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THE WOMEN OF HAMLET

William Shakespeare’s famous play ​Hamlet​ portrays the female characters as inferiors
to the male characters by depicting real life relationships in patriarchal society. In the past,
due to the sexual inequalities that were implanted in the customs of almost every countries in
the world, it was men’s world. Women’s voice and opinions were ignored as they were
considered insignificant. Not many women were allowed to learn how to read and write so
there were not much chance for them to pick up a pen to write their own stories and express
their ideas. Men were the ones who enjoyed the stories written by men to entertain men. It
can be said that society are reflected in literature. Therefore, many of the stories from those
earlier periods featured male characters as the protagonists while the female characters were
just support characters who don’t have much influence or role in the stories, or even the
antagonists with miserable endings.
Ophelia and Gertrude are the only two female characters seen in the play full of male
characters. The only things we know or see from them are only their words and their actions
under the influences of the men, and how they are talked about by them. Their thoughts or
their reasons of doing are not present in the whole story. The male characters such as Hamlet,
Claudius, and Polonius get their chance to speak out a lot of what’s going through their head
so the readers can observe and perceive their motives on performing particular actions or
saying particular lines. However, Ophelia and Gertrude aren’t allowed the same chance to say
what they are thinking at any moments. The only time these female characters get to say
what’s on their mind are the times that they are in pathetic situations and are portrayed as a
lunatic character such as when Ophelia sings, “Young men will do’t, if they come to’t, / By
Cock, they are to blame” (4.5.59-60).
The most significant trait of patriarchal society is that it is male-dominated, which
means the males are the one who is in control of how the society work and how the
relationship should be. In the play ​Hamlet, ​Ophelia, who is the daughter of Polonius and the
sister of Laertes, is being under the command of her male relatives. Before leaving the
country, Laertes forbid Ophelia from giving her all to Hamlet out of love, and even instruct
her to “Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,” (1.3.33). To keep others under control, people
often make use of threats as fear is the key to prevent them from disobeying orders. Women
were told that obedient was the only thing that would keep them from miserable life. With
that in mind, Ophelia has no other choice but to do what she is told to. When she informs her
father about Hamlet’s act towards her, he is the one who order her to avoid Hamlet, but when
he discovers that the reason for the prince’s insanity is his daughter, he thinks “I will leave
him, and suddenly contrive the means of meeting between him and my daughter”
(2.2.210-211). Polonius’s action can really demonstrate the situation happens in a lot of
family in which the father use the daughter for his own benefits or advancement without
concerning about the daughter’s condition. Apart from her own family, Ophelia was also
used as a tool by Hamlet. When Ophelia is still alive, Hamlet, not only once, shames her like
when he says, “Get thee to a nunnery, go, farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool;
for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them” (3.1.139-141). It is sad
for her that she has been treated badly by the prince who, after her death, declares in front of
the crowd that he has a great love for her only because it is one part of his plans. This shows
that it unfortunately makes sense for a man to treat his love ones badly as long as he can
fulfill his needs and achieve more important goals.
The fate of another female character, Gertrude, is not much different from Ophelia’s.
She is portrayed as the queen who betrays her own husband and son by marrying the brother
of her husband only a month after his death. Her motive of doing so is not mentioned in the
story as if she is created only to suffer from the insult from her son and the audiences.
Throughout the play, she always seems to choose the wrong path and end up with miserable
outcomes. Since the beginning, her choice of marrying Claudius causes her son to loathe her
behaviors which result in consistent mean words from him as he constantly reminds her,
“You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife” (3.4.16). Then, when she partially tells
Claudius about Hamlet’s condition, “Mad as the sea and wind when both contend […] And in
his brainish apprehension kills / The unseen good old man” (4.1.6-11), she becomes disloyal
to both her son who asks her to keep his secrets and her husband who asks her to be honest
with him. She is put into a position where she can’t prevent hurting the people she loves. Her
image turns into a selfish woman who can do anything to keep herself in a secure spot.
However, in the end, she is depicted as an unfortunate victim of the tragedy who dies from
cheering for her son’s victory. It is the only time that she completely resists to obey Claudius
by saying, “I will, my lord, I pray you pardon me”(5.2.242), and it costs her own life. In her
case, she represents the women who had no choice in their own life. As the society was lead
by men, they were forced to follow what was decided for them and bear with the
consequences themselves if things went badly. The ones who disobeyed would be left to face
with the results of their actions so that other people would not be motivated to do so as they
would be afraid of ending up the same.
The fact that both female characters, Ophelia and Gertrude, just appear in the story to
obey every order given to them reflects the society of the period the play was composed in
which women were undervalued. Their only roles were to follow instructions from men and
give birth to another generation. They are considered as characters who are created for the
male characters to use as tools for their game and to show their power on. This stereotype of
women is still present in some closed-minded people and it should be changed. Everyone
deserves to speak their own minds and have the right to say no to what they think isn’t right.
HAMLET’S INCONSISTENCY

It is one of human’s nature to be uncertain. Life is always full of unexpected events


that might change the course of what is to come and alter what people planned for their
future. There can be many factors that affect a person’s decision. That is why people always
change their mind when time past even if the slightest thought of change barely exists in the
first place. When a person’s mind and attitude towards certain things has changed, they
change their behaviors and how they act. Throughout William Shakespeare’s tragic play
Hamlet, ​the inconsistency of Hamlet’s behavior towards his revenge shows that he is
constantly distracted from his objective.
The play ​Hamlet m​ ainly revolves around the theme of revenge. In the beginning of
the story, the main character with the same name as the title, Hamlet, learns the harsh secret
behind the death of his father when he is told, “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life /
Now wears his crown” (1.5.38-39). Since then, he is determined to seek revenge and starts to
form a plan against Claudius. He plots each moves with complexity and pretends to be insane
in order to distract other people from what he is going to do. Hamlet himself is portrayed as a
conflicted character since the first place. He often overthinks about the decisions and the
actions he should take, so he might sometimes end up not taking any of the choices. Even
though, he partially believe in what he just perceives, he isn’t sure yet if the ghost is telling
the truth or not. Claudius is the king and killing a king is a treason. Acting like a fool can buy
Hamlet some time to come up with a plan without noticing other people who are involved.
He begins to be rude to innocent people like Ophelia and Polonius who are lower in rank than
him. Both of them has nothing to do with the late king’s death. But it seems that he finds
amusement in humiliating them with his twisted words, so he keeps on playing the role of a
maniac. But doing so, the anger that fuel his plan starts to drain away as his attention is drawn
to another subject. His indecisiveness together with his distracted mind cause him to lose his
determination toward his primary objective for a bit. After all, he is more of a thinker than an
executor. As Hamlet has said in the scene when he considers whether he should live or kill
himself, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” (3.1.4).
Nevertheless, after the ‘Mousetrap’ that triggers some reactions from Claudius,
Hamlet’s mind returns to revenge and he becomes more enthusiast to proceed to the next step
of his plan. He mentions, “’Tis now the very witching time of night, / When churchyard
yawns, and hell itself breathes out / Contagions to this world. Now could I drink hot blood”
(3.2.371-373). It can be obviously seen that he is driven entirely by rage at that moment. This
feeling of anger can cause people to lose their consciousness for a while and do things that
they might regret afterwards. It clouds people’s ability to judge what is right and what is
wrong. Hamlet is furious that he now knows about Claudius guilt but he can’t kill him right
when he prays as it would just send the murderer of his father to heaven. So when he suspects
that the person hidden behind the arras might be Claudius, he “thrusts his sword through the
arras” (3.4.24). However, a fact about feelings is that they fade. When new things come
before eyes, people get distracted and slowly let go of the things they once hold on to. At that
time, Hamlet’s plan to get revenge for his father seems to be forgotten. He has to cover up his
crime by hiding Polonius’s body. And when Claudius decides to send him to England, he just
go along with the rest of the crew. If it wasn’t for the order to kill him, Hamlet might no
longer want to continue with the objective of avenging his father’s death. He wouldn’t return
to Denmark so soon and he wouldn’t be full of anger inside him. Yet, when he realizes about
Ophelia’s death, his rage turns to sorrow and he falls into Claudius and Laertes’s plan. He
doesn’t care if he can seek revenge anymore. He doesn’t even care if he has to die as he is
willing to lie with Ophelia in the grave. Despite that, as soon as his mother falls and Laertes
says, “Thy mother’s poisoned. / I can no more. The King, the King’s to blame” (5.2.274),
Hamlet stabs Claudius and forces him to drink his own poison.
It’s not simple for someone to stay concentrate on only one goal without losing focus
to any distractions, especially on a goal that requires planning and preparation. At first,
people might have a strong feeling about doing something. But there might be some obstacles
that alter their confidence, their passion, or their feeling regarding that thing along the way.
It’s just only a matter of time if there will be a person, or an incident that would reignite them
up again before it is too late. Changing your mind and being inconsistent are alright as long
as you’re moving towards what you need to accomplish the goal you really desire.
Reference:
Shakespeare, W. (2008).​ Hamlet. ​In G. R. Hibbard (Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.