What subtopics can I use to show how women are portrayed in Hamlet?

2 Answers | Add Yours

mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In Hamlet, Ophelia and Gertrude are involved in subplots with Hamlet both on and off-stage.  As well, they are the focus of two contrasting views of women.  Here are some of the matchups and issues:

Gertrude:

  • Is she complicit in the murder of her husband?
  • Does she love Claudius?  Hamlet?  King Hamlet, her first husband?
  • Is there an Oedipus complex between Gertrude and Hamlet?
  • Why does the Ghost convict her of "incest" and yet tell Hamlet to "leave her to heaven"?
  • How is she foil for Hamlet?  What does her interview with Hamlet in the bedroom reveal about her and the Prince?
  • How is she a supplient, one who provides vision of unmitigated suffering and helplessness for Hamlet and Claudius?

Ophelia:

  • Why does she go mad?  Who is most responsible for her madness, Hamlet, Polonius, or the culture at large?
  • Does she commit suicide, or is her death an accident?
  • What effect did the closet interview have on her?
  • Is she a victim of male pride: being torn apart by Polonius, Hamlet, Laertes, and Claudius?
  • Why does her brother jump in her grave?  Is there some incest here too?
  • How is she foil for Hamlet?  What does her interview with Hamlet in the bedroom reveal about her and the Prince?
  • How is she a supplient, one who provides vision of unmitigated suffering and helplessness for Hamlet and Polonius?

Overall, the main issues are madness, gender roles, incest, and sexism.

drdelarocker's profile pic

drdelarocker | College Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

One interesting subject to study is how Hamlet, Laertes, and Polonius all try to control Ophelia's sex life.

Laertes warns her not to open her "chaste treasure" to Hamlet. Shortly thereafter, Polonius says more or less the same thing and eventually forbids her to even speak to the prince. Hamlet himself proves to be the most controlling of all: "Get thee to a nunnery," he cries. "Woulds't thou be a breeder of sinners?"

In all three cases, the men in Ophelia's life seem hellbent on controlling her body; her brother tells her who she can (or, rather, can't) sleep with, her father tells her who she can talk to, and her boyfriend tells her not to reproduce at all, thus taking from her the one power she had that belonged to her and her alone.

It's no wonder, then, that Ophelia might decide to make one last decision about what to do with her body, one that defies the wishes of all the men. I know the text is ambiguous about whether or not her death is suicide, but in light of complete lack of agency in this regard, suicide seems, if not likely, at least plausible.

We’ve answered 318,914 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question