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In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare

In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, women are at the mercy of the men in their lives. Women are portrayed as weak creatures and are controlled by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and the like. Women in this play are expected to obey the men with no reluctance; essentially, they are to follow blindly. As reference in the following quote, Ophelia does not question any man’s authority as she states: “I shall obey, my lord.” (1.3. 135). Knowing little of her interactions with Prince Hamlet, her father warns her to stay away and she obliges.
All women are seen as morally corrupt according to young Hamlet:
HAMLET Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. Oh, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (1.2. 153-157).
His mother’s marriage to Claudius spawned a chain of events that engulfed the Queen and Ophelia. Queen Gertrude and Ophelia are not allowed to be their own persons, they must submit to the men and do their will.
The 16th century was a time when women had no rights whatsoever. Women had no right to formal education, all learning was based on housework and the duties of a wife and mother. A woman’s main job was to take care of her husband and children, and keep a tidy home. Opportunities available to women included becoming a seamstress, nanny, servant, dyer, housewife, prostitute, or nun. Professions such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers were prohibited because men assumed women were not as smart as they and could not handle such responsibilities. There was to be no public speaking—women lived in the shadows of the men in their lives. Young women were expected to remain chaste. According to Laertes, men are able to do as they please but women must adhere to societal rules:
LAERTES …Perhaps he loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will, but you must fear,
His greatness weighed, his will is not his own…
Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmastered impunity. (1.3. 14-17, 28-31)
A woman who would lose her virginity to anyone other than her husband would be ridiculed and disgraced. Hamlet also suggests to Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery!” (3.1. 122). This quote is a play on words because it could mean that he wants her to convert so that no man will have her, or that she go live in a brothel where she is no longer a prize, but a woman who sleeps around. In a marriage women had no control; their husbands had final say in every aspect of the relationship. In the unfortunate circumstance of death took a woman’s husband, her son(s) would have dominion over her and the assets. If that woman were to remarry, the new husband would gain control.
Hamlet portrays women as pawns; they are used as bargaining tools, spies, and for pleasure. Queen Gertrude is not only a pawn, but a prize as well. Claudius uses his relationship with the Queen as a means of usurping the throne; he does this so that Prince Hamlet is unable to claim his role on the throne as the rightful heir of Denmark. The Queen is also used by her son as an excuse to lose his mind. If young Hamlet were upfront with his mother about his feelings, he could have saved himself and the kingdom much grief. Additionally, Polonius and Claudius use Ophelia as bait to spy on Hamlet to determine whether or not he is mad, in turn driving her mad. Ophelia goes from a young woman in love to a crazed person who is unable to ascertain if her beloved feels the same.