If we were to assume that Shakespeare's depiction of Gertrude and Ophelia represents Shakespeare's view of women, what strengths and weaknesses would he ascribe to women?

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If we were to assume that Shakespeare’s depiction of Gertrude and Ophelia represents Shakespeare’s view of women, what strengths and weaknesses would he ascribe to women?

        Hamlet being one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays has only two women characters, Ophelia and Gertrude. Gertrude, who was Hamlet’s mother, and Ophelia who was Hamlet’s love, played a very significant role in Hamlet, because they helped shape the characters. In the time period that Shakespeare lived in, women were not allowed onto the stage and they had very little to no rights. If it was assumed that Shakespeare’s depiction of Gertrude and Ophelia represent his view on women then a reflection would be seen of the idea that women were as powerless as they were in Elizabethan times, however both Ophelia and Gertrude both have redeeming qualities as well numerous weaknesses.

        Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius and the sister to Laertes, is the most one-dimensional character in Hamlet. Ophelia is beautiful and gentle and is in love with Hamlet; however, due to her father and brother lecturing her on the impossibility of their love Ophelia withdraws from Hamlet. This is Ophelia’s first flaw, even though it was expected of women in Shakespearean times to obey the males in their lives. When Polonius orders her to stop seeing Hamlet, Ophelia replies with “I shall obey my lord” (Act I scene iii, 142) there is no fuss over how she loves Hamlet, she easily gives in without so much as an argument, showing Polonius’s complete control over his daughter, with her desire to please him as a cause of this. Ophelia dependency on her father is to the point where it seems where she really can not function without him. Ophelia’s dependence and trust on her father leads her to spy on Hamlet to see whether his ‘madness’ is really just love sickness. This leads to her encounter with Hamlet who is still playing the card of a madman, and he lashes out at Ophelia viciously, denying that he ever loved her, and then tells her “To a nunnery, go.” (Act III scene i, 156-57). The word “nunnery” could be use in two contexts, the convent or a whorehouse, if Hamlet meant the latter then it would have been a huge insult. However Ophelia does not protest too much, which shows another weakness, an inability to stand up for herself. She is sacrificing her true feelings for Hamlet because her father told her to, showing her submissive nature, which is also seen in Act III, where she refuses to truly stand up for herself. Later on in Hamlet after Ophelia loses all her ambitions, it can be noted that Ophelia begins to speak her mind and more information arises about Ophelia. In Act IV Ophelia makes comments on both her dead father Polonius, “he is dead on gone” (Act IV scene v, 31). Ophelia also comments on her lost love Hamlet, “how will I know your true love” (Act IV scene v, 25). Upon further readings, Ophelia’s gullibility is shown, when she makes the comment “hadst not come to my bed” (Act V scene iv, 69). Ophelia uses that quote to tell the story of a girl wanting to marry a young man after she has thrown herself at him; the young man refuses because the young girl has already slept with him. If this is a true representation of Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship, then Ophelia is not only very gullible but very trusting as well.

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        Even with these weaknesses Ophelia does have a few redeeming qualities she is a selfless person preferring to put others peoples wants before her own, and her heart is pure. Ophelia’s selfless attitude is shown through out the parts of the play where her father is ordering her to stop seeing Hamlet, and to stop accepting the letters that he writes. Ophelia is also very honest which is a redeeming quality, her only lie throughout the play is the one in which she lies to Hamlet about where her father is, “at home” (Act III scene i, 139) this could ...

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