Summary: Feminism in Hamlet: The Truth and Reality


William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragedy following the titular Danish prince as he tries to avenge his father's death at the hands of Claudius, as well as how he deals with the problems he sees in himself and society. As one of Shakespeare's more well-known plays, Hamlet is capable of being approached and adapted from multiple literary directions. Hamlet is a play written from a male viewpoint. Therefore, some assumptions that go along with this analysis is that Gertrude and Ophelia, the plays only female characters in the play, are objectified, mistreated and given marginalized opinions and roles, while the play solely focuses upon the male characters and their experiences.

Therefore this paper will analyze Hamlet through a feminist lens, arguing that Ophelia and Gertrude are being looked down upon, portrayed as “props” in the play and struggling with similar hardships both having to do with the men in their lives. 

The Patriarchal Society and Lack of Feminism in Shakespeare's Hamlet

During the Elizabethan era, England was highly patriarchal.

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This is reflected in Hamlet through the ways that the male characters talk down to Ophelia and Gertrude, demonstrating a relationship that views as “asymmetrical” and favouring men. Ophelia is given no voice throughout the play; This has been demonstrated in many scenes but in one scene particular this is shown in the rudest way possible when Hamlet says “Get thee to a nunnery” .This implies that Ophelia should become a nun and preserve her own chastity to not bear children that are sinners.

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However, this did not seem to affect Ophelia at all showing us how she has no power and confidence to defend herself. This just comes to show us how female objectification was such a big social norm at that time that even females where acucustomed to it. This primarely is also shown in many other scenes for example when Ophelia is talking to her father Polonius and at the very end says “ I shall obey my lord”. This shows us how she's just submitting to her father's command not fighting back. Shakespeare was a male writer writing in a male-dominated time where women had significantly fewer rights (Howards) and this comes to show us why Ophelia does not have a voice of her own and at this time male figures only viewed women in the way they knew how to view them witch was as fragile women who where there to do wifely dutys and or pleas their men. Similarly, Gertrude who one would asume would have a great and significant role because she is the queen does not. She is portrayed as Claudiouses “toy”, only there for him to use when he needs.

The Role of Gertrude in Hamlet: A Perspective of Feminism

Though Bloom argues the opposite, saying, “Queen Gertrude is evidently a woman of exuberant sexuality who inspired luxurious passion first in the king than later in king Claudius”. He's making the claim that she is only in the relationship for sexual intercourse. As we know in the time of Shakespeare it was common for women to marry right away as it was taboo for women to remain single. Therefore it is not a surprise that Gertrude remarried so quickly to his brother Claudious. However as seen in the closet scene, when the Queen says “thou hast thy father much offended” and he replies with “ Mother you have my Father much offended”. He ’s using a mocking tone showing us that he does not care as to what his mother wants to tell him. further, throughout this whole scene, Hamlet is throwing his anger out at his mother, but we don’t see Gertrude at all trying to fight back and justify her point, showing us she's afraid to speak up. Throughout the play, we can also see her vulnerability as she goes along with whatever is said. Gertrudes and Ophelia's relationship is portrayed as a mother and daughter. This idea is proven as Shakespeare wrote the play with Gertrude being the one to tell the audiance about her death instead of her brother, witch signifies to us that she was the first one to hear about the death..”I hoped thou should have been my Hamlet’s wife; I thought thy bride-bed have decked, sweet maid”. This shows use the relationship they had as Gertrude would have hoped that Ophelia marries him someday Further, their bond is noticeable trough their similar situations. Both Ophelia and Gertrude are subject to mistreatment by their male counter parts and used as pawns in the power games of the men in their lives. This can be viewed as a feminist show of solidatiry in which women who were in that era were bonde together to protect each other in the face of the reckless actions of men. 

Dehumanization of Women in Hamlet

Furthermore, their lives follow nearly equivalent paths. Both women are mistreated by the men in their lives, Gertrude by Hamlet and Claudius while Ophelia by Hamlet and Polonius. Most of the time they appear naive or clueless or at the very least unaware of the misogyny “That's a fair taught to lie between a maids legs”. Ophelia is unaware of Hamlets violent outbursts towards her and just wants him to get better. Gertrude and Ophelia are following what society back then was telling them is the right thing to do and, eventually trying to live up to their expectations as objects to the men in their lives witch caused both of them to be killed. Shakespear emphasized Gertrude and Opehlia as being viewd as “property” to the men in their lives. Ophelia “deprived of thought, sexuality, language her story becomes the story of O-zero the empty circle of mystery”(Henderson). This show us how Shakespeare dehumanized the women in his play, because to this day people only remember Ophelia as the girl who committed suicide but nothing more. Throughout the play, the female characters are used as foils for the male characters. They are there as shadows to help in their feud but not depicted as showing any emotion whatsoever. More so they are used as pawns that the male characters can throw around to their benifit. Act 3 Scene 4 the closet scene is a good representation of female objectification.


Hamlet is interacting with his mother full of anger and rage at her for what she had done, but not once trough the scene do we see Gertrude try and talk back to hamlet she sits there and listens to his problems. This shows us how Gertrude has no power to stop Hamlet, but we also see Hamlet treating his own mother like she is an inanimate object with no feelings. He is controling her using diragutery terms trying to make her feel guilty and fear for what she has done by remarrying Claudious. This shows us gertrude in a vulnurable state lost for words and not being able to respond. In conclusion Shakespeare's views on feminism at that time where portrayed trough many of his plays with the marginalization of women. Throughout Hamlet, this is shown with the objectification, the miss treatment and sexual harassment of Gertrude and Ophelia. Thought back then this was a social norm it has not gotten better since then, with seeing feminism being an important topic of the 21 century when it comes to pay gaps and wages. 

Works Cited

  1. Bloom, Harold. “Hamlet: Poem Unlimited.” Riverhead Books, 2003.
  2. Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 4, 1976, pp. 875-893.
  3. Dolan, Frances E. “Hamlet: A Gender-Based Approach.” In the Company of Shakespeare, edited by Thomas A. Green and Kathryn M. Moncrief, University of Delaware Press, 2002, pp. 119-132.
  4. Howard, Jean. “Feminist Criticism and Shakespeare: A Selected Annotated Bibliography, 1975-1994.” English Literary Renaissance, vol. 25, no. 1, 1995, pp. 182-215.
  5. Kahn, Coppelia. “Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare.” University of California Press, 1981.
  6. Neely, Carol Thomas. “Women and Men in Othello and Much Ado About Nothing.” In Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, edited by Juliet Dusinberre, Macmillan, 1996, pp. 44-65.
  7. Orgel, Stephen. “Impertinent Trifling: Desdemona’s Rubies and the (Male) Gaze of ‘Othello.’” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 4, 1987, pp. 432-443.
  8. Showalter, Elaine. “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism.” In Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, Methuen, 1985, pp. 77-94.
  9. Smith, Emma. “The Female Characters in Shakespeare’s Plays.” The British Library, 20 Apr. 2016,
  10. Wofford, Susanne L. “The ‘Other’ Text of Ophelia’s Madness.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1, 1985, pp. 74-87.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Summary: Feminism in Hamlet: The Truth and Reality. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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