The Patriarchal Power and Female Norms in Hamlet
Over the past few decades, gender roles have drastically changed in our modern society, compared to the older times. Today, women are given equal rights to vote, rights to education, equal job opportunities, and equal amount of pay doing the same work their male coworkers are doing, and most importantly, women can take control of their own life without having to rely or depend on men. It was not until recently where society believed that only men can provide and protect their families while women had the responsibility of being an at home wife, taking care of household chores and have the responsibility of taking care of their own children. Throughout many biblical stories, history has constantly been proving that it is women who has corrupted humanity. In contrast to our current modern society, gender roles during the Elizabethan Era were more brutal, making men inferior to women during this time.
Patriarchy power was overpowering due to the fact that they have predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and the control of property. Women did not have the privilege of receiving the same rights as women are given today and had the inability to take control of their own lives. From the moment they are born, till the moment they get married, their father would take care of them. Once they are married off, that role is passed down to the husband. Due to the interpretation of the bible, it was believed that women were emotionally and physically weaker than men. Women of nobility were no different compared to women who were not of a noble status. They are also raised to learn household chores and did not receive formal education. Men during this time had absolute power, freedom, and authority over their family. Wives and their daughters had no choice but to obey what their male authority figure say, as makes were the head of the household. Not only are they able to inherit the property from their fathers, but once they get married, they receive property from the wife’s family. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is no exception to the horrendous portrayal of women. Both Queen Gertrude and Ophelia are very dependent upon the men in their lives and They may not realize at all during the course of the play, but their malfeasance is inevitability the reason for the downfall of the play.
Ophelia is portrayed as a woman full of innocence and plays the role of Hamlet’s love interest. Shakespeare made her character possess the flaw of obedience and a greater flaw of dependence. She is a sister and a daughter who is way too dependent on the men in her life. And to the reliance and dependency on men in their life, it brought her to her ultimate tragedy of committing suicide. When Ophelia’s father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, believe that Prince Hamlet would use her, they tell her to stop seeing him. And because of her obedience, she obeys at once. Right after, when Prince Hamlet starts acting bizarre, Polonius says to stick with him to get an insight as to why he’s acting that way. She, once again, agrees and does what she’s told. ”Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, / thou shall not escape calumny. Get there to a / number, go, farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, / marry a foo, for wise men know well enough what/ monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and / quickly too. Farewell.” (Shakespeare, III, i, 137-142), made Ophelia place her sense of duty and love for her father over the love and future with Hamlet. When Polonius died, it was like the end of the world for Ophelia. ”I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died” (Shakespeare, IV, v,154-155). Polonius was probably the most influential man to Ophelia at the time because she wasn’t wed, and when he passed away, Ophelia felt betrayed by the men in her life and committed suicide. Her death is the direct result of her independence and obedience as a character.
The second problematic woman that is the incentive character of the play is Queen Gertrude, who is Prince Hamlet’s mother, and one of the main reasons why Claudius murdered King Hamlet. Queen Gertrude loved her son, Prince Hamlet, unconditionally. Gertrude is seen as a woman who only thinks about her body and sexual pleasures. Due to her shallow thoughts and actions, Prince Hamlet ultimately loses respect for her. “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,/ With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts — / O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power/ So to seduce! — won to his shameful lust/ The will of my most seeming virtuous queen.” (Shakespeare, I, iv, 41-46). The ghost of King Hamlet says this to Prince Hamlet as he explains how his death occurred, infuriating Prince Hamlet, and set his mind to avenge his father’s death. The words “adulterate beast” (Shakespeare , I, 41) used in King Hamlet’s speech made the audience believe that Gertrude had been two-timing him with Claudius even before he had died. In Prince Hamlet’s first soliloquy, it was to be generalized to the general society of women but aimed it directly to the Queen. ”Heaven and earth,/ Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him/ As if increase of appetite had grown/ By what it fed on, and yet, within a month-/ Let me not think on’t —Frailty, thy name is woman!” (Shakespeare, I, ii, 142-146). Prince Hamlet says this after he discovers her infidelity towards King Hamlet’s biological brother, Claudius. After an approximate of two months after King Hamlet’a death, Gertrude gets married to Claudius. Since King Hamlet died, Claudius inherited the throne, the power and authority of Denmark, as well as the heart of Gertrude. “That it went hand in hand even with the vow/ I made to her in marriage, and to decline/ Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor/ To those of mine./ But virtue, as it will never be moved,, / Through lewdness court it in a shape of heaven, / So lust, through to a radiant angel linked, / And prey on garbage” (Shakespeare, I, iv, 49-57). King Hamlet explains to Prince Hamlet that he loved her with dignity and devotion like a true marriage should have, but you can’t corrupt a lustful person like herself, that only seeks the reliant satisfaction of her choice of men and sexual pleasures. Like Ophelia, she seeks advice and insight on the behavior of Prince Hamlet. Queen Gertrude longs for the attention and dependence on men appears to be her way capitalizing her abilities as a woman.
The two women has seriously dented Prince Hamlet’s heart, and made him be a misogynist, but, they can’t quell the hatred he has for Claudius. William Shakespeare mirrors the roles of the play being dominated by the male characters. The new King Claudius is shown as an intellectual and well-spoken character. Claudius being the antagonist plays the role that spawns Prince Hamlet’s confusion and anger. He uses his hierarchy and Gertrude’s love to his advantage to manipulate and accomplish his goals of being king and having everything his brother has owned. When Prince Hamlet starts acting crazy, he manipulates his friends to watch over him and report back. This manipulative dominant character also brought Polonius to his death. The death of Polonius wasn’t a pleasant surprise for Laertes. ” I love your father, and we love yourself” (Shakespeare, vii, 34). Claudius finds another way to not get his hands bathed in Prince Hamlet’s blood. He uses the death of Polonius and Ophelia to get Laertes to kill Hamlet in his stead. ”Time qualifies the spark and fire of it. There within the very flame of love/ A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it” (Shakespeare, IV, vii, 114-116). This alluded to the idea the feelings for his father will die down, and using his anger now, he’ll be able to kill Hamlet (for his own benefit). ”And so have I a noble father lost, / A sister driven into desperate terms, / Whose worth, if praises may go back again, / Stood challenger on mount of all the age/ For her perfections, But my revenge will come” Shakespeare, IV, vii, 25-29). This basically represents the ignition of Laertes desire to kill Hamlet, after Claudius spoken a few words of sympathy. Claudius had a way with words that made people look up to him and find him as a refined leader and follow fall into whatever he says, thinking that his decision is wise and precise.
In conclusion, William Shakespeare contradicts the roles of the male and female characters. Ophelia and Gertrude are both unappreciated woman that are shown as weak minded and frail by the men in their lives. Claudius uses his status to manipulate people into following him, making him a dominant character. The women of the play are made as their lives sits in the depths of the male characters’ shadows, and their opinions and thoughts are oppressed by a patriarchal society.
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