despite her character being subordinate, her tragedy is of major relevance because it shows her as an active figure in her own fate, by drowning herself in her sorrows; she has a role in her own tragic end. An Elizabethan audience would be familiar with seeing women presented as weak and therefore Ophelia's presentation as 'frail' in the play allows her tragedy to be subordinated because it was expected, Ophelia herself seems to contribute to these expectations. Hamlet, by contrast, represents an Elizabethan Renaissance man with the ability to reason, think logically and therefore withstand his suicide, making his eventual death at the hands of Laertes and Claudius seem the greater loss and the dominant tragedy of the play. However, to a modern audience Ophelia's dependence on men, her absence from most of the play (and, by implication, society) and her unheard female voice could create more disbelief and sympathy towards Ophelia, allowing her subordinated character to be the foremost tragedy of the play. Anika Chauhan - Hamlet Coursework ...read more.

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