Ophelia seems to be particularly a victim of Hamlet. During Act 3 Scene 1, Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia is very cruel. He denies that he ever loved her and suggests that she is a whore. In Act 3 Scene 2 Hamlet publicly humiliates Ophelia, subjecting her to sexual innuendo. When Hamlet kills her father, he still doesn’t realise the full impact it has on Ophelia. He is so involved with his revenge scheme that he forgets to consider Ophelia’s feelings. Eventually, everything gets on top of Ophelia and she gives in.
Whilst mad, she seems to command an authority she lacked when she was sane. Perhaps this is because her insanity has taught her to speak more openly and is a path to her want of freedom. She cannot be ordered about now, and in this she has found her own independence and has escaped the pressures of obeying the men in her life. Ophelia’s death is particularly significant, because she is clearly driven to it by events over which she, as a young woman, has no control. Even during her burial she is still a victim. Again, she is reduced in significance.
The gravedigger simply thinks of her as a “gentlewoman” who has only got a Christian burial because of her social status. Even the priest, who represents the institutional church, has a negative view over Ophelia. He believes that Ophelia’s burial is more than she deserves and is only performing it under the King’s orders. Hamlet’s extravagant claim that he loved Ophelia more than “Forty thousand brothers” (Act 5 Scene 1 Line 277) is totally unconvincing and again diminishes her. The fight over her grave also lessens the dignity of her burial and of her life.
As well as Gertrude, Ophelia played an innocent part in the play but her innocence and role as a woman led her to be constantly ordered about by various men and this frustration caused her to fall into madness, which triggered her death. Overall, I believe that Ophelia and Gertrude are very much victims in a mans world. As women they are expected to adore each man in their life, but when the men in their lives battle against each other, they find themselves getting caught up in the middle of them. Each woman finds it difficult to express themselves and are trapped within the dominance of the males.
However, both women seem admirable characters at the beginning of the play but eventually, the circumstances around them seem to defeat them, seen especially in Ophelia. Although there are very few interactions between the two women, when they do happen they are very sweet and each seems to be concerned about the other. In such a macho world, they appear to find support from the other woman. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a huge success during the Elizabethan period and also with an audience today. However, attitudes towards the play have changed remarkably since Shakespeare’s time period.
An Elizabethan audience would be far less compassionate towards women than an audience would today. Women in those times were used to the patriarchal society and it was far more realistic for those times. The women in the Shakespearean period were familiar with the dominance of the males and would find it unusual to see any woman disobey the men in their life. Perhaps women back then would see Gertrude’s death as a result of her defiance towards Claudius, as he did warn her not to drink from the cup. However, women today wouldn’t share this view.
Today, women have far more independence and status. An audience today would possibly be far more sympathetic towards Gertrude and Ophellia, but maybe see them as fragile and weak. They could possibly be regarded upon as the pathetic stereotype of a woman, and not viewed as popular characters because of their exaggerated femininity and weak personalities.
Bibliography Shakespeare and Jacobean Tragedy, Rex Gibson Longman Literature, Hamlet, Shakespeare 1 Shakespearean and Jacobean Tragedy, Rex Gibson 2 Shakespearean and Jacobean Tragedy, Rex Gibson Sarah Turner Show preview only.