Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Discuss Shakespeares Essay

The women of Shakespearean literature have been known to have a strong emotional complexity, where each of them find themselves subject to adversities based around the powerful men who influence them. From Lady Anne’s striking romantic confusion in Richard III, to Viola’s challenges in morality throughout Twelfth Night, such a Shakespearean signature in portraying women persists in Hamlet; through Gertrude, a Queen dealing with her questionable actions and Ophelia, who struggles with the pressures of male authority. It should come as no surprise that although being a 16th century play, the exploration of female issues of tradition, misogyny, romance and mortality allows Hamlet’s treatment of women to maintain a highly significant relevance in today’s modern world. Elizabethan women held very little social rights and power, with strict roles in child bearing and household duties allowing them to have very little say even within their own lives. Despite clearly being set in Denmark, Shakespeare who was writing during this time, extended this traditional roles to Ophelia and Gertrude. Ophelia in particular displays the role more strongly, with critic David Leverenz noting â€Å"[Ophelia] has no choice but to say ‘I shall obey, my lord'†. In this example of Ophelia’s compliant nature, after her father, Polonius’ orders her to not â€Å"give words or talk with Lord Hamlet- (I. 3)†, the reader is able to view the customary relationship between a woman and the male figures in her life. Though Gertrude does not give any particularly submissive dialogue, even she as Queen reinforces this relationship in her minimal speech in scenes for which she is not only present, but concerned. It is important for modern critics like Leverenz as well as critical feminist readers to recognize that Ophelia and Gertrude are not necessarily weak and passive in personal character, but instead they are reflection of women (especially royal women) who were oppressed of empowering traits by the socially acceptable customs. Readers should instead appreciate this traditional treatment of women, in not only allowing the men in positions of power to be focused on for the sake of theatrical entertainment and drama, but for also extensively juxtaposing with motifs of insanity, revenge, sin, and violence associated with the powerful male leads; King Claudius, the Ghost of King Hamlet and Prince Hamlet. Though Shakespeare has been regarded as a feminist due to his relatively respectful treatments of women, the existence of this respect in Hamlet has been debated ever since the plays inception. As previously stated, the traditional portrayal of obedient women cannot be taken out of context, however as the play increases in intensity, as does it’s treatment of women. In his very first soliloquy for which he reveals his anger towards his mother’s marriage to his uncle â€Å"two months† after his fathers’ death, Hamlet makes the striking universal comment â€Å"Frailty thy name is woman (I. 2)†. In an example of Shakespeare’s unparalleled literary craftsmanship, he supports this quote through their actions, how upon her husband’s death, Gertrude immediately marries his brother and how after her relationship with Hamlet is doomed, Ophelia begins to go mad herself. The quote is also infamously regarded as the establishment of the play’s theme of misogyny, the quote indicates how Gertrude’s traditionally â€Å"incestuous† marriage to her late husbands brother has ruined his faith in women and love all together. In an almost Freudian pattern, Ophelia then becomes victim to his misogyny with Hamlet’s refusal to continue their relationship. More analytical readers would then go beyond this basic evaluation and then find possible interpretations of Hamlet’s treatment, or as it seems, mistreatment of women. Those sympathetic to Hamlet’s negative attitude to Ophelia would perceive it as a defense mechanism, where between his grief of his father and desire to please his father through revenge, he must then resort to such discrimination to avoid further pain. In contrast to this sympathetic reception, quotes such as â€Å"Frailty thy name is woman† and â€Å"[tis brief, my lord].. as a woman’s love (III. 3)† may be seen as to defy fictional character and be the manifestation of Shakespeare’s own personal opinion, though evidence for this in his marriage with Anne Hathaway is not very strong. Through either interpretation, it is undeniable that so far in the play the women have yet to find themselves in a state of happiness. Another significant aspect of Hamlet’s treatment of women, is how the currently negative treatment is extended to how Shakespeare portrays their sexuality. For instance, after Ophelia is warned to not â€Å"lose your heart, or [her] chaste treasure open† by her brother Laertes, she gives her virginity to Hamlet. When Hamlet discards marriage, she says with in a particularly distressed tone â€Å"Quoth she, before you tumbled me, /You promised me to wed. /So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun, /An thou hadst not come to my bed -(IV. 5)†. During Act 3, Scene 2 when the ‘mouse-trap’ play is taking place, Ophelia must also be subjected to Hamlet’s sexual innuendo’s such as â€Å"That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs. † for which she cannot reply in order to remain as a respectable lady. Again, Shakespeare indicates another aspect of Elizabethan women, with how female sexuality was highly conservative and their virginity very strictly only being lost with marriage with those not doing so being thought of as a disgrace. The reader’s sympathy for Ophelia is therefore increased substantially, where, who then later tells her to â€Å"get the to the nunnery – (III. 1)† which shows her as an exploited figure. Gertrude’s sexual behaviour, more specifically her decision to marry Claudius, has come under immense scrutiny not only by Hamlet who defeminised her by saying â€Å"A beast†¦ would have mourned longer†¦ â€Å", but also by critics viewing her as sinful and in blunt Elizabethan terms, a whore. Critic Rebecca Smith commented on how this view is commonly translated to stage productions where she is â€Å"often played as a sensual and deceitful woman†. For a balanced view on Gertrude, it is imperative to note how she too is attempting to deal with her grief and there is a great possibility she is doing this for reasons of maintaining her families power. As for being deceitful, Carolyn Heilbrun’s 1957 essay â€Å"Hamlet’s Mother† defends Gertrude, arguing that the text never hints that Gertrude knew of Claudius poisoning King Hamlet. . As Hamlet progresses towards its conclusion, instead of the female characters developments becoming positive, the plot continues to prove devastating for them. Ophelia, upon the death of Laertes and Polonius, as well as Hamlet’s mistreatment seems to drive herself into madness and her death by drowning. Although truly saddening, the way in which Shakespeare presents her death reveals the beauty which has been overshadowed by tragedy. In expected Shakespearean style, the poetic announcement given by Gertrude uses beautiful naturalistic imagery to testament to Ophelia’s femininity, with â€Å"When down her weedy trophies and herself/Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;/And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: /Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;(IV. 7)†. From that point on she is referred to as â€Å"beautiful† and â€Å"sweet† by Hamlet and Gertrude respectively, further emphasizing her graceful nature. To directly juxtapose with this, is the death of Gertrude, who poisoned by her son makes her last words with grace, â€Å"No, no, the drink, the drink! -O my dear Hamlet! /The drink, the drink! I am poisoned. (V. 2)†. Her elegant demise in the midst of the â€Å"blood† and violence could be seen as her true nature also obscured by the play’s tragic events like Ophelia, where Shakespeare perhaps reveals the real personalities of the women upon their death. However Gertrude sympathetics, may acknowledge that the murder and negative perception of Gertrude by Hamlet whose state of mind is generally perceived as mad and insane, calling her a â€Å"wretched queen† may in fact be incorrect because of this – therefore proving her relative innocence. Shakespeare in both their developments and deaths, shows a treatment of women where through the violence of their deaths they still maintain a pleasant feminine quality that is given a focus that was previously absent in the play. No matter the perceptive of the reader on the play’s treatment of women, they should be able to appreciate Shakespeare’s realistic portrayal, where although he took creative liberties in some circumstances, he gave true Elizabethan indications of female traditional roles and sexual attitudes on women. It was through writing with conviction (not only through staying true to the context but in showing Ophelia’s and Gertrude’s emotion and complexity) that the play attains it’s status of one of the best of his classics. The two women are thought to be superficial, but considering the devices such as tone, juxtaposition and imagery as well as analysing their character intentions and behaviour it should be extremely apparent that this is not true and that they obviously do display depth. Secondly, I feel that in the question of whether Shakespeare was a feminist or even a misogynist that the answer cannot be found in Hamlet – where his treatment of women in Hamlet is actually neutral. The female characters were designed not for the reader to be focused on who they were, but for what they brought out in other characters. More specifically, Ophelia and Gertrude were therefore created to see how romance, affection and love can truly drive a man insane.

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