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Women have been perceived differently by different people at different times. Using Shakespeare's Hamlet,consider his representation of women.

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English Literature coursework Women have been perceived differently by different people at different times. Using Shakespeare's Hamlet, consider his representation of women. In Hamlet, Shakespeare carefully represents Getrude and Ophelia. Individually, Gertrude is essentially seen as weak and immoral whilst Ophelia is seen as meek and a victim of society. Collectively, they are seen to fulfil a conventional 16th century role, and it is as our beliefs and views of women change that we are able to perceive the characters in a different angle. At the beginning of the play, we get a very biased insight into the character of Gertrude and how those around her perceive her. This is because Hamlet and the ghost of Hamlet are both very biased as they feel a sense of injustice at Gertrude's marriage to Claudius, her brother-in-law. For example, Gertrude is chiefly seen as very uncaring and "unrighteous," as the "incestuous" marriage, according to Hamlet, was carried out with "dexterity" and scarcely a month after King Hamlet's death. This depiction makes the audience form a very strong opinion of Gertrude from the outset. It creates an ominous feeling about Gertrude as the first insight we get into her character is given by people who have been hurt by her in some way. ...read more.


For example, she describes him as a "rose" and "the glass of fashion." This admission is ironic as soliloquies are meant to inform the audience of a character's hidden feelings, however, the audience are already conscious of what Ophelia is feeling as her emotions are blatant when she is speaking to other characters. For instance, she describes being "affrighted" when Hamlet came to Ophelia in his apparent madness and makes a long speech about how she feared Hamlet's behaviour. These opinions of Gertrude and Ophelia are not the only ones, and many other potential reasons to explain their actions. Instead of merely being seen as weak, Gertrude and Ophelia can still be sympathised with; For example, when Ophelia dies, Hamlet leaps into her grave and declares that his love for Ophelia is greater than "forty thousand brothers" could offer. This illustrates how her innocence made her a victim and how her weaknesses ultimately triggered a premature death. Similarly, Hamlet has much contempt for Gertrude as he refers to her as a "pernicious" woman; however, he cannot bear to intentionally harm her. This is shown when Hamlet obeys his dead father's wish to "speak" to Gertrude and not to ostracise her, and so is likely to make the audience sympathise with Gertrude and Ophelia. ...read more.


In this way, Shakespeare manages to contrast the innocence of Ophelia to the rest of the characters who all are portrayed as having some sinful flaws, but in keeping with the traditional view of women, is seen as being weaker than men. I also think that Ophelia's downfall was attributed to the fact that her dominance by men along with her intense protection by her father and brother had prevented her from using her own judgement and so was reliant upon those around her for guidance. Therefore, with Laertes in France, she was unprepared to deal with her father's sudden death, as she had no form of support. In my opinion, Shakespeare intentionally made Gertrude's character ambiguous, to appeal to the different classes of people who would have seen the performance in the 16th Century. This is because she is a character that can be sympathised with, but more prominently, someone that is easily criticized. This fallible characteristic reminds us that Gertrude is merely trying to survive in an oppressed world and so should not constantly be judged. This is effectively shown when Gertrude is first introduced and emulates the role in society that women were supposed to conform to during the 16th century. In this way, Shakespeare manages to make the characters more lifelike, through their respective weaknesses and strengths as characters. ...read more.

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