Literary presentation of feminism: comparing Queen Gertrude, Ophelia and Antigone
The phrase “Frailty, your name is woman” has been used in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ as a description of the inherent weakness in Queen Getrude. However, in depth analysis of literature reveals that this phrase is actually a presentation of the inherent weakness in womankind (Charney, 2009). However, this has actually been a controversial topic of debate in history, literature and sociology, specifically because Hamlet’s perception of women (especially his mother Getrude) should not be used to describe women as being “weak, evil and unfaithful”. Arguably, the character of Ophelia and Antigone contradict those of Getrude because the two women are dedicated to family life more than politics and wealth.
Hamlet seems to be irked by his mother’s behavior of switching to another marriage just one month after the death of his father, Kind Oedipus. Hamlet expected his mother, Queen Getrude, to mourn her husband at least some months if at all she was dedicated to her love for him. However, it comes by surprise that she marries Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, just one month after the death of the king. This action leads Hamlet to describe his mother’s inherent weakness as a common feature of all women. He uses this new perception to describe women, including Ophelia.
However, the character traits of Ophelia reveal that unlike Getrude, she is dedicated to family life, love, observes dignity and is honest. To the reader, Ophelia is the archetype of goodness in womankind (Charney, 2009). For instance, she is aware that Polonius, her father, and her brother Laertes, love her so much, and thus remains loyal to them in return. For instance, she takes heed of her father’s warning not to see Hamlet again, even though she is in deep love with him. She has genuine fear as described by her inability to tell Hamlet that Polonius is behind the curtain. Rather than jumping from one love to another, Ophelia’s conscious goes insane. In addition, even in her new state of mind, she is representative of the incorrupt and honest women who cannot act as whores, contrary to Getrude’s behavior.
Although Antigone is unlike Ophelia who is obedient and honest, she is portrayed as a strong-willed female who is ready to do anything against politics and law to defend her family and their rights (Rosenfield, 2010). For instance, she goes against the will of the King Creon to perform all the burial rituals for brother Polyneices. In fact, she is a symbol of allegiance to traditions as well as family values (Charney, 2009). This is in contrast to the characters of Getrude, who is not committed to her love for her family and traditions, but is using her beauty to attract males.
From this analysis, it is clear that Hamlets perception of females is based on his rage and hurt he gets from his mother’s immorality. The characters of Ophelia and Antigone prove otherwise- not all women are inherently weak, immoral and materialistic.
Charney, M. (2009). Shakespeare on Love & Lust. New York: Columbia University Press
Rosenfield, K.H. (2010). Antigone. Sophocles’ Art, Hölderlin’s Insight. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers.