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Women and Patriarchal Society in Shakespeare

Women and Patriarchal Society in Shakespeare

The domination of women through patriarchal expectations is common throughout Shakespeare’s works. An examination of Ophelia, Hero, and Desdemona portrays their victimization through male centered forms of power. These patriarchal power structures classify women as walking wombs who must remain virtuous until marriage. The pressure from these expectations leaves women weak and vulnerable. As long as they appear subservient to men, they are considered good. However, the more women try to represent modesty, chastity, and loyalty, the more they are victimized. Male domination causes the women to remain childlike rather than attain maturity. Because of the passive ideals placed on women, they become unable to act and think for themselves and cannot fully understand intimacy. As Dusinberre believes, ‘The struggle for women is to be human in a world which declares them only female.’1 Through Shakespeare’s depiction, woman are confined and deprived into submissive obedience.

Most people believe Hamlet’s Ophelia to be ‘the most static and one-dimensional’ character.2 She has been labeled as innocent, defenseless and helpless due to her dominating father and brother. Dreher states, ‘She has been alternately pitied and condemned,’3 others have classified her, ‘a helpless victim,’4 who ‘must seek to hear her own voice,’5 and who ‘obeys the commands of her brother and father.’6 Although these critiques are based on the text, a feminist’s glance shows that Ophelia is more than what superficial analysis allows her to be. ‘Traditional readings’portrayed her as a simple, pretty girl of flowers whose mad scenes were artfully sung and danced.’7 These representations ignore the pain beneath Ophelia’s innocent shell. The tragic events of her life should be given more attention and consideration. Instead of attempting to understand her motive, readers create a repressive role for her, which parallels her experience with her father. For instance, Ophelia expresses her love for Hamlet only to have it suppressed by her father. She states:
My lord, he hath importuned me with love / In honorable fashion / ‘And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, / With almost all the holy vows of heaven. (I.iii.109-13)

In return, Polonius commands:

Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers, / ‘I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth / Have you so slander any moment of leisure with the Lord Hamlet. / Look to’t, I charge you. (I.iii.126-34)

Due to her father’s harsh words, Ophelia...

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