Is Ophelia a victim of circumstance and male pride, and does this show that Shakespeare was misogynistic? 

Expert Answers
scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Ophelia is normally intepreted as a victim of the circumstances that surround her engagement to Hamlet and Hamlet's subsequent verbal and emotional abuse of her, Shakespeare could hardly be described as misogynistic. In fact, for his time period, he demonstrates a rather forward-thinking perspective of the roles of women in society. While he wrote many of his plays under King James's reign, he also wrote some in honor of Queen Elizabeth, a strong, effective leader.

Yes, there are many female victims in Shakespearean plays, but some of them fall prey to the machinations of men, and many more are heroines or extremely influential in the lives of the male characters, especiall in Shakespeare's comedies.  Below are several strong, positive female characters.

1. Portia from Merchant of Venice

2. Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing

3. Emilia (in part) from Othello

4. Rosalind from As You Like It

For the most part, it seems that Shakespeare tried to portray the weaknesses of men and women equally. In some plays, the women plot or willingly participate in evil (Macbeth); in others, they steer men in the right direction (Portia from Merchant); and still in others, they relinquish their lives all too easily (Desdemona from Othello)