The women of today’s world have the ability to take control of their own life without the validation of a man. Throughout history, as early as the 17th century, biblical stories have portrayed women as less than men, which was ultimately a reflection of their society. William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet shows major drawbacks which limited the decisions of females, even ladies of royalty. In spite of the fact that there are just two female characters in Hamlet—Ophelia and Gertrude— the play is still a representation of the social stigmas of gender roles in the Elizabethan Era.
In the play, both Ophelia and Gertrude are used for their status and lust. “Come, go with me: I will go seek the king. This is the very ecstasy of love, whose violent property fordoes itself and leads the will to desperate undertakings as oft as any passion under heaven that does afflict our natures, (Act II,i,113-118)” was said by Polonius. In the scene, ophelia is describing Hamlet’s unusual and inappropriate interaction with her and polonius instantly uses this situation to his benefit. He knows that if hamlet, who is the prince, loves his daughter and they get married, he will lift him up the social ladder. Polonius’s intentions are put on display through the tone that Shakespeare created. “I will go seek the king” seems frantic and desperate knowing that the quicker polonius shares the news with the king, the quicker his social status will increase. Men did whatever it took to be content with their own life regardless of the females well being.
Hamlet sexually humiliates ophelia using a puppet metaphor, implying that she should sexually perform for him. He suggests that “interpret between you and your/, if i could see the puppets dallying” (Act III,ii,236-237). He is saying that she can be used sexually but also used like a child’s doll who is controlled and predictable. Along with that Hamlet questions Ophelia’s worth and virginity. Him asking her if she is chaste questions her worth because in this era, virginity measured a female’s worth and purity.
When looking at gertrude, she seems to be silenced and without a voice because of her lack of lines in the play. The male characters, Hamlet, the Ghost, and Claudius shape Gertrudes behavior. Gertrude is judged in two ways: the first way is by her silence and the other is by what the characters say about her. For example, the “lustful nature” of the queen as expressed by Hamlet and his father’s ghost after she remarried so quickly is not questioned even though she herself never showed the audience a single sign of being lustful. Hamlet being her biggest critic says “frailty, thy name is woman!” (Act I, ii, 146-147). This quote is describing all women as frail and weak as Gertrudes silence in this scene shows her weakness and inability to stand up for herself. This further shows the effect a man in shakespearean times had over a women and their inability to live for themselves.
Ophelia and Gertrude are victims of sexual objectification, manipulation, and paternalistic condescension. Their voices seem to never be heard and the men influence all their actions. Shakespeare created a sympathetic visual as their death can be blamed on gender inequality since both Ophelia and Gertrude are depicted as weak, tools of manipulation, and taking advantage of bye the men they are surrounded by. Luckily in modern times, women become more independent and rise above many challenges and obstacles!