Women in Hamlet

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Sasha Alsberg who is a writer said: Honestly, I hate when in books, the guys change the girl’s life. Like, no. The girl needs to change her own life. this means that sexism occurs in literary works.Sexism has always been a hot topic in society and literature. Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender.Hamletis a tragedy of Shakespeare that tells the story of King Claudius murdering Hamlet’s father, usurping the throne and marrying the king’s widow, Gertrude. Once Hamlet knowing that Claudius killed his father, he started to consider if he should revenge, after some ideological struggle, Hamlet decided to revenge his uncle.

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At the end, Hamlet killed his uncle, but his mother died for him, also himself. While telling the story of Hamlet’s revenge, the play also intersperses the social status of women and the prevailing patriarchy idea in the society at that time, this is exemplified by Gertrude and Ophelia who are the two main female characters and the only two female characters. They appear more as subsidiaries of male characters than as single agencies. In Hamlet, Shakespeare did not deliberately belittle women, but based on the social environment at that time to describe the truth: women are generally in a weak position, low social status; the stereotype of women in the society at that time; the patriarchal perspective is significant. These situations still exist today, so this essay will discuss female images and the manifestation of male chauvinism in Hamlet.

During Hamlet’s period, women were generally in a disadvantaged position and low social status. InHamlet, the two main female characters are Ophelia and Gertrude. Although they have higher social level than most women at that time, they are still described as male appendages by Shakespeare. Under the social background at that time, women subconsciously obeyed men. They do not have the right to make their own decisions. Although their own rights have been threatened and hurt, they still have to swallow their voices, because public opinion does not allow them to have their own decision-making power. While King, Queen and Polonius are talking about Hanmlet’s madness, Polonius thinks that Ophelia is the reason why Hamlet become mad and he said: I have a daughter have while she is mine / Who in her duty and obedience, mark, / Hath given me this. (Act II Scene ii 106-108). Polonius believes that Ophelia as a daughter belongs to him rather than to an object. In Act 2 Scene 2, Ophelia and her father Polonius and brother Laertes talked about her relationship with Hamlet. Both male characters strongly disagree with the idea of Hamlet and Ophelia date when they heard, they think that Hamlet was playing with her and that self-loving women should not show their beauty as Laertes said: The chariest maid is prodigal enough / If she unmasks her beauty to the moon. (Act I, Scene iii 36-37).

Laertes thinks that women should not show their beauty out because it is a sin. So they asked Ophelia to stop dating Hamlet. Ophelia is the person who has a direct contact with Hamlet, but she cannot have their own emotional decision-making power, it can be seen that women did not have the right to speak for their own. In Hamlet, Ophelia has no opinions or ideas of her own, and all her actions are caused by the actions of male characters: breaking off relations with Hamlet and helping Polonius test whether Hamlet is really mad or fake mad. None of above actions have Ophelia’s free will.Another female character, Gertrude, as queen, also does not have the same rights as the king, or even the same rights as ordinary men. In Act I Scene ii, Hamlet expressed strong dissatisfaction with Gertrude’s behavior when he heard that Gertrude remarried his uncle.

However, Shakespeare did not write out clearly whether Gertrude’s behavior was voluntary or forced. Under the social environment at that time, women could not decide their own destiny, so she could only accept Claudius as his new queen. But as a mother,Gertrudealways love Hamlet. In Act I Scene ii, in order to protect Hamlet, she dissuade Hamlet from doing silly things. She also fulfilled all Hamlet’s demands. Even Hamlet accused her of being unfaithful to her father in harsh language in her dormitory, she did not take up her mother’s identity to defend herself and rebuke her son, but honestly reviewed herself. When Hamlet suspected that she may betray him in front of Claudius, she swore that she would never reveal the secret. When Hamlet won the battle with Laertes, she couldn’t stop coming forward to congratulate her son on his drinking and was poisoned by the poisonous liquor which was prepared for Hamlet. All this shows that Gertrude is a kind and virtuous mother.

So, in Hamlet, Shakespeare only described the social situation at that time, but did not express his position. And also, stereotypes for women are shown in Hamlet.Stereotype has been in people’s minds all the time. In the time Hamlet was weitten, the impression of women was obedience and staying at home: “From this time / Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence. Set your entrustments at a higher rate / Than a command to parley. “(Act I Scene iii 120-124), these words were talked by Polonius, he taught his daughter Ophelia what women should show less. (People acquiesced that women should not show up, and women does not resist it. Frailty, thy name is woman! married with my uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my / I to Hercules. (Act I, Scene ii 146-153) Hamlet compares itself to women, indicating that the general impression of women in society at that time was tender, this will be explained later in the analysis. The chariest maid is prodigal enough / If she unmask her beauty to the moon. (Act I, Scene iii 36-37), Laertes said that if women show their beauty even in the dark of night to the moon they will be considered unchaste or ruined. Ophelia’s most prominent feature in the play is that she does not express any free will except beauty, which indicates the stereotype of women in the society at that time.

Through the description of Ophelia as a female character, Shakespeare shows the readers the whole society at that time. Since the whole play of Hamlet does not take women as the leading role, and show men’s superior all the time such as men are always in a teaching position, this play is from the perspective of male chauvinism which is the belief thatmenare superior towomen.InHamlet, the male chauvinism is embodied in all aspects. When Hamlet was talking to his mother about his madness, he said: Good night but go not to mine uncle’s bed. Assume a virtue if you have it not. (Act III Scene iv 157-158). He does not show any respect for his mother, but spoke to her in a serious and contemptuous tone or even insulting language, showing Hamlet’s superiority as a male. When Hamlet talked to the ghost of his father Old Hamlet, he became very gentle, even with a trace of fear. These two different attitudes towards the elders show disrespect for women as a man, and also show the prevailing patriarchal ideology in the society at that time.

In Edward Sapir’s workLanguage, he wrote that Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols. As above shows that at Hamlet time, women did not get any verbal respect. In Hamlet,the language used to describe women is always discriminatory, such as Frailty, strumpet, plague for the dowry and so on. Shakespeare’s use of popular language at the time implicitly reflected the book’s social discrimination against women.Broadly speaking, Shakespeare did not intentionally use sexism in Hamlet, but a natural psychological attitude due to the social environment at that time. He only shows the attitudes towards women and the prevalence of male chauvinism in the society at that time through language.

When men talk to women, it is mostly about sex, and women are always in weak position, on the contrary, men have the supreme power. It can be seen from the comparison of the two above that the social ideology dominated by male consciousness at that time also shows that the value evaluation system dominated by male influences the social evaluation and view of women. Shakespeare did not get rid of the traditional ideas of that time in his writing, and his patriarchal perspective gave the tragic fate of the female characters in his play. Since the birth of his play, the status of women has been greatly improved, but the pressure of patriarchal society still exists. There is still a long way to go to eliminate sexism.

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Women In Hamlet. (2019, Apr 05). Retrieved January 31, 2023 , from

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