Hamlet As Seen Through The Feminist Critical Lens


Every piece of literature can be analyzed and studied in a multitude of ways. The varying components create complex characters, plots, and dynamics. The play Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, can be examined through many lenses. A feminist lens depicts Shakespeare’s view of women and their roles in the text. Hamlet, the troubled protagonist who tries to avenge his deceased father, has great influence on the women in the play. In Hamlet, the females are merely side characters whose main purpose is to be love interests for the men. The women portray no real control regarding their decisions about their lives. Overall, the play can be analyzed through a feminist lens by focusing on how the men treat the women, their women’s importance as side characters, and their effect on the men.

Throughout the text, the women have been given little control over their life. The men often instruct and force them to do as they please. Ophelia is the woman Hamlet has a romantic interest in. Polonius, her father, commands Ophelia to act a certain way. He frequently gives her tasks that she doesn’t have a choice in completing. Polonius notices Hamlet’s affection towards Ophelia and orders her to stop any communication with him. Polonius lectures his daughter as he says, “This is for all: I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth, have you slander any moment’s leisure, as to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. Look to ’t, I charge you; come your ways” (Shakespeare 22). In this quote, he directly prohibits Ophelia from spending any more time with Hamlet. Whether Ophelia wanted to or not, she wasn’t given the option to pursue her relationship with Hamlet. This situation conveys the lack of control the female characters had. The men managed the women’s lives. This implies how Shakespeare viewed women. He didn’t allow them to have strong voices and much power over their lives, which implies his lack of respect for them.

In addition, the females are simply side characters. They do have importance pertaining to the plot, but they’re not nearly as significant as the men. The women are, figuratively, pawns for the men to use for their benefit. The men often use the women to discover information about the other people. After the scene Hamlet had the actors perform, Claudius, the king, becomes unsettled. Claudius’s wife and the queen, Gertrude, asks to speak to Hamlet to scold him for disturbing the king and to ask what has been bothering him. However, the men, Claudius and Polonius, create an alternate plan. Since Gertrude is Hamlet’s mother, they use her and take advantage of their relationship to try to have Hamlet confess why he’s going insane. Polonius instructs Gertrude what to do as he says, “Look you lay home to him; tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with, And that your grace hath screen’d and stood between much heat and him” (Shakespeare 74). The men take advantage of Gertrude and use her for their benefit. This is Gertrude’s main role in Hamlet. It portrays the women’s lack of importance compared to the males. Only men are the primary characters in the play. The women play a side role, often used only as accessories for the men. 

Even though the women were controlled and not as significant as their opposing sex, they still had an effect on the male characters. The females had a more emotional impact rather than physical. Ophelia was a girl who was loved by many. Her brother, Laertes, and Hamlet mourned deeply over her death. Her passing caused both of them to act irrationally. The men wrestle in her grave out of despair and anger. Ophelia’s death impacts them both so greatly that they argue and Laertes screams, “The devil take thy soul!” (Shakespeare 110). Ophelia had a strong effect on the gentlemen. Without her death, they wouldn’t have been as aggressive and emotional. Although Shakespeare made the women side characters without much control over their lives, perhaps he respected a woman's role by granting her an opportunity to change the men’s lives. Shakespeare gave Ophelia the power to make the men emotional and behave in an irrational way. 

Furthermore, the men’s treatment towards women, the females simple side character positions, and their overall impact they had on the men can all be used to portray Shakespeare’s view of women. Gertrude and Ophelia both convey what life was like for women. They were controlled and used by the males. Although Hamlet can be analyzed through many different lenses, a feminist lens depicts the difference in gender roles. This play emphasizes how men behaved toward the females. Overall, Shakespeare brought attention to a woman’s role and treatment through his writing.

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