Theplay ‘’ by Shakespeare revealed a lot of sexist opinionsabout him. The story had two main female characters that Shakespeareused to bring out his low opinion of women. Living at a time whenwomen held low positions in society, Shakespeare brought out a lot ofwhat can be considered male chauvinism. , the main character inthe story acted with much chauvinism towards Gertrude and Ophelia,who were the two main female characters in the story. Shakespeare’sreference to the two women especially about their character andsexuality revealed his low opinion of women and thus, his misogyny.
Tobegin with, told Ophelia to go to a nunnery so as to avoidsex, which he believed corrupted people. In this scene, Shakespearedemonstrated that sex only corrupted women and not men. wasdisgusted by the fact that his mother had married his uncle and hebelieved that his mother acted so because she was a woman. also claimed that Ophelia displayed immodest sexual behavior, whichshows that women were expected to behave in a particular way,preferably conservative, about sex (Bate & Rasmussen 90). Womenwere not supposed to display sexual prowess and anyone who did thatwas considered immodest.
also accused his mother of “Jumping into incestuous sheets”(Shakespeare136) soonafter his father died. Gertrude, ’s mother, married Claudius,her brother- in- law after the death of ’s father. wasannoyed at how quickly she remarried, as their marriage had notlasted long enough according to . In this scene, Shakespearerevealed his male chauvinism as he blamed Gertrude for the remarriageand not Claudius. Claudius ought to have also been blamed formarrying his dead brother’s wife, soon after his brother’s death.However, the blame was only placed on Gertrude and not Claudius.
Shakespearealso thought that women were sexually and emotionally weak. While was telling Ophelia to join a nunnery, the said “Frailty,thy name is woman,” (Shakespeare146)with reference to Gertrude. was disgusted by his mother’smarriage to Claudius and he believed that Gertrude married Claudiusbecause she was weak. believed that women were sexually weakand that was the reason behind the marriage. was advisingOphelia to join a nunnery so that she would not become sexually weakas his mother. also showed that he believed sexual immoralitywould only end if women joined the nunnery. He believed that womenhad no control over sexuality and this made them weak.
also believed that lack of good morals was directly related to womenand their actions. Women bore the brunt of moral decay even when menwere directly involved. accused his mother of immoralitybecause she married Claudius. He did not believe that Claudius wasalso morally wrong for marrying his brother’s wife soon after hisbrother’s death. By accusing Ophelia of immodesty, hamlet alsodemonstrated that her behavior was immoral. thus showed thatfemale sexuality was connected to moral corruption (Bate &Rasmussen 111). Gertrude seemed to be the main cause of immoralityabout her relationship with Claudius, despite the fact that Claudiusalso had the ability to avoid marrying his dead brother’s wife. believed that Gertrude married Claudius for sex and not forlove and this indicated that she was sexually weak.
Additionally,’s advice to Ophelia to join a nunnery due to her immodestbehavior may have meant that he found her sexual behavior and desireto be immoral. During the times when the story was written, thenunnery was often used to mean the brothel. ’s advice toOphelia may have thus meant that her sexual desire was similar tothat of a prostitute (Brown 97). Shakespeare demonstrated misogyny byshowing that women were supped to hide their sexuality and sexualdesires. Any woman who openly showed her desire for sex wasconsidered immoral and unfit for marriage. Women, unlike men, werenot supposed to show sexual desire.
Shakespearealso believed that women were emotionally weak as compared to men.When ’s father died, he was angry and most of his actionsbordered insanity. Gertrude and Ophelia only believed that wasmad, but according to the play’s plot, they were wrong. This showsthat Shakespeare did not trust women’s judgment. However, whenOphelia’s father died, she went mad and eventually died. She wasnot able to contain her sadness and she wandered around the place dueto insanity. This showed that Shakespeare was chauvinistic as did not go mad when his father died, but Ophelia went mad. Itdemonstrated that women were emotionally weak and they were easilyovercome by tragedies (Brown 68). Additionally, Ophelia’s brotherwas angry due to his father’s death, but he did not go mad.
Shakespearealso demonstrated male chauvinism in Ophelia’s madness as she wentmad after the absence of the three men in her life. Ophelia wassurrounded by strong men in the story in the form of her father,brother and . However, her brother went to France to study, deserted her and her father died. Once all these men wereabsent, she could not take care of herself and this may be viewed asbeing among causes of her madness (Bate & Rasmussen 187). Shealways relied on the advice and presence of any of the three men inher life and now that they were all away from her, when had no one toturn to and this may have contributed to her madness.
Opheliawas also cast as a person who could not make wise decisions about herlife. Her father and her brother kept giving her advice about herrelationship with hamlet and this showed that they did not trust herto make a proper judgment. Her father even dismissed her feelings bysaying, “Affection! pooh! You speak like a green girl”(Shakespeare101).This demonstrated that Shakespeare did not trust women and decisionseven with their personal lives and that women required men to advicethem on what to do. Additionally, Ophelia broke off her relationshipwith , demonstrating that she had no ability to make her owndecisions about her life. Ophelia’s brother and father gave heradvice about her relationship with hamlet at the same time and thisdemonstrated that Shakespeare thought that advice to women needed tobe reinforced for them to understand.
Similarly,Gertrude appeared to be a weak woman who could not make decisionsabout her life. She constantly needed powerful men in her life for tomake decisions for her. Gertrude bowed to her son’s condemnationabout her marriage to Claudius and he appeared to control her life. told her to stop sleeping with Claudius and she felt guiltydue to his condemnation (Bate & Rasmussen 89). Shakespearedemonstrated that she had no ability to make a proper judgment andeven her own son made better decisions for her. Additionally, she wassurrounded by powerful men who constantly influenced her decisions.Her character as a mother of and wife of two kings showed thatshe constantly needed strong men around her.
Shakespearealso presented women as wives and mothers only and their role in theworld only revolved around these two roles. Gertrude did not make anymajor decisions even about her son and Claudius was always thedecision- maker. When Polonius and Claudius decided to watch and Ophelia, Claudius ordered Gertrude to leave, showing that shewould not be helpful when observing hamlet’s behavior. alsoordered Ophelia to join a nunnery so that she would not become a“breeder of sinners” (Shakespeare122).The use of this phrase shows that Shakespeare believed that women’srole was to give birth. By saying breeder instead of saying givingbirth, Shakespeare demonstrated that he had a low opinion of womenand their role in giving birth. He demonstrated that he did not thinkthat the process of giving birth was significant.
Inconclusion, Shakespeare’s reference to Gertrude and Ophelia,especially about their character and sexuality revealed his lowopinion of women and thus, his misogyny. The two women were cast asbeing weak and they needed strong men in their lives to help themmake informed decisions. Shakespeare also blamed the immorality insociety on women and ignored the role played by men in perpetuatingimmorality. Gertrude and Ophelia were also cast as being sexually andemotionally weak. Shakespeare also painted the role of the two womenas only mothers and wife showing that he did not believe that womencould play any other role in society.
Bate,Jonathan, and Eric Rasmussen, Eds. CompleteWorks.By William Shakespeare. The RSC Shakespeare. New York: ModernLibrary, 2007. Print.
Brown,John Russell. :A Guide to the Text and its Theatrical Life.Shakespeare Handbooks set. Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York:Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.
WilliamShakespeare..NewYork: Simon& Schuster, 2013. Print.