What affirmations of the dominant ideology (no father and no mother) can be found in Shakespeare's Hamlet and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi? In both Hamlet and The Duchess of Malfi, what...

What affirmations of the dominant ideology (no father and no mother) can be found in Shakespeare's Hamlet and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi?

In both Hamlet and The Duchess of Malfi, what ideas can be found about:

  • the gender politics, conflicts between male and female
  • the negotiation between bodies and soul, masculine and feminine
  • the construction of embodied and disembodied voice
  • the affirmation of the dominant ideology

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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When we speak of identity politics, such as gender politics, we're referring to a means by which marginalized groups voice their feelings of oppression ("Identity Politics"). We're also referring to politics shaped by marginalized groups ("Identity Politics"). The term politics refers to means of influencing others, especially through "organized control over a human community," in other words, through government ("Politics"). In Shakespeare's Hamlet, while government may not really be shaped, we certainly do see female characters voicing their oppression at the hands of male characters. Ophelia is certainly one clear example of a character expressing her feelings of oppression.

We particularly see Ophelia being oppressed by Hamlet's actions in act III, scene 1. In this scene, Ophelia says she has "remembrances of [Hamlet's]" that she has "longed long to redeliver" (101-02). Hamlet treats her rudely by pretending he never gave her any gifts or told her affectionate words. He even stoops so low as to question her virginity and tell her to join a convent. It becomes clear that in treating Ophelia this way, Hamlet breaks her heart, which is probably one cause of her suicide later on. It is later in act IV, scene 5 that she speaks out about her oppression; however, by this point she has been driven mad, so her words are not easily understood. One reason we know she is speaking out against her oppression is because many of her words have to do with love, such as in the lines, "How should I your true love know /  From another one?" (26-27). She even speaks of losing virginity, such as in the song she sings about Saint Valentine's Day, ending with the lines, "Let in the maid, that out a maid / Never departed more" (60-61). In speaking out against love and being sexually violated, even in her state of madness, Ophelia is speaking out against having been mistreated by Hamlet, having been oppressed by Hamlet.

In John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, the title character is of course also oppressed by both her brothers who want to inherit her palace and her title. While the duchess is eventually murdered, prior she does have a moment to subtly speak out against her oppression, at least in actions rather than words. We can consider her secret marriage to Antonio and secret deliveries of his children as a means of speaking out against her oppression because it is a means of fighting against her oppression.

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