Gertrude and Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Play

William Shakespeare presents to us two female characters that are quite weak and dependent throughout the text.

Gertrude the queen of Denmark, and Ophelia the girl with whom Hamlet, the prince of Denmark has fallen in love are portrayed as to belittle the feminine gender in William Shakespeare’s text Hamlet. Some characters in the text bring about doubt as to whether the feminine gender is quite dependent or could it be ever independent. When the King of Denmark dies, Gertrude, the queen quickly marries Hamlet’s uncle who ironically is the murderer of her husband, the late king. This leads us to ask such questions as to whether Gertrude was previously involved with Claudius. You also get to wonder whether she knew of the plan by Claudius to kill her husband. Some people may also question whether Gertrude really loved Claudius or she simply married Claudius as a way of maintaining the royalty. These and so many other questions can be raised to question the character of Gertrude since from the questions it is quick to note that the queen of Denmark was greatly inclined towards her urge for affection and affinity to use the men around her in accomplishing her instinct for self-maintenance. This is the major reason that possibly leads her into believing that she should be very dependant on men around her. This holds her captive and she cannot make any decision whatsoever instead she depends upon decisions made by the men around her. This maybe is why when Hamlet is so furious he says, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” (I.ii.146). Hamlet in this so famous clause refers to Gertrude who does seem ethically flimsy. When confronted by Hamlet, for example, she quickly runs to Claudius this shows that she cannot think decisively about her state of affairs but rather tends to take secure options. Her over-reliance on men is therefore in a bid to take advantage of her aptitudes.

Similarly, Ophelia, Polonius’s daughter, is beautiful and Hamlet falls in loves in love with her. She is so naïve and charming. Hamlet naturally fell in love with her when “he saw her innocence, simplicity and sweetness, and it was like him to ask no more.” (Burnian, 112). She shows great respect for her father and her brother and seems therefore to be so much dependent on men for guidance on how she should behave herself. When Polonius tells her to spy on Prince Hamlet, she quickly gives in.

The Shakespearean tragedy thus portrays a helpless feminine gender as they are subjected to a patriarchal culture. The two women Gertrude and Ophelia are the main female characters that are portrayed through the play as being frail, susceptible, and toothless. They completely let men take charge of their lives. This is vividly brought out from the way they behave- they readily accept to do everything that is said to them. They are portrayed as not having their mind but rather dependent on the guidance, and sometimes misleading guidance, from men. The men in Ophelia’s lives easily persuade her to stop meeting Hamlet. She does not have the guts to stand strong besides her lover, Hamlet and help him recollect himself after the death of his father. She so acts with cruelty towards Hamlet not because she intends to but because she wants to obey her father, Polonius.

The queen of Denmark, Gertrude, really finds it hard to stand up for herself and to stand for her son. She is persuaded easily by King Claudius. When Hamlet upsets King Claudius for instance, it is in good riddance that the mother stands by her son but due to her passive nature she sides with Claudius, “’Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.” She therefore is easily convinced to act the way she does. She quickly marries Claudius after the death of her husband; this is to show that she is very weak as it is against the catholic doctrines. She is therefore quickly convinced into marriage without consideration. This according to the doctrine is adultery and is therefore a show of weakness in character and an internal arrest that makes her unable to make her own decisions. In his book, “The Shakespearean Tragedy,” Burian notes that, this marriage greatly affects Hamlet:

It was a moral shock of sudden disclosure of his mother’s true nature, falling on him when his heart was aching with love, and his body was weakened by sorrow. And it is essential, however disagreeable, to realize the nature of his shock. It matters little whether Hamlet’s age was twenty or thirty: in either case his mother was a matron of mature years. All his life he had believed in her, we may be sure, as such a son would. He had seen her hanging on him like a newly- wedded bride, hanging on him, “as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on.”And within one month O God! A beast would have mourned longer”- she married again…. Married him in what to Hamlet was an incestuous wedlock. He married him not for any reason of state, nor even out of old family affection, but in such a way that her son was forced to see in her action not only an astounding shallowness of feeling but an eruption of coarse sensuality.

From this long quotation from Burian’s book, it can thus be drawn that though Hamlet was years younger than his mother, he is portrayed as having a higher thinking capacity than his mother. Hamlet is brought out as to see the mistakes that his mother makes and even correct him. This therefore portrays the feminine sex as the weaker sex throughout the book. Gertrude, who therefore represents the weaker majority which is passive even in thinking, is brought out as being very dependent on the influence from other people and most probably the men around them.

When Ophelia realizes that prince Hamlet is behaving in a strange way she gets so upset that she says, ‘Oh my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted.’ She thus lets Polonius and Laertes misused her being and is hence used in such a way that she acts like a puppet. She spends most of her time through the play trying to conciliate those around her at the expense of her own life. She by the way takes on her life but she does not accidentally fall into the river. This can be drawn from the words of one of the jesters (grave digger), who says that, “It must be so offended, it cannot be else.” Ophelia under the command of her father therefore, let’s die her feelings for Hamlet. This therefore provides evidence for her total compliance.

The queen however, in some instances portrays characteristics that show love and affection which at first had been seen as lacking in her. This can be proved by the words she said at the time when Ophelia was being burried and it can be seen that she was bidding Ophelia a farewell. When we consider this instance, we can simply say that a mixed motif of human character has been create by the author of this tragedy. The queen is seen therefore as having traces of sensibility and affection. Also Ophelia who has been taken as being obedient throughout the text is not ignorant of what the society as a whole expects of her. She understands the fact that her love for Hamlet shouldn’t be a hindrance to her in making sound judgment. This she is reminded by her father, Polonius and her beloved brother, Laertes.

Summarily the two characters that are the major characters representing the feminine gender, Gertrude and Ophelia, are portrayed by Shakespeare William as being so weak. They fundamentally depend on men for such issues as decision making and they cannot therefore do anything without the influence of a man. William Shakespeare, the playwright of all times, presents to us a patriarchal system of culture in which man is all domineering. He presents the woman as being all dependent and passive such that the women in the book do not take part in the action rather they are affected by the action.

Work Cited

Burian, Jarka. Foregn Shakespeare Contemporary Performance. Cambridge: University Press, 2004.