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Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents male characters' attitudes towards women, and how this affects their relationships with the female characters

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Introduction

20th February 05 "Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents male characters' attitudes towards women, and how this affects their relationships with the female characters" The female characters in 'Hamlet' have several vital roles within the play that serve to add depth and interest to the overall plot. Shakespeare employs the women to emphasize key themes such as betrayal, that might not otherwise be drawn out, and also enable the audience to gain a deeper understanding of the main male characters through the way in which they view and treat women. It is important to closely examine the male-female interaction and relationships in order to understand how Shakespeare uses the women as a dramatic device. The main male characters of Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius and Laertes are repeatedly shown to possess negative attitudes towards women. These attitudes result in unjust, oppressive and abusive relationships with the female characters of Gertrude and Ophelia. The primary male character, Hamlet, bears no exception to this general negativity directed at women. Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a man with a progressive hatred of womankind, having a detrimental influence upon his relationships with the female characters. Shakespeare implies the reason for Hamlet's increased negativity to be his mother's remarriage to his uncle, Claudius. The extent this has affected Hamlet is implied through repeated mention of it, such as in his second soliloquy when he speaks of Claudius' two crimes as making his mother a "whore...and the murder of [his] father". ...read more.

Middle

Claudius excuses his lack of action against Hamlet by saying it was for Gertrude's sake, claiming his wife is "so conjunctive in [his] life and soul" that he could only "exist by her side". Shakespeare's use of overly dramatic language intimates the falseness of Claudius' declaration of love for Gertrude. Claudius' hyperbole also emphasizes the way he manipulates his marriage for personal gain; to excuse his own behaviour whilst maintaining his public facade. Shakespeare also presents Claudius as believing women to be intellectually inferior. Prior to Polonius' "news of the cause of [Hamlet's] distemper", Gertrude seeks to explain it herself, accounting it to his father's death and their "o'erhasty marriage". However, despite this in fact being the correct reason for Hamlet's dismay, Claudius dismisses his wife's theory saying only to her "well, we shall sift him anyway", moving straight to Polonius' "informed" judgment. This implies that Claudius deems his wife's conclusion as less valuable and intelligible than that of a man's, Polonius. Shakespeare again suggests this point when prior to the 'Chance' meeting Claudius sends his wife away, saying "Gertrude leave us...to encounter and judge". This again points to Claudius' view that Gertrude lacks the intellectual capacity to analyse the reason for Hamlet's madness, and that he and Polonius are better equipped to do so. Shakespeare shows Claudius' view that Gertrude lacks intelligence to believe it necessary that he instruct her, leading to a relationship in which he seeks control. ...read more.

Conclusion

Regarding Hamlet's proposed love for Ophelia, Laertes instructs his sister to "think it no more", and that she should "fear" and "be wary" of the damage that surrendering her virginity would cause. Laertes' language implies that he believes his instructions to be for Ophelia's own benefit, evidence that Laertes sees Ophelia, and perhaps women in general, as na�ve and vulnerable. Shakespeare uses the similarity between Laertes' attitudes towards women and those of his father, Polonius, to hint at the futility of the Elsinore society. In drawing the parallel between father and son, there are deeply rooted implications. For example, since Laertes' assumptions are likely inherited from his father, the society is seen to be set in a vicious cycle of male dominance and female suppression. This message has the powerful effect of quashing the audience's hope for the female characters, seeing little chance that lessons will be learnt from the destruction of Ophelia and Gertrude, so eliminating hope for the future too. Throughout the play, Shakespeare shows male characters to portray and maintain extremely negative attitudes towards the two female characters, Gertrude and Ophelia, exposing them as weak and oppressed victims of their male peers. Shakespeare allows the audience to draw a parallel between these two women, both of whom are shown to be passively suppressed and abused by the patriarchal society in which they live. The consequence of these attitudes results in the male-incited deaths of both Gertrude and Ophelia. Through this total destruction of the female characters, Shakespeare portrays women as the victims of an unjust society, with men as their cruel and ruthless oppressors. 1 ...read more.

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