Women are seen as fickle, emotional creatures that spend most of their time on nonsense. Women are also known for their ability to hold a grudge, remember every wrongdoing ever done to them, and for their aptitude for revenge. Most women today would disagree with this stereotype, and women have made great strides, but women’s roles in society have not come as far as we may think. The roles of women in Shakespeare’s Hamlet demonstrate that women are fickle, obedient, and passive, but in Euripides’ Medea women are exhibited as aggressive, prideful, and subject to extreme emotion.
Ophelia, from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is an innocent young woman who lives a fairly happy life. She has a loving father and brother, as well as a strapping young prince after her heart. Unfortunately, these men are also the cause of her plunge into insanity and her eventual death. Her father and brother both forbid her from seeing or speaking to Hamlet for fear of him using her, taking her virginity, and then throwing her away. This reinforces the label of women as property instead of people and further confirms that Ophelia has no control over her body, her relationships, or her choices. It also displays her complete obedience to her father because when he forbids her to fraternize with Hamlet, she replies, “I shall obey, my lord” (1.4.136). Ophelia doesn’t have the audacity to stand up to any of the men in her life, nor the intelligence to form or voice any opinions of her own.
Queen Getrude speaks at her funeral and says, “Sweets to the sweet, farewell! [Scattering flowers] / I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife. / I thought thy bride bed to have decked, sweet maid, / And not have strewed thy grave” (5.1.245-249) over her grave. Even the Queen believed her to be a naive and innocent girl which is further established during the play, Mousetrap, when Hamlet’s lewd innuendos are lost on her. Her innocence becomes the beginning of the deterioration of her mental health. When her father is murdered and she believes that her feelings for Hamlet are unrequited, she begins to recognize that she has no men left in her life. Without a man to give her direction, she ultimately commits suicide.
Shakespeare exhibits this same dependence on men through Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude. After King Hamlet’s death, she briefly grieves her husband and quickly moves on to marry his brother, Claudius. For this reason, she cannot connect with Hamlet and cannot understand his abiding grief for his father. Gertrude is completely oblivious to the reality of her current husband’s corruption and the fact that he murdered King Hamlet. In turn, Hamlet is furious with his mother and even more so after he speaks with his father’s ghost. In Hamlet’s soliloquy during Act 1 Scene 2, he expresses his disdain toward her and Claudius’s marriage and even suggests that there may have been an affair before King Hamlet’s death. The ghost of King Hamlet confirms this when he says, “So to...