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Similarly to an Elizabethan audience, a modern day audience may have various emotions towards the character of Gertrude, which vary from disliking her, due to their views on incest, to feeling sympathetic towards her, due to her being dominated. However it must be considered that although stigma is still attached to the aspect of incest, a modern day audience may be slightly more lenient towards the matter. The factor of Gertrude marrying her brother’s husband may be interpreted in two main ways.

In a stereotypical view of woman in the Elizabethan times, it would have been interpreted that Gertrude married Claudius due to her lack of independence, as a woman in the Elizabethan period, she could not successfully and happily live her life without a man by her side. However it may also be understood that Gertrude may have made the decision to marry Claudius with the intention of retaining her power as queen. Gertrude’s involvement in the killing of King Hamlet may also be thought of as a factor. These interpretations would be more likely to be deduced by a modern day audience.


It would reject the idea that women were dense and feeble, but also aware and interested in and gaining status and power. I also believe that the appearance of a ghost has a significant part in the views on women in the Elizabethan times. There are two views to explain why the ghost came to his son Hamlet rather than his wife Gertrude. One involves Gertrude having a part in the murder, and the other explanation, more believable after studying the play is the woman were not thought to be strong enough to deal with this news and that no action or revenge could possibly be taken by them.

The phase of madness is also significant to the portrayal of woman in not only Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ but also ‘Macbeth’, in which it is also a female character of lady Macbeth whom goes mad. Madness being attracted to woman and therefore being thought of as a weakness in the female mind, this can be seen to be the view of society in the Elizabethan times. However, Ophelia’s madness shows a weakness that Gertrude did not have, a modern day audience would pick up on this before criticising the weakness of all female characters.

Hamlet is the most obvious of the many factors, which explain what lead to Ophelia’s madness and overall death. Although Hamlet had before his fathers’ death, honestly told Ophelia that he would wed her, the death of his father changed him. However, from Ophelia’s point of view, the man she loves, Hamlet, goes mad and rejects her, denying ever loved her. The dishonestly and contradictions presented by both Hamlet and her family leave her unable to comply with their wills and her social position as a woman mean that she cannot assert her own.

Adding to her sorrow, her father dies leaving her with no sense of familiarity as her brother is away in France. This leaves her with no restraints leading her to madness. This is interesting as, with unsure intentions, Gertrude wasted not time grieving for her dead husband. In contrast, Ophelia seemed to lapse in to a state of madness as a result of her fathers death and the loss of her love Hamlet. Ophelia’s death may be described as significant when considering the portrayal of woman.

I think that her death was not simple suicide, but the act of a woman, so used to being dominated by woman that when all the males in her life were no longer present, she did not know what to do with her life. At the beginning of Act 5, the gravediggers discuss Ophelia’s death, interestingly; this presents a negative view of Ophelia, no mention is given of her sorrows or what lead her to madness or even that she has gone mad. They say that as they believe she has committed suicide, if she was not a gentlewoman of a high rank she would not be given a Christian burial.

When hamlet sees her being buried his true emotions are exposed and he reveals that he did love her, “I loved Ophelia, forty thousand brothers could not, will all their quanity of love make up my sum” Gertrude’s death is extremely significant, and it can be thought that Shakespeare purposely created this scene to present the position of woman and how they were stereotyped in an Elizabethan society. In the very last scene of the last act of the play, for the first time in the play, Gertrude disagrees with her husbands, almost refusing to abbey his orders.

After he tells her not to drink from the cup she responds with “I will my lord, I pray you pardon me”, showing even though she doesn’t follow his order she shows the greatest respect for him, however, this leads to her death. It is interesting though that before she dies she feels she must explain how to Hamlet “the drink the drink, I am poisoned” In conclusion, I think Shakespeare has presented woman as the weaker sex and shown them to hide any dominating characteristics that they may have.

If we were to consider this play in context with Elizabethan times, it becomes obvious to the reader that Shakespeare has presented this view to fit in with a Elizabethan audiences thinking and stereotypes, any other portrayal of woman would be thought of as abnormal to them. However, it is not possible to clearly state that a modern day audience would not have the same responses. I think that Gertrude’s relationships, how she is treated by Hamlet, and indeed her sexual relationship with Hamlet would be thought of as outrageous by both audiences.

As the incestuous desire between Ophelia and Laertes is subtle, it would not be looked at with disgust, and may dismiss it as brotherly love. I think that due to the language Elizabethan audiences would be more likely to pick up on the sexual terms. There are many areas, which I have explored in which Shakespeare presents women as weak and submissive. However, I think that most characteristics of Ophelia and Gertrude within the play are a mere reflection of women in the Elizabethan times. If this were not true, the play would be mocking woman of the Elizabethan times, and therefore watched more in terms of a comedy.

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Kylie Garcia

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