The Female Identities in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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Gender discrimination is based on human prejudice or discrimination against the sexes. This kind of discrimination has been going on for many centuries, and Shakespeare’s era is no exception. Sex discrimination may affect anyone, but it mainly affects women and girls, such as Gertrude and Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Sexism is fully embodied in this play. In this play, Women are inferior to men in their statements, and women’s voices are easily ignored. This shows that Shakespeare is anti-female.

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In Hamlet, men’s attitudes and words towards women can be fully proved. First, Gertrude is talked by Hamlet in a rude manner. Second, Ophelia is controlled completely by Polonius. Third, Ophelia and Gertrude’s death is disrespected by others.

Hamlet use bad language to describe and abuse his mother Gertrude, he ignored the normal relationship between mother and child and then offend Gertrude. The first quote is said by Hamlet, talk with Claudius and Gertrude in the court: Frailty, thy name is woman (I, ii, 146). The second quote is said by Hamlet, talk with Gertrude in Gertrude’s room. In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love Over the nasty sty (III, iv,90-92).

The first line shows that Hamlet define frailty as women. Frailty is weakness in person’s character and moral standards. Hamlet use this word to define women, and his mother. Hamlet in the face of many people and even his mother, used weakness to represent women. However, women have not refuted and accepted this word silently. To a large extent,Men directly believe that weakness is the characteristic of women. In the social background at that time, women always manage housework, men work to provide family. In hamlet, Gertrude cannot join in state affairs.She could only sit upright and keep quiet. On the contrary, Claudius have supreme power. The power between men and women reflects that society is dominated by men and supplemented by women’s consciousness. Therefore, women are not allowed to have their own dominant ideas, even if they are insulted face to face, they can not be angry. All women can do is to swallow their voices with patience.

The second line explains that Hamlet use rude manner to Gertrude. Gertrude is the queen of this country. It should have been a noble person. But when she wanted to criticize her son and let him speak kindly to the king. Hamlet was aggressive and exposing the fact that his mother betrayed his father and married his uncle. What’s more, Hamlet attacked her mother with malicious language. As a mother who was exposed by her son, she was ashamed and frightened, but could not refute any more. She could only beg Hamlet to stop talking. In this conversation, Hamlet is a youth, Gertrude is an elder, and Gertrude is Hamlet’s mother. It is natural that the younger generation should respect the older generation. However, Hamlet does not respect Gertrude at all and treats Gertrude in vulgar language. The dignity of a great mother is lost to the male power represented by her children.

Ophelia has no independent thought and is completely constrained by men. The first quote is said by Polonius, talk with Claudius, Voltemand and Gertrude in a room in castle. Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star.This must not be.’ And then I prescripts gave her, That she should lock herself from his resort, Admit no messengers, receive no tokens. Which done, she took the fruits of my advice??€II, ii, 141-145). The first quote shows that Ophelia was under the control of her father Polonius, and was not allowed to have any contact with Hamlet.Polonius thought that his family and status did not match Hamlet’s. He also thought that Hamlet was playing with Ophelia’s feelings. So he did not allow Ophelia to have any contact with Hamlet. He locked his daughter at home to prevent Ophelia and Hamlet from meeting.In addition, Polonius ignored Ophelia’s idea and decided instead of Ophelia that he would no longer communicate with Hamlet. Ophelia, however, can only accept all the demands and decisions her father has made. In Hamlet, it is clear that men’s rights are strong and women’s unconditional obedience.
The second quote said by Polonius, talk with Ophelia after knowing something between Hamlet and his daughter. Marry, I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby. That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay, Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly, Or not to crack the wind of the poor phrase, Running it thus you’ll tender me a fool(I, iii,105-109). The second quote explains that Polonius reprimands his daughter Ophelia.When Polonius learned about Ophelia’s emotional state, his words revealed disdain. He did not want Ophelia to fall love into a false love game by Hamlet. The father had more authority than Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, so his language was more harsh, using baby and fool to describe Ophelia. Among them, Polonius is the father, Ophelia is the daughter, Polonius belongs to the strong, while Ophelia is the weak. Polonius’s “talk” implies the power and status of men. Ophelia’s “listening” reveals his weak and neglected position in society. When Ophelia is faced with love and father, she can only choose to listen to his father’s “teachings”.

Women’s death is ignored by most of people, and they are disrespected by others. The quote is said by a priest, talk with Laertes which Laertes wants priest to do more ceremony. Her obsequies have been as far enlarged. As we have warranty. Her death was doubtful, And, but that great command o’ersways the order, She should in ground unsanctified have lodged. Till the last trumpet. For charitable prayers Shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown on her. Yet here she is allowed her virgin crants, Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home Of bell and burial (Act5, Scene5, 208-216). The quote shows Ophelia’s death not only because of suffering, but also was disrespected. When Ophelia knew her father’s death, she felt despair. At that time, men were regarded as everything for women.

Because of Polonius’s death, Ophelia doesn’t know what she should do and what expectations she had for life, and her lover Hamlet’s curse on her. Finally, Ophelia escapes from all the pain and chose to commit suicide. The deceased should have been respected, but in that century, suicide was considered an unforgivable sin. Without the last ritual, death would be the guarantee of being sent to hell. In Hamlet, the priest said that Ophelia should not pray and be thrown into her grave with bricks and rubble. Durkheim, a French sociologist, said that “suicide is not a simple individual act, but a reaction to a disintegrating society”. Ophelia’s suicide and treatment after death are just proof of the seriousness of suicide and gender discrimination in society at that time.

In the society ruled by men at Shakespeare’s century, women depend on men completely. Women’s fate cannot be dominated by themselves. Women’s tragedies are caused by social injustice. In Hamlet, great mother-child feelings and love did not exist in the male power struggle. The experience of Gertrude and Ophelia is not only the result of Hamlet’s tragedy, but also a microcosm of contemporary society. The female identities described in Shakespeare’s Hamlet are humble, without freedom, without independent thought, men control women’s behavior and speech completely. Only meek women who obey a man’s every command are respectable. From Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it can see that Shakespeare is anti-feminist. The women in his play are so fragile, Shakespeare expresses his strong Anti-feminism with male language and behavior.

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The Female Identities in Shakespeare's Hamlet. (2019, May 14). Retrieved from