Thursday, May 8, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- Lucretia Borgia vs Ophelia and Gertrude

3) Discuss the treatment of woman in Hamlet. Your response should consider that we only have half their story- and their half is told not from thier perspective but from the perspective of others.

Since the play opens with the statement that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, one comes to the conclusion as we watch or read that a lot of things are rotten in the state of Denmark.

One of these may well be the treatment of women. As with all the rest of the play, you can interpret it in different ways. Was Hamlet truly in love with Ophelia? Was he just toying with her as Laertes  feared? And even if Hamlet did love her, why was his need for revenge so much more important than his love for her?

On the face of it, Ophelia does not necessarily come off terribly well. Even assuming that there was a love between her and Hamlet was suicide really a very wise choice?  Of course, we aren't even sure she did commit suicide.  One could argue that whatever the cause of her death it is a result of the way she was mistreated by the males around her. But in other plays Shakespeare presented very strong women who were prepared to stand up for themselves. The possible interpretation is that the society that we are examining in this play is itself poisonous. Remember, they play is about royal and noble families where women are considered to be tools of diplomacy and are expected to be married off according to the needs of the state.

Then there is the matter of Hamlet's mother. He regards her as a foul, despicable creature.  He clearly blames her for the marriage which resulted from his father's death. Again, this made a great deal of sense in dynastic terms. The state was stable if she married the King's brother. This provided continuity to the throne and kept the nation stable

On the other hand, there's always the implication that perhaps she assisted in the murder of Hamlet's father, her husband.  If we assume that she was at least attracted to, if not actually in an illicit relationship with her brother-in-law, the entire picture changes.

So we are left to wonder. Is Ophelia weak because society and an overbearing father and overprotective brother have made her weak? Is she weak because she has a weak character? Is Hamlet's mother guilty or innocent? And even if innocent are we to condemn her because she should have said she preferred to be the queen mother and have no power even if this affected state stability in a negative way?

One thing is clear, the women in this play are objects to be used by the men who care for them, or at least who control them.  With the possible exception of Laertes, who perhaps did love his sister, the men are the only characters who matter, and even he expects her to obey him in protecting herself.

You will have to decide for yourself, Kid. The whole point of this play seems to be the real life can be incredibly messy and very confusing and nobody ever really knows much of anything with certainty. You can defend any position you care to take in this regard.

I think we should note that even under these extreme conditions, women in real life sometimes showed great courage and independence.  Over the centuries Lucretia Borgia has been accused of being a truly horrible individual. A careful study of the facts shows that she was a strong woman, a loyal daughter, and probably not the murderess she has been accused of being for the past few centuries.

Although she did do her duty and accepted marriages for purposes of state, she nevertheless remained a strong individual within that framework. This was a very remarkable accomplishment. Certainly none of Shakespeare's characters in this play rise to that standard.

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