Perhaps today a sister would have not been so kind to such interference but Laertes’ hypocritical attitude was normal in the Elizabethan times. In cautioning her, he definitely indicates that he is dominant in the relationship of the brother and sister. However, again, he acts for her own good as he sees it. Indeed, Both her father and brother believe that it is their duty and right to tell her how she is to behave in her life. At the same time, she benefits from this relationship, as clearly her father and brother are acting to protect her.
Overall this presents Ophelia as easily lead, and lacking strong will. Again this would be thought of as typical in Elizabethan times. “For most critics of Shakespeare, Ophelia has been an insignificant minor character in the play, touching in her weakness and madness but chiefly interesting, of course, in what she tells us about Hamlet” (Elaine Showaller). This view backs up the opinion that female characters are merely driving factors of the play. They aid us in finding out more about the male characters. Women were generally presented this way, to make the men look stronger and more dominant.
Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet is of paramount importance in our discussion of women. There is a significant link between Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet and her language. Ophelia seems to constantly refer to Hamlet as “my lord”, and converses formally and with respect. This can be thought to be because of her social position and her gender, both making her less important than Hamlet. This would particularly be present in the Elizabethan times. Due to more gender equality, a modern day audience would not accept this as a reason.
When Hamlet presents her with sexual puns, her nai?? ve, typical attitude for a woman in the Elizabethan times is almost an obvious contrast to his intelligence, quick-witted innuendos and humour. There is an example of this in Act 3 scene 2, when Hamlet says, “That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs”, and Ophelia replies with “what is my lord”. This may be linked back to the fact that the play was written in the Elizabethan times, as Ophelia’s response may be because she is deliberately attempting to be coy and flirtatious towards Hamlet.
Hamlet belittles Ophelia in Act 3 scene 1 by abusing her and all women. Saying that no one should marry “I say that we have no mo marriages”. He repeatedly orders her to a nunnery “Get to the nunnery, go”. He continues to tell her that he once loved her and then denies it by saying “I loved you not”. He shows his dominance in the relationship however, his conversation with Ophelia verges on cruelty. Overall, Ophelia’s character can be thought of as weak, feeble and impressionable. There is no real attempt at resistance. “I shall obey”, except to try and defend Hamlet’s love for her.
If this play were written today, most writers would show women as stronger and more independent, resisting gender inequalities, thus reflecting woman in society today. The other female character in ‘Hamlet’ is Gertrude. Shakespeare presents Gertrude as a woman with a considerable amount of power and intelligence. However, even as Queen and mother, Gertrude similar to Ophelia, seems to find herself dominated by the male characters. Like Ophelia, Gertrude is also dominated by Hamlet. However, it must be noticed that unlike Ophelia’s character, this domination and control does not affect Gertrude mentally, nor does it affect her actions.
In addition, although his words to her are cruel, he holds a great deal of respect for her calling her Mother and “good lady”. In the ‘closet scene’ Hamlet finally confronts his mother and we are able gain insight into their relationship. Gertrude attempts a motherly almost formal tone with Hamlet, scolding him for his disrespectful behaviour towards Claudius “Hamlet, you have thy father much offended”. However, Hamlet instantaneously dominates the conversation refusing to let his mother scold him whilst criticising her for her betrayal of his father King Hamlet “Mother you have my father much offended”.
He almost intends to explain to her how she has done this “You are the Queen, your husbands brothers wife”. He also continues to extend his feeling to all woman stating “frailty thy name is woman” possible to further explore Gertrude’s relationship with Hamlet. As continued in Act 3 scene 4, Hamlet goes into additional detail of what he believes to be his mother’s sexual crime. He says, “but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption”. The imagery used conveys a sexual relationship between Hamlet and his mother.
Due to Shakespeare’s use of minimal stage directions throughout the play, many actions and features of the characters are almost left uncertain, allowing directors to manipulate this to present other views. Many directors such as Zefferelli have done this; in his version of ‘Hamlet’, Gertrude kisses her son passionately, to silence him. Modern critics suggest that ‘this implies a Oedipus complex’. In addition, Shakespeare may have deliberately presented the two on the bed, or in the bedroom, to convey a sexual relationship.
The aspect of incest and incestuous desire is apparent within the relationships of all the female characters. It may infer the opinions about women presented by Shakespeare, which are appreciated and understood by an Elizabethan audience. The strongest implication of incest is revealed in the relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude. It concerns Hamlet’s fixation on Gertrude’s sex life with Claudius. A subtle aspect of incestuous desire may be noticed in the relationship between Laertes and Ophelia. When carefully examining Laertes’ dialogs, he sometimes suggests sexual terms when he speaks to her.
Another scene this can be inferred from is at her funeral when leaps into her grave to hold her in his arms. I think the most obvious but least sordid, is the relationship shared between Gertrude and her first husband’s brother Claudius. Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius differs slightly from a typical relationship in the Elizabethan times. Gertrude can be described as a woman of great intelligence. She had been Queen for a long time. We can infer the characteristic of intelligence as King Claudius asks her advice on matters, “Do you think ’tis this? “.