Women’s Roles in Hamlet
In the play Hamlet, Shakespeare, the author, creates female characters that occupy very different roles than in his other plays. In this play, Hamlet plays opposite two women who are used by the men around them in order to further their own interests. One woman is named Ophelia. In many of Shakespeare’s other plays, he creates women that are very strong and play a very real role in the life of the protagonist. In Hamlet, however, Ophelia occupies a very different role-she exemplifies a pawn of the men around her. She is used not only by her father and his associate the King, but also by her supposed lover, Hamlet. This is a very different role for a woman in a Shakespearian play. Also, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, also plays a very frivolous role in the novel. Hamlet continually criticizes her incestuous liaison with his uncle, her brother-in-law, and uses her connections with his uncle in order to further his plan to have revenge on his uncle. In other Shakespearian plays, the male characters usually have respect for the women that they are associated with; in Hamlet, however, Shakespeare chooses to instead portray women more realistically. At the time when this play was written, it was very common for women to be used merely as pawns for either their fathers, brothers, husbands, or lovers. This shows Shakespeare’s deviation in this play from his characteristic style of writing-it questions that very style in which his other plays were written.
Ophelia, as the protagonist’s love interest, generally would occupy a role in which the main character would be openly smitten with her. In Hamlet, rather the opposite is true. Ophelia’s character is very obviously in love with Hamlet, however, her father and brother counsel her to stay away from Hamlet and scorn his advances. This in itself is an example of the way in which the men in her life will try to censure Ophelia and use her feelings to their advantage. Ophelia’s father, Polonius, wishes to keep his family’s honor in tact, and fears that Ophelia’s open regard for Hamlet will diminish his honor. Both Polonius and Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, believe that Ophelia’s preference for Hamlet will only end in disgrace for their family, as Hamlet would never marry her due to her lower social standing, therefore, they counsel her to break off any understanding with Hamlet. As a woman, Ophelia realizes her duty to her father and her brother, and therefore decides to disregard her own feelings about Hamlet and do as her father and brother wish.
Hamlet also uses Ophelia as a pawn, perhaps more than her family. Hamlet uses the court’s knowledge of his relationship with Ophelia in order to draw attention away from his real purpose of killing his uncle. In Act III, Scene I, Ophelia approaches Hamlet in order to return his letters and other pledges of affection for her, according to her father’s wishes. Hamlet appears to be very distraught, and accuses Ophelia of lying to him and...