Analyzing Hamlet through a Feminist Lens

Categories: Hamlet

Literature Becton 13 April 2013 The Exploration of Hamlet through a Feminist Lens Throughout the Elizabethan era women were not acknowledge as humans. The ideal gender role of women was to work in the home: cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. Men were the only ones to work and have a career. The feminist theory analyzes the status of women in society. It deals with gender differences, gender inequality, gender oppression, and structural oppression.

Analyzing Hamlet through a feminist lens critics focus on Ophelia one of the plays female characters, within the text Shakespeare conveys the treatment of women in Elizabethan society.

In doing this, Ophelia is often utilized as an ultimate pawn by the men in her life; Laertes, Polonius, and Hamlet. As for a women’s social position they are define as being powerless. Ophelia’s brother Laertes is one of the characters that implements her for his desire and will because of her gender.

In the tragedy Laertes converse win Ophelia exuding a tone of authority and power.

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He speaks to her as a higher power; he gives her orders not advice. She is not privilege to choose what she wants to do, instead she gets told what to do because in this era women were looked as puppets. Laertes finds out that Ophelia has been seeing prince Hamlet, he doesn’t not feel that Hamlet is good enough for Ophelia, he suggest her to stop seeing him. Considering that Laertes has a higher placement in society because of his gender she listens and agrees with him.

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Shakespeare Writes, For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor, Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood, A violet in the youth of primy nature, Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, The perfume and suppliance of a minute. No more (I. iii. 5-10) fits your wisdom so far to It believe it As he in his particular act and place May give his saying deed, which is no further Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal. 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 importunity.

Fear it, Ophelia. Fear it, my dear sister, And keep you in the rear of your affection, Out of the shot and danger of desire. The chariest maid is prodigal enough If she unmask her beauty to the moon. Virtue itself ’scapes not calumnious strokes. The canker galls the infants of the spring Too oft before their buttons be disclosed. And in the morn and liquid dew of youth, Contagious blastments are most imminent. Be wary, then. Best safety lies in fear. Youth to itself rebels, though none else near. (I. iii. 25-44) Farewell, Ophelia, and remember well What I have said to you, (I. iii. 84-85).

Laertes is leaving to go to France but before he leaves he makes sure he talks to his sister about seeing Hamlet. He thinks that Ophelia is too innocent to be dating someone like Hamlet. Knowing that Ophelia will not put up a fight to defend herself or Hamlet because she is a woman, he demands her to stop seeing him. When Ophelia is left in Denmark, her father Polonius is killed by Hamlet. The traditions when a parent is killed the child would usually seek revenge for the parents death. Since Ophelia is a woman she has fewer opinions, she cannot act- all she can do is wait on Laertes to return and take his revenge.

Since she cannot act she goes mad. The Saylor foundation writes, “A feminist theoretical reading of Hamlet might argue that Ophelia—who is driven to seeming madness throughout the play and, possibly, eventual suicide—is figured as being repressed, abused, ignored, and renounced by male characters throughout the play because of her gender,” (16). Ophelia is constantly used, and abused by the men in her life because of her gender. Not only is Ophelia utilized by her brother Laertes but also by her father Polonius. In the play Laertes asks the king to honor his request to go back to France.

Before he leave Polonius has a talk to with Laertes giving him advice on what to do and what not to do while he is in France. When Laertes leaves Polonius has a talk with Ophelia about Hamlet, but she tone shifts from when he was talking to Laertes. When he speaks to Laertes he uses a tone of advice and consideration. When Polonius starts talking to Ophelia his tone is demanding, serious, and oppressive. The way Polonius conveys his message to Laertes is totally different to way he convey it to Ophelia and that’s because they are different sexes.

Shakespeare writes, Marry, well be thought. 'Tis told me he hath very oft of late Given private time to you, and you yourself Have of your audience been most free and bounteous. If it be so as so ’tis put on me—And that in way of caution—I must tell you, You do not understand yourself so clearly As it behooves my daughter and your honor. What is between you? Give me up the truth. (I. iii. 90-98) Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know, When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul Lends the tongue vows.

These blazes, daughter, Giving more light than heat, extinct in both Even in their promise as it is a-making, You must not take for fire. From this time Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence. Set your entreatments at a higher rate Than a command to parley. For Lord Hamlet, Believe so much in him that he is young, And with a larger tether may he walk Than may be given you. In few, Ophelia, Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers Not of that dye which their investments show, But mere implorators of unholy suits, Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds, The better to beguile.

This is for all: I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth, Have you so slander any moment leisure, As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. Look to ’t, I charge you. Come your ways. I shall obey, my lord, (I. iii. 115-136). Polonius demands Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet of gender roles in the Elizabethan era, he does not give her any other choice. Ophelia must obey her father because in the era women did not have another option. Women are looked at differently from men they do get the same respect a man does.

In this passage, Polonius displays gender differences he examines how women location in, and experience of, social situations differ from men’s by not treating Ophelia and Laertes the same he shows his son more respect than his daughter. After Polonius demands Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet, Hamlet goes mad. The king needs Polonius to find out what is going on with Hamlet. Polonius thinks he has the answer to Hamlet problem. He thinks that Hamlet is heartbroken over Ophelia. He uses Ophelia as a trap to figure the true reason for Hamlets madness.

Even though he knows Ophelia he hurt because she loves hamlet he doesn’t care about her feelings, because she is just a women. In the tragedy by William Shakespeare, he writes “At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him. Be you and I behind an arras then, Mark the encounter. If he love her not And be not from his reason fall'n thereon, Let me be no assistant for a state But keep a farm and carters,” (II. ii. 154-159). Polonius does not even think about asking his daughter if she mined doing this, he just automatically volunteers her.

As a woman she does not have the right to have a say so in what is going on in her life, the men in life so far is making all the decision for her. Ophelia is completely powerless; her life in Hamlet is completely dependent on the men in her life. Similarly, Ophelia’s lover Hamlet also uses her as an ultimate pawn for his own selfish needs. Hamlet is so concentrated on seeking revenge for his father death he doesn’t pay attention to Ophelia needs. Gabrielle Dane writes, “Ophelia’s lover blithely disregards her psychological needs in favor of his own,” (2).

Hamlet believes that all women are untrustworthy and disloyal because his mother married his uncle two months after his father was murder and he finds this very untrustworthy. By hamlet coming to this conclusion he sets aside all his feelings for Ophelia and becomes “violently abusive toward her”. Hamlet does not want to be with Ophelia but he does not want Ophelia to be with anyone else. He demands her to go to a convent where she will be a nun. “Ophelia behaves not autonomously at all but obediently” (Dane 2). Ophelia do not try to argue with Hamlet or defend herself because of structural oppression.

Structural oppression posits that women oppression and inequality are a result of capitalism, and patriarchy. Shakespeare writes, You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not. I was the more deceived Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.

What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all. Believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. (III. i. 118-131) I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God has given you one face and you make yourselves another. You jig and amble, and you lisp, you nickname God’s creatures and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on ’t. It hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages. Those that are married already, all but one, shall live.

The rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go. (III. i. 143-150) Hamlet is overly demanding towards Ophelia, he does not treat her as a human being but he treats her as a puppet. Ophelia is used for Hamlet’s emotional, mental, and physically needs, but her feeling are never considered by anyone. Hamlet’s displays gender inequality toward Ophelia; it can be recognized that women are not only different but also unequal to men. In brief, looking at Hamlet through a feminist lens you will see how women are treated and portrayed in this text.

Ophelia is used and abused by the men in her life: her father, brother, and lover. Her feelings are ignored and unconsidered. Both her brother and father has an hold on Ophelia because they feel she is innocent and is easily manipulated. They are both very protective of Ophelia which makes them come off as demanding and controlling. Their own perception of Ophelia makes them treat her as a helpless little girl. This shows how men in this time period thought of women, helpless and not having a mind of their own. It also can be a reflection on how Shakespeare thought of women.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Analyzing Hamlet through a Feminist Lens. (2018, Aug 29). Retrieved from

Analyzing Hamlet through a Feminist Lens essay
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