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Examine Shakespeare's presentation of women in Hamlet and how a modern audience might respond to them.

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Introduction

Examine Shakespeare's presentation of women in Hamlet and how a modern audience might respond to them. When Hamlet was first performed in 1601, England had been successfully ruled for forty-three years by Elizabeth I, a strong and influential monarch who reigned without a male counterpart, establishing England as one of the most powerful and prominent countries in the world. This is proof that women can be as successful as men; however women were still seen as second class citizens, and "property" of their husbands, during the Elizabethan period. Polonius says of Ophelia "I have a daughter - have while she is mine." (2.2, line 106) This is reflected in Shakespeare's portrayal of women in Hamlet, which shows Gertrude in a very different light to Elizabeth Tudor. For many years in the past, many women played a small role socially, economically and politically. As a result of this, many works of literature of this time, including Hamlet, were reflective of this diminutive role of women. Shakespeare suggests the danger of women's involvement in politics at the sovereign level, and reflects the public's desire for a return to a state of stability through a change to a patriarchal system. We can examine Shakespeare's presentation of women in Hamlet through the way the two women in the play, Gertrude and Ophelia, are treated by the men in their lives, and by analyzing the context in which they are referred. ...read more.

Middle

One of the most famous quotes regarding women in Hamlet is "Frailty - thy name is woman." (1.2, lines 146-147) This quote sums up the attitudes of the male characters in the play, that women are by far the weaker sex and gives us a clue as to why the men treat Gertrude and Ophelia with so little respect. In 1558, writer, John Knox described women as "weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish." Emphasizing the way that women were viewed at the time Hamlet was written. Both the women are greatly controlled by the men of the play, particularly Ophelia who is often told what to do and who has been treated as if she does not have a mind of her own all her life. When asked a question Ophelia often replies with "I think nothing," (3.2, line 118) and when she does express an opinion it is dismissed. Polonius says "Affection? Pooh, you speak like a green girl unsifted," (1.3, line 101) which is extremely patronizing, saying she speaks like an inexperienced and untried girl who does not know what she is talking about. Ophelia could have an out-going personality; however, she is so oppressed that we never get to see a true reflection of her character, due to the constraints of the society she is living in. ...read more.

Conclusion

He accuses Ophelia of being a typical woman and is therefore not treating her as an individual. He says: "For the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is bawd," (3.1, lines 111-112) explaining his opinion that beautiful women are untrustworthy and insincere. Even though Hamlet accuses women of this, he is saying it in the heat of an argument so he may be exaggerating and may not be giving his true opinion. Ophelia hardly says a think back to him though, again reflecting the idea that women are frail and passive. Throughout the play Hamlet makes reference to prostitutes, and seems to make a connection between women, sex and corruption. When Hamlet and Polonius are speaking he says: "For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion." (2.2, lines 184-185) He uses this metaphor of a dead dog, and a pun on the word "sun," to make the point that if the son (Hamlet) kisses the daughter (Ophelia) then she may breed, like the maggots in the dead animal. The characters of the play often refer to sex in a negative manner, and it is never described as a loving act between a couple. In Hamlet's second soliloquy he is blaming himself, and compares himself to a slatternly woman saying that he "must like a whore, unpack my heart with words, and fall a-cursing like a very drab, a stallion." (2. ...read more.

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