Are the women in Hamlet truly respected by the men?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the two women in the drama, Ophelia and Gertrude are sometimes loved, sometimes desired, and sometimes used, but they are not respected by the men in their lives. To respect them would require relating to them as individuals with personal identities, feelings, needs, and desires. This does not occur in the play. Gertrude and Ophelia exist only in terms of the roles they play in the men's lives.

Gertrude is loved by Hamlet, but he does not respect her. He abhors her marriage to Claudius, condemns her actions, and even tries to save her soul by demanding that she give up her incestuous marriage. He lectures; he threatens; he frightens her. He does not ask why she chose to marry Claudius; he has no interest in her feelings.

Claudius clearly lusted after Gertrude, killing her husband to claim her, as well as the throne. He does not respect her, however. Besides murdering her husband, he secretly plans the murder of her son, all the while pretending to care deeply about Hamlet's welfare.

Ophelia is loved by her father and her brother, but she is not respected by them. Polonius and Laertes tell her what to do and what not to do, giving no thought to what she needs or wants. They dismiss her feelings for Hamlet and will not entertain the idea that she loves him or that her feelings are even important. Laertes believes that Hamlet could not possibly love her and is pursuing her only out of lust.

Hamlet loves Ophelia, but he uses her in his plot to uncover Claudius' guilt. He lies to Ophelia, pretends to be mad, and pushes her away from him. He breaks her heart in this way but will not leave her alone. He does not respect Ophelia enough to trust her with the truth, nor does he consider the painful and destructive effects of his actions upon her.