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Examine how Shakespeare presents the female characters in 'Hamlet' and what the response of a modern day audience might be to this aspect of the play.

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Introduction

Examine how Shakespeare presents the female characters in 'Hamlet' and what the response of a modern day audience might be to this aspect of the play. As 'Hamlet' was set in the Elizabethan period it is necessary to consider the portrayal of woman in the play as a comparison with women in a modern day society. Similarly to most literature written during this period, 'Hamlet' conveys women's lower status to men. This can be thought of as the stereotypical view in Elizabethan society. We know that women were not even able to act in plays and that young men had to play the parts of women. One of the main ways we may interpret the portrayal of woman is through the language, and in some cases stage directions of various characters, in various scenes. It may be true to say that the characters of Ophelia and Gertrude are portrayed as weak and submissive, this is seen by men as well as themselves. They can be seen to be merely driving factors of the play rather than main elements such as Hamlet. It may also be suggested that due to these facts, the play 'Hamlet' may be written differently if written today, in terms of language, in order to suit a modern day audience. It can be argued that the way Shakespeare has presented women, reflecting society in the Elizabethan period, may not be acceptable in today's society. One of the principle aspects to consider is how female characters are portrayed and therefore treated by others in the play. Ophelia is an interesting character, and it is important to explore her relationships, her language, and also her death prior to concluding her portrayal. ...read more.

Middle

However, even as Queen and mother, Gertrude similar to Ophelia, seems to find herself dominated by the male characters. Like Ophelia, Gertrude is also dominated by Hamlet. However, it must be noticed that unlike Ophelia's character, this domination and control does not affect Gertrude mentally, nor does it affect her actions. In addition, although his words to her are cruel, he holds a great deal of respect for her calling her Mother and "good lady". In the 'closet scene' Hamlet finally confronts his mother and we are able gain insight into their relationship. Gertrude attempts a motherly almost formal tone with Hamlet, scolding him for his disrespectful behaviour towards Claudius "Hamlet, you have thy father much offended". However, Hamlet instantaneously dominates the conversation refusing to let his mother scold him whilst criticising her for her betrayal of his father King Hamlet "Mother you have my father much offended". He almost intends to explain to her how she has done this "You are the Queen, your husbands brothers wife". He also continues to extend his feeling to all woman stating "frailty thy name is woman" possible to further explore Gertrude's relationship with Hamlet. As continued in Act 3 scene 4, Hamlet goes into additional detail of what he believes to be his mother's sexual crime. He says, "but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption". The imagery used conveys a sexual relationship between Hamlet and his mother. Due to Shakespeare's use of minimal stage directions throughout the play, many actions and features of the characters are almost left uncertain, allowing directors to manipulate this to present other views. ...read more.

Conclusion

After he tells her not to drink from the cup she responds with "I will my lord, I pray you pardon me", showing even though she doesn't follow his order she shows the greatest respect for him, however, this leads to her death. It is interesting though that before she dies she feels she must explain how to Hamlet "the drink the drink, I am poisoned" In conclusion, I think Shakespeare has presented woman as the weaker sex and shown them to hide any dominating characteristics that they may have. If we were to consider this play in context with Elizabethan times, it becomes obvious to the reader that Shakespeare has presented this view to fit in with a Elizabethan audiences thinking and stereotypes, any other portrayal of woman would be thought of as abnormal to them. However, it is not possible to clearly state that a modern day audience would not have the same responses. I think that Gertrude's relationships, how she is treated by Hamlet, and indeed her sexual relationship with Hamlet would be thought of as outrageous by both audiences. As the incestuous desire between Ophelia and Laertes is subtle, it would not be looked at with disgust, and may dismiss it as brotherly love. I think that due to the language Elizabethan audiences would be more likely to pick up on the sexual terms. There are many areas, which I have explored in which Shakespeare presents women as weak and submissive. However, I think that most characteristics of Ophelia and Gertrude within the play are a mere reflection of women in the Elizabethan times. If this were not true, the play would be mocking woman of the Elizabethan times, and therefore watched more in terms of a comedy. ...read more.

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