Female Characters in Hamlet and Oedipus the King and Antigone


Female Characters in Hamlet and Oedipus the King and Antigone

Act one, Scene two and line one hundred and forty six identifies with the ‘Frailty, thy name is woman’ signaling the role of women in the society (Shakespeare, 2003). The phrase signals the weaknesses of the women characters; the phrase is an extract from the 1602 Shakespeare’s Hamlet  It was noted that Hamlet was unhappy with the characters of his mother, in the sense that Gertrude, her mother married Claudius, who was his uncle in the same month that the death of the father occurred (Shakespeare, 2003). The speech has a generalization in the weaknesses of women under different contexts. This paper critically compares the characters of women in Hamlet and characters of women in Oedipus the King and Antigone in reflection to power, love, madness and death (Sophocles, 1991).

Ophelia is a young woman in the play Hamlet, used as a fictional character. Her origin is Denmark. Hamlet is a play by William Shakespeare. Ophelia was a sister to Laertes and daughter to Polonius. She was expected to be Prince Hamlet’s wife. Hamlet is used in the play to show Gertrude’s contrasting plot device (Shakespeare, 2003). Antigone on the other hand refers to daughter of Jocasta and Oedipus, who represented the mother of Oedipus according to the traditions. Antigone is a representation of ‘in place of a mother’ or ‘misplaced motherhood’. Men in the Ancient Greek had masculine as the dominant objects in the family structures. Antigone is also reflected as a character, which was against men, in the sense that Antigone was a representation of the act of ‘generating or reproduction’ as in observed in masculine authority (Sophocles, 1991).


Power is a common feature in Ophelia and Antigone. Shakespearean showed Ophelia as generally a weak woman, meaning that Ophelia had limited power, although Ophelia had a number of strengths. It has been noted that the audience of the play, at that particular century, women were considered weak, an indication that Ophelia could not have been strong in that context. Antigone is represented as weak depending on the perceptions of the society. The genre of Hamlet according to the play gears at preconceptions of the role of the women in the play, an indication that the viewer or the reader of the play has a particulate image of women representation (Shakespeare, 2003).

Ophelia is considered as the ‘green girl’ in the play, in the sense that Ophelia is totally submissive to her paternal father, her lover and also to the brother. Ophelia is considered to as arguably and pliable pathetic. A profound example of the limited power in Ophelia identifies with the fear displayed by Ophelia when she was advised not to question the will of others as advised by Laertes (Shakespeare, 2003). Ophelia failed to justify or oppose to the will of Hamlet, the affections of Hamlet are left intact. Ophelia argued that Hamlet will keep the key of her precious memories. This is an indication that Ophelia actively transferred power from herself to Hamlet basing on the gender differences, although the figurative keys were destined to Ophelia (Shakespeare-monologues.org, 2013).

Ophelia argues that the male figures in her life signals power, an indication proving the reasons behind her transfer of powers to the male influences. It was noted that at one point, Polonius insulted Ophelia in a way of discouraging the love for Hamlet. Ophelia allowed Polonius to mock and offend her, an indication of limited powers in Ophelia as results of disposition and weakness of mind (Shakespeare, 2003).

Undermining the male figures in the earlier society was an outright ticket to social exclusion among other negative consequences, in the sense that women had limited roles in the society. Ophelia in this context showed self preservation as a respect to the cultural practices according to Shakespearean England. In the current context, it can be argued that Ophelia was smart enough to swallow her pride and agree to the ways of Polonius and Laerts for the sake of societal harmony (Shakespeare-monologues.org, 2013).

Ophelia and Gertrude failed to confront Hamlet on issues of love, an indication that women had fewer powers in the society hence unable to confront their male counterparts. Ophelia and Gertrude blamed Gods for the character traits observed in Hamlet (Shakespeare, 2003). Ophelia sort God’s intervention in the ‘healing’ of Hamlet; this was done in the full light of her brother and father.

In the same context, women in Antigone had limited powers, in the sense that power had the ability of metaphorically blinding and corrupting the characters used in Antigone. King Creon represented Thebes as unperceptive, arrogant and mean, due to influences of powers. The king at the same time ignored the perceptions of women in the society, as women in the society were meant to serve men (Sophocles, 1991).

Antigone is generally a play displaying a tragic heroine; Ismene resisted the pressures of Antigone. It has been noted that Antigone is not happy with her girlhood and that she has boyish physique, signifying that she had some attributes of powers. Antigone was characterized with terrorizing and making life difficult for Ismene, in that Antigone had no limits, and that she was concerned with her agendas.

Antigone came up against the French structures; some of the people represented Antigone as political, moral, filial trappings and religious. The ending of the play are argued along Antigone refusing to cede to her inner and external desires, a model that places her under the classifications of tragic heroes (Sophocles, 1991). She is considered as tabooed, ugly and abject to the society, unlike Ophelia who was subjective. Although the society was against women, Antigone had demanded more power in the society than Ophelia.


It has been noted that the submissive attributes of Ophelia resulted to her madness; madness is a signal of weakness of women in the play. Arguably, the madness of Ophelia was also contributed by Polonius, in the sense that Polonius requested Ophelia not to respond to the Lord Hamlet. Ophelia obeyed with no resistivity on orders given by Ophelia, a model that led Ophelia in rejecting the letters drafted by Hamlet to her, resulting to violent denunciation, in the sense that God blesses people with one face, and that it is the responsibility of the individuals to find partners to match (Shakespeare, 2003). Ophelia was overwhelmed by these issues, to an extent that she even failed to address the death of her father, hence contributing to her madness.

The love for Hamlet ended up tragically on the side of Ophelia. It has been noted that Ophelia was thought to be a ‘good’ girl in the society, as demanded by the society by then. Women were expected to be obedient. The society argued that unmarried women were under the rules and regulations of their fathers. Polonius took advantage of this position and used Ophelia to spy King Claudius and Hamlet; a practice that led to Ophelia losing total control of her body, choices and relationships, hence resulting to madness (Shakespeare, 2003). In this context, it can be argued that women in the society were used exploitatively by men. Hamlet accused Ophelia of being deceptive and unfaithful, a model that destroyed their relationship (Shakespeare-monologues.org, 2013).

Antigone and Creon were clear representations of madness, depending on the extremes on the face of the earth. There are close knit beliefs that destroyed close-mindless of individuals signaling madness. King of Thebes, Creon had a general belief that the political sphere was the only subjectable phenomenon, and that truth is only expressed in laws. Private sphere among the Antigone represented the truth (Sophocles, 1991). The way Antigone went straight forward to the extremes challenged the political structures in place by then, was considered to be madness. Mortals in this context signal mortals. Madness in Ophelia was characterized with physical madness, while madness in Antigone characterized the follow-up of ones goals and aspirations considered queer.



Ophelia was engaged to Hamlet, although the love triangle was influenced by the Ophelia’s father. It has been noted that Hamlet noted Polonius role in the marriage and accused Ophelia of being deceptive and unfaithful (Shakespeare, 2003). Hamlet went ahead in stating that women were sin breeders, a model that made Hamlet order Ophelia to nunnery. Hamlet argued that Ophelia had the ability of transforming her husband into a monster, in the sense that women always cheated on men. The love of Hamlet to Ophelia had faded away (Shakespeare-monologues.org, 2013).

Love and hate are common phrases in Antigone, it is argued that  Antigone displayed interesting and dynamic personalities based on personal convictions, in accordance with the gods institutions and not mortal institutions as desired by men. The attributes of Antigone were very different as compared to other women of her time; she had rebellious roles as she was against the wishes of the king and uncle. Antigone loved the world of the dead basing on her confident and harsh words (Sophocles, 1991). Love in Antigone was different to the love in Ophelia, in the sense that Antigone loved things not mortal while Ophelia was in love with Hamlet, who was mortal.


Death is clear in the Hamlet Play, in the sense that Ophelia died in a questionable manner. It has been noted that the mysterious death was a result of drowning that happened off stage, with Gertrude giving the account of Ophelia’s death. It is not clear if Gertrude was not present or was present at the death of Ophelia. The death of Ophelia was considered to as passive, in a way that actual suicide was not clear in the play (Shakespeare, 2003). It is argued that Ophelia fell into a pool of water and drowned willingly, an indication that the life of Ophelia obeyed the flows of the currents. In the sense that she never made up her own decisions, and actually followed her father’s ways blindly, Ophelia can be described to be mermaid like and considered as an erotic creature after her death, in a way that she was described as destructive and dangerous both on land and in water (Shakespeare-monologues.org, 2013).

Antigone died by hanging herself, this devastated Haemon although Antigone was a fiancée and cousin to Antigone. Antigone loved his family to an extent that she fought bravely for the decent burial of her brother by the name Polyneices (Sophocles, 1991). The pride and fatal flaw of Creon the king of Thebes led to the death of his niece Antigone. Death of Antigone also led to the death of Haemon, Eurydice, Creon’s son and the wife to Creon. The king thereafter lived in shame. The death of Antigone and Ophelia happened under mysterious circumstances, with male characters playing a critical role.



Shakespeare, W. (2003). Hamlet. Rockefeller Center, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Shakespeare-monologues.org. (2013). Women’s Monologues in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Retrieved May 5, 2013, from Shakespeare-monologues.org: http://www.shakespeare-monologues.org/plays/31?expand=1&g=2

Sophocles. (1991). Sophocles I: Oedipus The King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.



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