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Hamlet from a Feminist Perspective
Transcript of Hamlet from a Feminist Perspective
By: Amanda Pham
Background on Feminist
different types of feminist theory:
examines how women's roles and experience with society differ from men's (Crossman).
recognizes that women's experiences with society is unequal (Crossman).
discusses oppression, subordination, and even abuse women suffer from men. (Crossman).
suggest that women's inequality and oppression are a result of capitalism, patriarchy, and racism (Crossman).
By analyzing the
of female characters in
from a feminist perspective,
readers will understand the typical
attitudes and stereotypes attributed to
women during the Elizabethan Era.
Characteristics and Role
Characteristics and Role
Who is she?
Daughter of Polonius
Sister of Laertes
Hamlet's supposed "love interest"
Who is she?
Former Queen of the deceased King Hamlet
Current Queen of King Claudius
What influenced Ophelia to commit suicide?
Father's death by Hamlet (Brown 1).
What is the significance to her death?
Highlights women's dependence on a male figure
It appeared as if she belonged in the water: fluid and intangible (Kendall).
No defining characteristics whatsoever
Depictions and Attitudes Toward Femininity
Femininity is portrayed in a negative manner
Hamlet's overreaction toward his father's death makes him appear "unmanly" to Claudius.
What happens to her?
Structural Analysis of Feminine Roles
She dies by drinking the poison that was meant for Hamlet.
Despite various accusations, Gertrude's involvement in King Hamlet's death is ambiguous (Ray 57).
The ratio of female to male role ratios are skewed
Similarities Between Gertrude & Ophelia
Both women are defined by their relations with men.
Gertrude's marriage to Claudius
Drinking the poisoned wine
-> There are several reasons Gertrude might have married Claudius:
1. Maintaining Political Power
2. Protecting her son
3. Retaining love
Although Gertrude was told not to drink the poisoned wine, she drinks it anyway
-> Gertrude was most likely trying to protect her son from death.
Although Gertrude is one of the main ladies of the play, the reader knows next to nothing of her character
-> Ophelia is extremely obedient to the wills of the men
around her and blindly follows them without question.
Gertrude's actions and body contribute far more to the story than her character (Dall 2).
-> Her decision to marry Claudius sets the play's plot in motion
-> Gertrude is important because of her marriage to Claudius.
-> Ophelia importance lies with her relations to Polonius, Laertes, and Hamlet
These similarities demonstrate the values of Elizabethan Society
-> e.g The importance of men, the roles of women in society, etc
Both characters are imprisoned by their dependance on men
- Her actions initially motivate Hamlet's character into action, but she does not actively contribute to the story until the end
There are far less lines for female characters than for male
Most of the lines for female characters lack depth , and many of their lines are relatively simple.
-> The reader can see that she has a motherly nature as she does care for her son (Heilbrun 205).
Ophelia's role is comparatively unimportant to the play as a whole:
2.Crossman, Ashley. "Feminist Theory." About Education. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://
9. Shakespeare, William.
. Ed. McDougal Littell, 1982. Print.
Shakespeare presents pictures of chaos and upheaval partially caused by female ambition or exploitation (Dall).
Gender Roles in Elizabethan Society
3.Dall, Jane. "The Stage and the State: Shakespeare’s Portrayal of Women and Sovereign
Women generally lacked education or received education that pertained to the domestic sphere (Papp ).
-> Education between the sexes was firmly divided.
-Men received a more classical education
-Women were normally excluded from male education
7. Papp, Joseph, and Elizabeth Kirkland. "The Status of Women in Shakespeare's Time."
Marriage was the only long term option for women (Papp ).
-> Women lost all their autonomy through marriage
-All of a woman's property was given to her husband at marriage
-A woman was expected to obey her husband in all things
10. Showalter, Elaine, William Shakespeare, and Susanne Lindgren Wofford. Representing
Issues in Macbeth and Hamlet." Hanover. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://history.hanover.edu/hhr/00/hhr00_2.html>.
Exploring Shakespeare. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Ophelia: women, madness, and the responsibilities of feminist criticism. Macmillan, 1994.
6. Maki, Shawna. "Ophelia’s Realization, Madness, and Tragedy." McKendree. Web. 12 Dec.
"Elaine Showalter notes that Ophelia is only present in 5 of the 20 scenes in the play and that very little is known about her background" (Maki).
4. Das, Pragati. "Shakespeare's Representation of Women in his Tragedies."
1. Brown, Heather. "Gender and Identity in Hamlet: A Modern Interpretation of Ophelia."
Westminster College. Web. 13 Dec. 2014. <https://www.westminstercollege.edu/myriad/?parent=2514&detail=2679&content=2680>.
5.Heilbrun, Carolyn. "The Character of Hamlet's Mother." Shakespeare Quarterly 8.2 (1957): 201-06.
JSTOR. Folger Shakespeare Library, Spring 1957. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2866964?uid=3739560&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21104858752041>.
"...And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up, which time she chanted snatches of old lauds, as on incapable of her own distress or like a creature native and endued onto that element" (Shakespeare 235).
8. Ray, J. K. "The Ethics of Feminism in the Literature Classroom: A Delicate Balance." (1985): 54-59.
-> There is a lack of soliloquies for both Ophelia and Gertrude
-> There are only two female characters in the play to represent women.
Hamlet develops a deep seeded hatred for women seeing his mother's hasty marriage and Ophelia's sudden rejection of his feelings (Das 46).
Laertes claims that his tears after Ophelia's death are "womanly" (Showalter).
-> "Frailty, thy name is woman!" (I, ii, 146).
->"When these are gone, / The woman will be out," (IV, vii, 185-186).
"We can imagine Hamlet’s story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet" (Showlater 283)
"Ophelia suffers from a lack of female tradition--not only from the absence of women in history but also from the absence of any reliable female influence in her life, that which would traditionally be fulfilled by her mother" (Brown).
Influences on Ophelia
"'One could argue that Ophelia’s death is the true tragedy of Hamlet'" (Maki).
-> Due to her limited options as a woman in a patriarchal society,
Ophelia is unable to change her fate unlike Hamlet.
-> Ophelia can only truly express her inner thoughts
through her actions rather than words.
Hamlet turning cold towards her
"She overheard Hamlet’s 'To be' speech, and was then able to contemplate the subject of life and death herself" (Maki).
"...she must experience anagnorisis—a realization of her powerlessness without the men in her life" (Maki).
The portrayal of Gertrude and Ophelia in Hamlet demonstrates the oppression and inequality women must face in a patriarchal society. This submission inevitably leads to weak willed, dependent individuals who have little to no control of their lives.
- "I will, my lord. I pray you, pardon me,"
(V, ii, 187).