The Role of Women in HamletWhat do you notice in particular about the women's roles in Hamlet?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The reader's perception of Gertrude is influenced initially by the reactions of Hamlet's response to learning of her having wed her brother-in-law after he has murdered her husband. While Hamlet feels anger and disillusionment toward her, there is no real evidence that she knows of the murder Claudius has committed. Granted, she has allowed herself to be seduced by Claudius, yet there also is no evidence of whether the seduction has taken place before the death of King Hamlet or afterwards.

Still, Gertrude is lacking in virtue, to say the least.  However, in Act III, scene iv, the queen shows maternal concern for her son's welfare and cleverly plans to speak with him in her chamber.  When her son accuses her of lust, she does not excuse herself; she honestly and bravely admits her sin.  The reader's perception of her still does not improve much as there is yet ambiguity regarding her knowledge of Claudius's murder, and the reader cannot deduce whether she thinks Hamlet mad or sane.

What redeems Gertrude is her final act of loyalty to her child.  In the final act, when Claudius pours the poisoned wine, Gertrude expresses thirst and reaches for the goblet.  Claudius warns her; nevertheless, she drinks from it knowing it was poured for Hamlet, and as she dies, she tells her son that the drink is poison.  In her sacrifice of herself for her son there is, at least, some redemption for Gertrude's blind lust.  In this scene, she has shown, not passivity, but strength and loyalty.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare might have written stronger roles for women if he had been able to cast real women as actresses. However, the female characters were played by young males. Frankly, I don't know why women were not allowed to work as actresses on the English stage in those times, but the religious authorities must have had a strong influence on the secular rulers and may have also influenced public opinion. Shakespeare either wanted female characters for variety or needed them for plot purposes, but he must have felt that young female impersonators could not carry difficult female roles convincingly. Lady Macbeth may have been one exception. Rosalind, in As You Like It, is an unusual case because much of the time the male was pretending to be a male--a male pretending to be a female pretending to be a male! Shakespeare may have been afraid to call too much attention to his female characters because the more they had to say and do on the stage, the more obvious it would be to his audience that they were not real women. I believe that female roles in ancient Greek and Roman plays were also played by males--but I don't really know much about this subject. Anyway, I don't think Shakespeare should be blamed for not creating better female characters. I wonder if any contemporary impresario has ever thought of staging a Shakespeare play with female impersonators playing such characters as Cleopatra, Juliet, or Lady Macbeth?

cadelman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

They are incredibly passive. Hamlet's mother, in particular, stands by as her new husband is causing problems at court and with her son. She was also immediately in need of a husband after the untimely death of her first.

Ophelia is incredible passive. Hamlet has not been the nicest to her, and is even cruel to her when she asks him simple questions. She is portrayed as physically frail in many cases, which is a counterpart to her personality. She allows herself to be belittled by Hamlet, going along with the passive female role.

mariwan153 | Student

Woman as depicted in the play, they may have various roles for instance, Gertrude could possibly be passive and careless about the murder of her husband and the madness of her son, hamlet, in this case she will be blamed for being so inactive and carefree in these two serious events which took place in the play. At the same time she should not be fully blamed because probably because she may not know about the second husband that killed her husband, simultaneously she may not be blamed since the ghost of her husband tells hamlet not to her his mother, whereas, Ophilia must also be blamed for going away from Hamlet for a period of time to pretend for the king, that Hamlet is mad for her, as her lover, but the outcome is completey opposite to it.It could be summed up to say both of female characters must be blamed.

chinalopez | Student

The women in Hamlet acted as a stand ins. They were non involved. Their roles was very passive. They were like the support system to the men