William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: An Examination Of Ophelia And Gertrude Essay Samples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Hamlet, Shakespeare, Family, Women, Love, Relationships, Life, Parents

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

Published: 2020/10/22

Despite the fact that the world depicted in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is unequivocally a masculine world, the female characters Ophelia, the lover Hamlet, the prince of Denmark and the male protagonist, and Gertrude, Ophelia’s mother, are significant characters and contribute to the meaning of the play as a whole. These female protagonists retain significance because the males portrayed in the play do not fully understand them. Prototypical tragic heroes are often ascribed a brand of masculinity that is predicated on and constructed around a plethora of fears and anxieties regarding maternal corporeality. Indeed, both Ophelia and Gertrude are complex characters that pose various obstacles to Hamlet and the other male characters, thereby rendering them largely unreadable. Gender identity and porous nature of gender boundaries must be understood as wholly nuanced. Nonetheless, both Gertrude and Ophelia clearly belong to a patriarchal world in which they retain very minimal political, economic, and social clout, yet they still exercise a degree of influence over their male counterparts. Indeed, both Ophelia and Gertrude, despite being stripped of real power in the public sphere, nonetheless profoundly affected the actions carried out and the decisions made by the tragic hero, Hamlet.
Gertrude lacks the resolve that most of the male characters have in this world that Shakespeare depicts once her husband extirpates ad she decides to marry Claudius, her former husband’s brother. Because Gertrude was the wife of the late king, it is clear that Claudius merely used Gertrude in order to procure political clout and become the new king of Denmark. The celerity with which Gertrude remarried suggests that marriage functioned as a political bond rather than one based on romance and emotional affection. Moreover, it indicates that Gertrude lacked the willpower to deny her former husband’s brother marriage so that he could procure political power. Indeed, Gertrude appears to lack resolve and strength to chafe against the patriarchal strictures that define the world in which she lives. Hamlet articulates his dissatisfaction with Gertrude’s second marriage because of its incestuous nature and because of how disrespectful it was to her late husband. Hamlet declares “Frailty, thy name is woman,” thereby conveying his simmering displeasure that resulted in a generalization and/stereotypical conclusion about the fundamental natures of the female sex (Act 1.2 146).Indeed, Gertrude’s remarriage suggests that she depends on a male patriarch in her life both for guidance and security and evinces a general weakness and lack of autonomy and sovereignty over her own life. Her lack of strength retains a moral dimension, as she never mourns the death of her husband prior to marrying Claudius. Security unequivocally supersedes moral gumption for Gertrude.
Moreover, Gertrude agrees with assist in Polonius’ and Claudius’ nefarious plot to capture Hamlet by using his lover, Ophelia. Gertrude never resist or tries to persuade her husband from going through with this scheme because of the consequences it would have on Ophelia, and her husband Claudius mandates her time and again to “Come, away” a plethora of times throughout the play. Unsurprisingly, Gertrude acquiesces every time to his commands, which further reifies her subordination and second-class status in this world depicted by Shakespeare (Act 1.4 168-169). Her weakness is further accentuated by her unfortunate demise because she is poisoned towards the end of the play. Despite her unequivocal dependence on the men in her life, it can be inferred that she maintains her social status by using the men in her life strategically. Indeed, she understands that patriarchal strictures structure the world in which se lives, and by playing the part of a weak and pliant woman she can ensure that she preserves her authority and social status. When thrust in social situations, Gertrude comports herself in a gracious and graceful manner, thereby effectively acting the part of a gracious and compliant female host. When she interacts with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, she asserts that their “visitation shall” be afforded as much commendation and thanks as “fits a king’s remembrance” (Act 2.2, 25-26). Despite her lack of resolve and dependence on the males in her world, Gertrude still is capable of conveying emotion when she discusses the death of Ophelia. Gertrude tells Laertes about the clothes that Ophelia donned and how her clothes “pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death” (Act 4.7, 184-185). It is blatantly clear that Gertrude’s character can be read in a litany of fashions, as she appears both weak and strong throughout the tragic play.
Indeed, Gertrude’s character is complex and nuanced throughout the play and cannot be read in merely one vein. When Hamlet confronts her in her bed chamber with a clearly angry disposition, she deplores him and asks him to cease speaking various times, asserting that his “words are daggers in my ears” (Act3.4, 95). Hamlet articulates an overt sexual revulsion regarding Gertrude’s marriage to his uncle, Claudius, as he perceives her corporeality as a tarnished manifestation of Eden, thereby connecting his mother’s sexuality with the Fall associated with Original Sin committed by Eden. Indeed, his mother’s body became soiled and contaminated with her and the impetus for death, as he conflates the sin of adultery with murder. This complicated relationship between mother and son underscores how the maternal body and the decisions made by Gertrude undergirded the ambitions and ultimate downfall of the protagonist. Moreover, as Ophelia begins to lose her mental sanity, Gertrude purposely refuses to interact with her as the queen. Only when Ophelia truly poses a danger to the queen will Gertrude comply to visit with her (Shakespeare 328). It is clear that Gertrude avoids any and all unpleasant situations and refuses to take responsibility for the burgeoning insanity of Hamlet as well as the demise of Ophelia.
A corollary female character to Gertrude is Ophelia, who is a young and elite woman in Denmark and is the sister of Laertes, the daughter of Polonius, and the lover of Hamlet. In the very first scene Ophelia is introduced with Laertes he chastises her about the perils of engaging in a romantic relationship with Hamlet because Laertes believes that Hamlet as the heir to the throne in Denmark does not possess the freedom and/or autonomy to marry any one that he is romantically involved with. Polonius also excoriates Ophelia about her romantic involvement with Hamlet as Laertes leaves the scene because he believes that Hamlet’s intentions are not genuine. Thus, Polonius prohibits his daughter from pursuing any relationship with Hamlet from that point on. Ophelia’s father commands her to cease seeing Hamlet as her romantic interest, to which she responds “I will obey, my lord” (Shakespeare 266). This sentiment of reverence and obedience towards the men in her life permeate the play. Similar to Gertrude, Ophelia appears as unapologetically dependent on the men in her life, as she acquiesces to her father’s demands and thereby ignores Hamlet completely. Ophelia not only enables her father to use her as a pawn in his own scheming despite the fact that she ignores the desires of her own heart, Ophelia also serves as an impetus for the madness that brings down her lover, Hamlet. One interesting aspect of this play is that Hamlet himself uses Ophelia in order to carry out his plan to kill his uncle. By Act three, Ophelia seeks to return Hamlet’s letters to him as well as his other manifestations of his romantic affections in order to acquiesce to her father’s commands. Hamlet responds in a very distraught manner, and calls Ophelia a liar and censures her for letting her family use her against him. It is unequivocal, however, that Hamlet’s admonishment merely functions as a means for plotting his revenge against his uncle Claudius for murdering Hamlet’s father for the procurement of political clout and agency. Indeed, Ophelia becomes caught in a bind between fulfilling her family’s desires and acting on her romantic feelings towards Hamlet. Trapped, Ophelia must decide how to act contingent on her feelings versus pragmatism.
The death of Ophelia’s father plays a critical role in the development of her character considering her father was murdered by her lover, Hamlet. This murder renders her incapable of being able to cope with her grief, especially since her brother is geographically separated from her. Her cognitive devolution thus is catalyzed because she lacks the male support in her life to cope with the events that are taking place and that she possesses little control over. Although both Ophelia and her family want her to sever ties with Hamlet, Ophelia struggles with her true feelings for Hamlet because she actually is in love with him despite her family’s denouncement of their relationship. Reality soon becomes skewed for her, as her mind increasingly is filled with dark and negative thoughts. Indeed, she soon becomes a part of a fantasy and imaginary world. Ophelia increasingly lives a liminal existence in which she is suspended between death and life, which is further amplified by the visual imagery deployed by Shakespeare to underscore this binary interpretation. Nonetheless, Ophelia does reclaim her own voice at a heft cost, as she loses her own sanity as well as hr own life. Ultimately, Gertrude promulgates the news about the death of Ophelia, and she describes how Ophelia died by climbing onto a large tree, which unfortunately broke and resulted in Ophelia drowning in a brook. The demise of Ophelia is symbolic of the silencing of female voices in European and America literature because of the hegemony of patriarchal notions that strip women of their voice, power, and agency in order to reify the status quo.
Both Gertrude and Ophelia are domineering figures who emerge as important female characters that are difficult to read and understand within this male-dominated world portrayed by William Shakespeare. Nonetheless, the marriage of Gertrude to the uncle of Hamlet drove the plot of the play and underscored the secondary role of women in this patriarchal world envisioned by the seminal playwright. The politically motivated marriage between Gertrude and Hamlet’s uncle served as an impetus for Hamlet’s plot to murder Claudius. Indeed, the consequences of Hamlet’s treacherous actions served as a major impulse in the play and added nuance to the narrative proffered by Shakespeare. Although women are unequivocally depicted as weak, subordinate figures who lack political, economic, and social clout, it is clear that both Gertrude and Ophelia played prominent roles in trajectory of the proffered narrative in which the folly men was put on full display contingent on epochal trends. Ophelia has time and again been pitied as a female protagonist who was controlled to a fault by Polonius, her father; had her intelligence questioned and doubted by Laertes, her brother; and was manipulate by both Laertes and Gertrude in order for them to succeed in their own political motives and purposes. Moreover, she was suspended in a liminal position amidst the bitter conflict between Hamlet and his parents. Nonetheless, in death Ophelia was glorified and rendered beautiful despite the tragedy of her alienated circumstances. It is unequivocal that Ophelia was one of the most alienated and wretched female characters in this seminal play by Shakespeare. Neglected and abused, Ophelia and her fellow female characters fail to regain autonomy over their own lives and subject themselves to male hegemony. Indeed, the men in the world of Hamlet emerge as the pillars of stability at some times, although the overtly sexist undertones so salient in the narrative cannot be ignored. Nonetheless, ambiguity over Hamlet’s attitude towards women suggests that women pose a great obstacle towards men in a society so profoundly shaped by patriarchal notions.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Toronto: Bantam, 1988. Print.

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WePapers. (2020, October, 22) William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: An Examination Of Ophelia And Gertrude Essay Samples. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/william-shakespeares-hamlet-an-examination-of-ophelia-and-gertrude-essay-samples/
"William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: An Examination Of Ophelia And Gertrude Essay Samples." WePapers, 22 Oct. 2020, https://www.wepapers.com/samples/william-shakespeares-hamlet-an-examination-of-ophelia-and-gertrude-essay-samples/. Accessed 19 April 2021.
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William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: An Examination Of Ophelia And Gertrude Essay Samples. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/william-shakespeares-hamlet-an-examination-of-ophelia-and-gertrude-essay-samples/. Published Oct 22, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2021.
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