For quite a long time, women have always played second-fiddle to men in the society. They have always been held back by retrogressive culture that looks not into their rights but only sees them as domestic servants or even as objects of giving birth in the society. The womans place has always been the kitchen as noted in various works of literature. Different authors and scholars have all presented on the cases of misogyny in the society, but none addresses the subject in a much more comprehensive manner as Shakespeare in his play Hamlet. He addresses the concept of misogyny in the society in different ways through the interactions between characters in the play.
According to Mullaney, Misogyny refers to the tendencies to show any form of prejudice or dislike for women. It comes with the demeaning of their role and status as beings equal to men in the society. In the play Hamlet, there are only two women casted; Ophelia and Gertrude. The manner in which this women interact with other characters or what other characters say about them help to depict the level of misogyny in the play. In the first instance presented, Shakespeare present Gertrude as a highly ranked woman in the society (Spivack). She is the queen of Denmark. Despite her status in the society, Shakespeare presents her in irreparable behavior that casts a lustful and lewd shadow. Using his artistic license, Shakespeare had the power and means to depict Gertrude in a more dignified way such as being a martyr in Hamlets cause. She is also depicted as weak as seen in the manner in which she presents a weak personality of herself any time critical matters arise. For instance, when Hamlet faces the accusation of stalking on Ophelia, Gertrudes weak character is depicted through her response that I doubt it is no other than the main, his father and oer-hasty marriage (Shakespeare 2.2.56-57). The mother is thus depicted as weak and not strong in character as it is always natural for strong women to tend towards defending their children no matter what. Shakespeare thus emphasizes on the weaknesses of Gertrude thus showing his perception towards women. Even in the manner in which Shakespeare presents Gertrude, it is evident that his portrayal of women signifies misogyny. They are presented as targets and easy targets for men to manipulate. They are always under the dominance of men thus showing that the society is unequal in terms of gender representation in the society. This can be seen in the manner in which Shakespeare introduced Gertrude as lustful and hurriedly married to King Claudius. The quote with an auspicious and dropping eye, with mirth in the funeral and with dirge in marriage, in equal scale weighing delight and dole (Shakespeare 1.2.11-13). One gets the clear picture of how demeaned the character of Gertrude despite being the Queen of Denmark. Shakespeares portrayal of Gertrudes marriage that was conducted in a hasty manner depicts the fact that women as presented by the queen are lustful, poor parents and even adulterers as can be seen in the manner in which Gertrude does not even wait longer after the burial of her husband.
Misogyny is also presented in Shakespeares Hamlet as seen in the manner in which women are enemies to themselves. For instance, after the death of Hamlets father and the hasty marriage of his mother, Hamlet is presented as lonely (Mullaney). As expected, Ophelia is the ideal candidate to help Hamlet get over it but none makes an attempt to help join the two. Even Gertrude, the other woman in the play does not play any role in trying to make it possible for Ophelia and Hamlet to come together. Even Polonius plays a role in propagating misogyny in the play by undermining the happiness of the woman, Ophelia. He does this by herding the prince away from her thus hindering their union.
Shakespeare continues with his misogynist tendencies in the play Hamlet as can be seen in the manner in which he depicts Gertrude again (Spivack). In most cases women are always presented as knowing what is good for their children and what they are going through in their lives. This is not the case with Gertrude. She does not have an idea of what was ailing Hamlet. Shakespeare presents her as dumb as easier to be tricked or hoodwinked by Hamlet. This makes her believe that he was insane when the situation was not as such. From the case, it is evident that women are depicted as stupid as can be seen in the manner in which Shakespeare presents Gertrudes death as being caused by her own stupidity while trying to kill Hamlet. The play thus succeeds in making it clear that she died because of her stupidity and nothing else.
Through the character of Ophelia, the manner in which Shakespeare presents her death depicts the highest form of misogyny in the society. She is young beautiful and befitting for a prince but Shakespeare presents her as living under the tyrannical father and brother Polonius who restrain her (Knights). She lacks the freedom to choose what is best for her. This is evident in the manner in which she is denied the chance to love Hamlet. From that incident one could clearly see the world of women in the society as being one in which their freedom of choice and right to love was curtailed. She is even presented as going mad when her father dies untimely. When giving her brother Laertes flowers, Shakespeare states that I would give you some Violets, but they witherd all when my father dies (Shakespeare 4.5.179-180). This is indicative of the life she was living under her dictatorial father and Polonius who extends his form of male bigotry in the society in which Ophelia lived.
Pursuant to the above reasons, it is evident that Shakespeares play Hamlet is one of the most compelling works written by Shakespeare. The work as seen touches on various aspects in life but ultimately reduces the role of women in the society. It depicts them as lustful, immoral, wicked, stupid and lacking in parental love. They are also shown as lacking the freedom to choose what they want in life. Through the characters of Ophelia and Gertrude one could easily see the high level of misogyny in the society depicted by Shakespeare in his work Hamlet.
Knights, Lionel Charles. Some Shakespearean Themes: And An Approach to'Hamlet'. Stanford University Press, 1966.Mullaney, Steven. "Mourning and Misogyny: Hamlet, the revenger's tragedy, and the final progress of Elizabeth I, 1600-1607." Shakespeare Quarterly (1994): 139-162.
Shakespeare, William. The new Cambridge Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Philip Edwards. Cambridge University Press, 2003.Spivack, Carla. "Woman Will Be Out: A New Look at the Law in Hamlet, The." Yale JL & Human. 20 (2008): 31.
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