Response Paper to Hamlet Essay
Hamlet, or The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is a play written by William Shakespeare near the end of the seventeenth century. The plot of this tragedy moves around the vengefulness of the protagonist Hamlet; he wants to avenge the death of his father, King Hamlet, at the hands of his uncle, Claudius. Hamlet, after much delay and deliberation, manages to kill his uncle in the end, although he dies himself as well. Much of the play was based on archaic values, adherence to the norms and customs of the day, with most of the female characters not being given much thought and/or depth. In those days all actors were male, as were those who came to watch the plays, therefore, I feel there is a certain offhandedness in the way Shakespeare deals with his female characters.
It is never an issue with the playwright whether Queen Gertrude, the widow of King Hamlet and the subsequent wife of Claudius, was aware that her first husband was poisoned by her second, and nothing on this matter is explained or discussed in the play. The ghost of the King does tell Prince Hamlet not to punish his mother for remarrying while informing the latter of his death; however, it too is silent on whether she was conscious of, or party to, the murderous act. It appears that such an issue was considered to be of no importance whatsoever in the grand scheme of things. This, in effect, brings to light the sexist attitude of those times, whereby women were not beings as such, but mere frail creatures to be protected or reviled, as the situation dictated, and whose opinions and personality did not matter much.
This is point also illustrated through the character of Ophelia, Hamlet’s love. She is advised against falling in love with Hamlet by her brother, Laertes, and her father, Polonius, in their bid to protect her. As women were to obey the dictates of their male relatives, it was taken for granted that Ophelia would reject Hamlet; the fact that she might love Hamlet was not considered by her father or her brother. Even Hamlet does not consider her feelings when he rejects and insults her subsequently, opting to feign madness to absolve himself of the duty he might owe to her as a lover or husband to protect her and be responsible for her.
Ophelia’s madness on learning of her father’s death is another such example. Women are portrayed as weak beings who lose their minds in grief. I feel there is a message in the chain of events: women need protectors and they cannot go through life without them. This is also illustrated by the mysterious drowning of Ophelia; there is a hint that she may have killed herself as, with Hamlet rejecting her and Polonius dead, she no longer has a protector.
In conclusion, the play reflects the archetypical view of women held by men of those times. The women are the fairer sex, ever in need of comfort and protection from men without which they are incomplete and hopeless.