Summary: Patriarchal Oppression of Women Through the Hamlet Play

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet, explores patriarchal oppression of women through the characterisation of Ophelia and Gertrude, and the setting of the confining royal court, to suggest their deaths are the only way women can exercise power in the patriarchy. In the play Hamlet, Ophelia is a noble, characterised as the most innocent and meek woman. Due to her static character she appears to be powerless image lured by powerful male characters. Her constant approach to her father for advice after seeing Hamlet’s appearance as if “he had been loosed out of hell” displays her reliance on her father while “o my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!” further reinforces a sense of dependency on male figures. 

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Thus, suggesting to the audience her inability to think due to being oppressed. However, when she loses her father, her primary source of guidance, she appeals to her brother to solve her problems. Once again the audience could interpret her as a powerless woman as she states “my brother shall know of it” signifying she is too feeble to survive without her brother’s constant guidance. Hamlet’s perception of Shakespeare’s character Queen Gertrude is characterised as “[Frail]” meaning she is weak and according to the apparition she is “so [lustful], though to a radiant angel link’d”, this displays Gertrude characterisation as lustful, only filled with sexual desires even though she is a “radiant angel”. This way Shakespeare reinforces the patriarchal view of women as a source of sexual corruption. In Hamlet, Ophelia is a female praised for pureness and her beauty, and viewed as character who is in need of protection at all times. However, her passive obedience and inexperience are also emphasised during her conversation with Polonius, to whom she comes for advice. She states “I shall obey you” to imply her immature ways that she obediently accepts her father’s advice. Her conversation with her father reinforces the societal expectation of Ophelia as a woman who is highly relies on her father to provide her security. Furthermore, her statement of “tis is my memory lock’d, and you yourself shall keep the key of it” provides an image of Ophelia always in control of Laertes as she assures him that she will always follow his advice. 

Moreover, Ophelia states “I do not know, my lord, what I should think” implying an image of female compliance as patriarchal power structure in which Ophelia reinforces her inability to think and abdicating her decisions to a reliable male figure. However, audience interprets her over-reliance on male figures is ultimately responsible for her death. Similarly, Queen Gertrude, articulates if a woman wants to live successfully then she has to align herself to a powerful male. Like Ophelia, Gertrude is also reliant on male figure in this patriarchal society. Therefore, the audience could comprehend her marriage to Claudius is due to lack of moral strength to counter tempt of prosperity. Prior to that, Hamlet described her as she “…[hanged] on [Old Hamlet]” clearly emphasising that due to her lack of power she is unsubstantial without a male figure. Therefore, Shakespeare’s Hamlet depicts that women are oppressed due to patriarchal nature of social order as Gertrude dies due to her unwillingness to bow to authority akin to Ophelia who dies as she loses her father an ultimate source of order and authority. 

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