William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an intricate literary masterpiece, made up of a conglomeration of different techniques that add dimension, color, and texture to the story. There are countless uses of characterization, dark humor, and many other literary components in Hamlet, all of which are used to give the reader a more emotional and thought provoking reading or listening experience, and insight into the twisted storyline. One of the most interesting of Shakespeare’s techniques is the characterization of each gender as a separate entity.
He seems to give the main characters traits that will lead them to follow certain trends for their gender. In Hamlet, Shakespeare characterizes the main male characters as men with power who tend to exercise their power over the female characters, Ophelia and Gertrude, who are seemingly helpless, are both emotionally and physically dependent on men who do not truly love them, but merely use them as means to an end. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare depicts Ophelia and Gertrude as implements used by the main male characters to their own personal gains and for emotional exculpation.
Gertrude is the wife of the King. She has wealth, but it is not her own. She has power, but only by means of her husband. Gertrude is completely dependent on Claudius for external reasons. She is not only dependent on him for money and power, but for love, affection, and human interaction. In several cases, Claudius uses Gertrude for a personal gain. It is apparent that his marriage to Gertrude is in itself a greedy action. Claudius killed his brother and married his widow, which allowed him to gain the Danish crown.
Claudius not only killed Gertrude’s husband, but he also fooled her and wooed her, so he could misappropriate the throne from it’s rightful owner, Hamlet Jr. Claudius also uses Gertrude as a middleman between himself and Hamlet. He pushes Gertrude into uncomfortable situations where she must confront her son about his actions or his intentions to take action. For example in Act III Scene IV, Claudius wills Gertrude into talking with Hamlet and allowing Polonius to listen in on their conversation from behind the arras.
Here, Claudius has placed Gertrude in a tippy and undoubtedly uncomfortable position, just so he can gain some insight into Hamlet’s intentions. In this scene, Gertrude is verbally abused by her only son, who then kills Polonius. Therefore, Claudius has emotionally compromised Gertrude for the gain of some knowledge of Hamlet’s love life with Ophelia and his intentions with Claudius, that may or may not be accurate. When Hamlet discovers that his father was murdered by his uncle, whom has just married his mother, he disregards all morality, and plots his revenge.
As usual, more than one female figure is caught in the middle, and is negatively effected by a powerful male figure. In Act III Scene IV, when Hamlet is asked to go speak with his mother, he goes, but not with much joy. He goes to his mother’s bedroom to speaks with her. He begins their conversation by using wordplay to talk down upon her. He tells her he wishes she was not his mother because of her foul incestuous deeds, from which he is implying her marriage to Claudius. When the confrontation escalates, and Polonius, who is listening behind the arras, calls out for help, Hamlet stabs him to death.
He terrorizes Gertrude even more by making her stay there longer while with the body of Polonius there in the same room. He also makes her promise she will never sleep with Claudius again. In this situation, Hamlet has pushed Gertrude into a poor position, undoubtedly leaving her in emotional turmoil. Gertrude is yet again forced to play a part in the disturbing family quarreling, yet is given no right to an opinion This is another good example of Shakespeare’s use of female characters as hypothetical step stools for powerful male characters in Hamlet. Ophelia is the beautiful daughter of the highest advisor to the King.
She is madly in love with the son of the Queen, and as far as she knows, he is in love with her as well. But when Hamlet becomes consumed by his need to avenge his father’s death, it seems that all of the men in her life forget completely about her, and use her only for their own selfish reasons. In her own family, her father, Polonius, commands her to speak to Hamlet so that Claudius and Himself can try to decipher the cause of Hamlet’s madness. This occurs in Act III scene I, when Ophelia is sent by Polonius to talk to Hamlet when he is walking in the halls.
She is forced to go speak to her lover by her father, knowing that the king and him will be listening to every word. She goes to speak with Hamlet, only to be treated very cruelly by him. Here, when they are speaking, Hamlet figures out that Claudius and Polonius are listening to his conversation with Ophelia. He turns instantly cruel and begins to deny his love for her. “I did love you once,” he tells her. Then when she agrees and tells him that is what she believed, he turns on her and tells her, “You should not have believed me, for virtue can not so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it.
I loved you not. ” Here we see Hamlet’s true purpose is to evoke a reaction from Polonius and Claudius. He has no care for Ophelia’s emotions or for her well being. This is just the surface level of male cruelty for Ophelia. The cruelty is expanded to her father and Claudius in this situation. Ophelia is suffering verbal abuse from her lover while her father and the king are listening to them in secret. She suffers through the extent of the abuse, and when Hamlet leaves, Polonius comes to Ophelia. His reaction is quite nonchalant, though. He expresses slight concern, but Claudius expresses none whatsoever.
They continue to talk about their own personal concerns about young Hamlet, leaving poor Ophelia to deal with the emotional burden that has been laid upon her. In this scene, Shakespeare has played into the motif of men using women for personal gains with complete disregard to their emotions. At the very end of Hamlet, after Ophelia has died and Laertes and Hamlet have both returned to Denmark, Shakespeare shows a final disregard for Ophelia by the men in her life. In the process of burying her, Laertes jumps in her grave and holds her dead body.
Hamlet charges and jumps in the grave as well, yelling about how he loved Ophelia more. They begin to fight in her grave, trampling the poor, dead body of Ophelia. Their fighting had nothing to do with love for Ophelia, but rather a competition of who was better. Even after Ophelia had died, the most important men in her life used the ruse of love to their advantage. Shakespeare has carried this recurring motif through Ophelia’s life, and on into her death, further proving that Shakespeare uses female characters as implements for the main male characters’ personal gains.
Throughout Hamlet, over and over again, Shakespeare shows the disregard of the main male characters for the females’ feelings. He shows Claudius and Hamlet’s disregard for Gertrude’s feelings, and he shows Polonius, Claudius, Hamlet, and Laertes’s carelessness for Ophelia’s feelings. Through the insight these examples provide, it can be stated that in Hamlet, William Shakespeare depicts Ophelia and Gertrude as implements used by the main male characters to their own personal gains and for emotional exculpation.