Both Gertrude and Ophelia are usually seen as weak women who are firmly under the influence of the men in their lives. Do you agree with this interpretation of Hamlet?

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It is certainly true that the two female characters in Hamlet have plenty of overbearing men in their lives, telling them what to do and criticizing what they have done. This is particularly true of Ophelia, who has Laertes, Polonius, and Hamlet all plying her with unsolicited...

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It is certainly true that the two female characters in Hamlet have plenty of overbearing men in their lives, telling them what to do and criticizing what they have done. This is particularly true of Ophelia, who has Laertes, Polonius, and Hamlet all plying her with unsolicited advice. She replies to her brother's advice with some spirit, however:

I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

This is quite emphatic, and Laertes does not seem to take exception to it, suggesting that she is accustomed to speak to him like this. Moreover, Polonius gives tedious advice to everyone, not just his daughter, and we are seeing Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia under such unusual strain that it is impossible to guess how they would normally be together.

The same is arguably true of Gertrude. If we condemn her for being too much under the influence of Claudius, we must exonerate her of being dominated by her former husband or her son. In fact, Gertrude and Ophelia show about as much independence as one would expect of royal and noble ladies in medieval Denmark or, for that matter, renaissance England, perhaps somewhat more. Clearly, they live in a male-dominated society, but this does not make them weak personalities. They do what they can with the limited freedoms they have—even though Ophelia is eventually driven mad by these limitations, coupled with Hamlet's refusal to trust her or treat her kindly. This failure seems more like Hamlet's weakness than Ophelia's.

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