• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Shakespeares Hamlet - To what extent do you consider the female roles in the play to be subordinate to the male roles?

Extracts from this document...


To what extent do you consider the female roles in the play to be subordinate to the male roles? In Shakespeare's day women played a small role socially, economically and politically. As a result of this, many works in literature were reflective of this diminutive role of women. Women were not allowed to perform on stage that meant that, in Elizabethan theatres, men dressed up as women and played their parts. So, female parts were kept relatively small when it came to writing plays. This could be why Shakespeare might have under developed the female role in Hamlet. One of the two females in the play is Gertrude. Her role in the play is a significant one. First of all for being the mother of the main character, Hamlet, whom she influences throughout the course of the play. Secondly, for being married to the villain of the play, Claudius, who has murdered her first husband. Hamlet's first soliloquy suggests that Gertrude has rejected the traditional way that a woman should behave when she is widowed. He says "For Hecuba! / What's Hecuba to him, or he to her" (Act II, Sc II, Ln 555-556). Hecuba was a mythological queen representing a grieving mother, and Gertrude does not fulfil this role. Hamlet's constant repetition of the time in which took the two to get married "But two months dead ... A little month ... Within a month ... ...read more.


Submissive and obeying as she is, she contradicts this by showing a spark of intelligence by speaking up. In Elizabethan times women would have been expected to keep sexual comments to themselves, this is a true indication that she might not be as innocent as we're led to believe. Some independence is suggested especially before the play. Brenner's version of Hamlet expresses her to have broken all the rules for example that she has already lost her virginity. Polonius, Ophelia's father also expresses his concerns about Hamlet's love for Ophelia. He expressly forbids her to see Hamlet again and she yields without any struggle, "I shall obey, my lord" (Act I, Sc III, Ln 136). Polonius cheapens the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, who finds it very hard to believe that Hamlet might actually love his daughter. He tells her she's speaking like a fool because she believes what Hamlet has said to her, "Pooh! You speak like a green girl" (Act I, Sc III, Ln 101). Ophelia listens. In this scene especially, Ophelia is passive and obeying when she doesn't want to be. She listens as the two men in her life, who feel it to be their duty, try to protect Ophelia's virginity and risky political alliance. Polonius is not as concerned about his daughter's happiness as he is about his own reputation. As David Laverenz declares in his paper, " Identity ... is defined as role, specifically as loyalty among functionaries of a state" (The woman in Hamlet). ...read more.


He says, "Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face? ... But I am pigeon -livered and lack gall" (Act II, Sc II, Ln 570&574). Brutally exposed in this tragedy, Shakespeare exposes the conflict between the male and female, control and emotion within society and the individual self. Moreover, Shakespeare generalises the behaviour of women by saying that women paint their faces and pretend innocence to hide lasciviousness. Hamlet says to Ophelia, "I have heard of your painting too, well enough. / God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves / another" (Act III, Sc I, Ln 143-145). But ironically enough, men also paint their faces; After all, it is Hamlet who is pretending to be mad. The females in Hamlet might be more silent and make less of a statement than Shakespeare might have wanted because of the general role of women in his society. Gertrude and Ophelia are indeed not a true reflection of women's political, intellectual, social, emotional and economical lives across the board. On the contrary, in contrast to the usual concepts of the lives of women in the time, Shakespeare's women generally seem remarkably independent, free spirited, inventive, strong, enduring, capable, witty and assertive. Except their sphere of activity is different to that of men. Given this, Gertrude and Ophelia start out as exceptions to Shakespeare's more usual portrayal of women. They are weaker and more submissive than his usual. But I think that they both gain strength and independence and assertiveness as their experiences through the play progress. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Hamlet section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Hamlet essays

  1. The Dramatic Function of Ophelia in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'.

    they come to't, by Cock / they are to blame" and "before you tumbled me / you promised me to wed" (IV.v.59-62) is that there existed a sexual relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet. In her sexually explicit songs, the lyrics of which include "let in the maid, that out a maid / Never departed more" (IV.v.52)

  2. Scene by Scene - Hamlet.

    Probably Hamlet couldn't persuade her since he still doesn't have the evidence; she'll only realize this at the climax when she drinks the poison. Hamlet talks to her, as he does to others (Ophelia, the spies, Horatio) about not being sullied by a crooked, corrupt world.

  1. A consideration of the extent to which, in Hamlet's soliloquies, Hamlet is presented by ...

    Act 4, scene iv (43-46) As in many other soliloquies, this soliloquy portrays Hamlet as a perfectionist, who cannot act for the revenge of his father and his family's honour as he is too focussed on obtaining a faultless reprisal. Though his convictions against Claudius and his misdeeds towards his family are vented through irate

  2. How Does Shakespeare's Language Portray Claudius As An Intellectual Villain?

    To his audience this may have been seen as a gracious act, but for Claudius it ensures a group of people whom to blame if their marriage fails, it also gives a group of advisors who the Denmark population can blame if the marriage fails.

  1. Discuss Shakespeares and Hamlets treatment of and ideas about women

    Though Shakespeare has been regarded as a feminist due to his relatively respectful treatments of women, the existence of this respect in Hamlet has been debated ever since the plays inception. As previously stated, the traditional portrayal of obedient women cannot be taken out of context, however as the play increases in intensity, as does it's treatment of women.

  2. "To what extent do you consider Hamlet a play which presents a patriarchal society ...

    One of the most powerful statements in the play clearly shows a male view of female disempowerment in the play - "Frailty thy name is woman". A powerful statement, which has its roots in the Elizabethan attitude towards women. It shows that women are viewed as fundamentally weak beings in the eyes of men.

  1. To what extent do you see the women in the play as victims in ...

    It could be implied that Hamlet's depiction of his mother's behaviour could simply be necessary to trap Claudius but from Act 3 Scene 2 Line 135, Hamlet also seems to be trying to shame his mother publicly into feeling guilty for her behaviour in remarrying.

  2. Criticism on Hamlet

    dog, - why may not good fortune, that favours fools, have raised a lovely girl out of this dead-alive old fool?" Warburton is often led astray, in his interpretations, by his attention to general positions without the due Shakespearian reference to what is probably passing in the mind of his

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work