Perception of Women in William Shakespeare's Hamlet
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. This suggests that
she is someone to watch out for and that Gertrude is weak and unable
to live without a man who can provide self-protection. Hamlet
personifies this when he says that "frailty" is "woman" and thus a
theme that indicates women are weak runs through the play.
Gertrude's weakness and fickleness is shown in Act 3 Scene 4 where we
are given an insight into Gertrude's actions and personality. She
commences in an arrogant manner for the performance of The Mousetrap,
and then afraid that Hamlet may harm her when she cries for "help".
She then feels overwhelmed and shocked when Hamlet kills Polonius and
full of disbelief when Hamlet sees his father's ghost. By the end of
this scene, however, we see that she is penitent and appears willing
to help her son. This exhibits how easily Gertrude is persuaded by
Hamlet's incessant persistence, and emphasises her tendency to be
dominated by, and mistreated by men, even to the extent of her own
Gertrude's mistreatment is also obvious within her relationship to
Claudius. For example, When Gertrude tells Claudius of Polonius'
slaughter by Hamlet, rather than fret about the danger posed to his
wife; he remarks that has he "been there," it would have been
dangerous to him. This highlights her vulnerability and subtly
suggests that Claudius is more concerned about himself than his wife.
Likewise, Shakespeare uses the character of Ophelia to illustrate that
women of all classes of age can be considered feeble and dominated by
men. The first time the audience see Ophelia is during her
conversation with Laertes and her father where both the male
characters disregard Ophelia's judgement....