AP Language and Composition
Shakespeare and his women
There were no more substantial roles written for women in the 16th century than those in Shakespeare’s dramas. A few women may escape their social confines to voice a feminine wisdom. None, however, are as fully wrought as Shakespeare’s heroines whether they are truly heroic or tragically victimized. The dialogue throughout his tragedies rarely denies the female characters an outlet for their thoughts and feelings. For this reason, it has been argued that Shakespeare showed precocious feminist tendencies. His works were written under the reign and patronage of Elizabeth R, one of the most powerful monarchs in European history. Elizabethan society thus operated under unconventional auspices and patriarchal traditions no longer dominated social structure with such incontestable authority. Therefore, it is shown throughout Shakespeare portrayed his women as ‘victims’ to a cruel and harsh world of the 16th century.
Ophelia, wholly at the mercy of the male figures within her life, is a victim figure. Although Hamlet is unique among Shakespeare's tragic heroes, if one considers the death of Ophelia as part of the tragedy then one can begin to questions Hamlet’s innocence. In his treatment of Ophelia, Hamlet goes between claims of undying love and cruelty such as his rude and accusing speech in the 'nunnery scene'. Hamlet’s bitterness leads him to believe that all women are untrustworthy. Hamlet ststes “Frailty thy name is woman” (Act I scene ii line 146). He projects upon Ophelia the ‘guilt’ he believes exists from Gertrude's behavior. Ophelia suffers as a result of Hamlet's patriarchal values of womanhood, making her a victim. Shakespeare portrayed Ophelia as a victim of harsh society, a seemingly parallel portrayal to the women of the 16th century.