The Importance of Female Characters in Hamlet
In the time of Hamlet, men were the dominant sex. Women of this period were usuallysubject to whatever faults men could place on them instead of themselves. With Shakespeare being a man of this time it is reflected in his plays, Hamlet is an excellent example. Through quotes and plot explanation I will develop this statement.The first incident of a female having some responsibility to a rotten situation starts before the play begins. Claudius, the present King of Denmark s brother, murders Old Hamlet because of a drive of ambition and for a love of Old Hamlet s wife, Gertrude. Although unknown to her role in what starts a chain reaction of murder and treachery, Gertrude is a pivotal person or the main conflict of the play with her son Hamlet.At the beginning of the play when we are first introduced to Hamlet, we can initially tell that something is troubling him besides his fathers sudden death. Hamlet s first response to the King s questioning of his mood is replied by Not so my lord; I am too much i the sun ( line 67 ), showing his disposition to Claudius marrying his mother. Gertrude, portraying the dense woman Shakespeare has written her to be does not catch on the ambiguity of sun . Seek for thy noble father in the dust ( line 69 ), is her response referring to his dead father. This unease from Hamlet gives him more reason later on in the play to take revenge upon Claudius. Another key player in the game of deception is the King s advisor, Polonius. A man with power and less conscience than the King. As fate has it, Hamlet is in love with Polonius s
daughter, Ophelia. Because of Hamlet s displeasing mood Polonius worries for his daughter and so tells her be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence; set your entreatments at a higher rate ( lines121 – 122 ), commanding Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet. Through no fault of her own Ophelia has added to Hamlet s increasing stress, and as typical Shakespeare tells it, puts her
to blame for part of his mental breakdown. Ophelia s easy rejection of Hamlet puts him through a period of contemplation of life. His loss of her tenders makes him question :
To be, or not be: that is the question
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles………. ( lines 57 -60 )
This depression that Hamlet goes through slows down the action of the play, stifling his resolve to kill Claudius. This is something Ophelia can be blamed for, and the first of many direct mistakes the female characters in this play make to cause unrest in the state of Denmark. Throughout the play we see signs that Claudius is guilt-ridden about the murder of his brother. In a prayer/soliloquy he tells us that if he could only give up his crown and Queen, he would repent and plead guilty :
Forgive me my foul murder ?
That cannot be, since I am still possess d
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen. ( lines 53-56 )
Again, through no fault of her own, Gertrude is at the center of a situation which brings about unrest for others. If Gertrude were to not be so dense, she might catch on to some of the misgivings Claudius has led her to believe. Is a woman not partly to blame when her charms and affections cause men to do crazy acts of lust ? With more on his mind than he can handle, Hamlet is again to be courted with dishonesty and beguile. Polonius convinces Gertrude to allow him to spy on a conversation held between the two after an incident with the King. Gertrude, of course does not apprehend that Polonius is only out for himself and not trying to help Gertrude or Claudius and allows Polonius to oversee the
mother-son discussion. This scene is where Polonius is given away hiding behind a curtain and Hamlet kills him. Had Gertrude given some thought to what she was aiding, Polonius might not have died.
At the end of the play, with Polonius and Ophelia dead, there is not much time left before the rest follow. Finally there is a worthy act by a female that causes some good in the play. Gertrude dies. Claudius had poisoned a cup of wine for Hamlet but Gertrude took it to drink and soon after perished screaming No, no, the drink, the drink!-O my dear Hamlet!-The drink, the
drink! I am poison d! ( line 303-304 ). This death finally causes Hamlet to act, slaying Claudius. Hamlet in turn dies from a poison scratch while dueling Ophelia s brother, Laertes. All these rotten incidents came about from a woman playing her charms in the wrong places, Gertrude with Claudius and Ophelia with Hamlet. Hamlet s soliloquy at the beginning of the tragedy sets the standard for the entire play Frailty, they name is woman!- ( line 146 ), and this is so through-on and through-out the rest of the story.