AP Literature, Period 3
15 January 2018
Society Against Women
In early Elizabethan times, women were frequently suppressed by the values of society, causing them to be misinterpreted as well as alienated by many individuals.In William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Ophelia is oppressed by the people around her including her own lover. Throughout the play, Ophelia’s oppression is revealed by the interactions of male characters who target her because she is a woman. Ophelia’s ostracization is a significant role that reveals society’s misogynistic views in early modern England.
In the opening scene of the play, a negative interaction between Ophelia and her family occurs, advising her not to see Hamlet due to society’s expectations. Ophelia’s father and brother explains to her the dangers of seeing Hamlet and Laertes tells Ophelia in fear “If with too credent ear you list his songs, Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open” (1.3.31). Laertes emphasizes this idea to not succumb to Hamlet’s lust and to preserve her virginity. It alludes to societal importance of women, and their expectation in maintaining their innocence while allowing men to be free in their sexual engagements. Highlighting the time od societal importance for women to have their innocence while men were held to a different standard. Men had the freedom to do as they please, while women must act “proper”. Furthermore, Gender, Power and Privilege in Early Modern Europe expresses the idea that “social status and age, as well as gender, figure in evaluations of sexual conduct” (Dolan 17). This idea is elucidated through Hamlet’s character, a male, who is allowed to be promiscuous and have sexual relations with Ophelia. On the other hand, societal norms expected women to limit their sexual interactions in fear that they would be considered an outcast in society for their various engagements with the opposite sex. For a man it is acceptable to talk about sexual relations and other desires, while women avoided these topics to avoid being shunned upon. This emphasized that women in early modern Europe need to reserve themselves in order to be accepted or else they would face consequences. This explains how women with their purity intact were favored over those whose virginities were deemed to be not intact.
Later in the play, the acts and consequences of women who attempted to defy social order are displayed.In act 4, scene 5 of the play, after Ophelia has lost her virginity to Hamlet, she acts hysterical and claims that she is suffering. Ophelia claims that she only had intercourse with Hamlet, because he promised to marry her but he did not stay true to his word when he states, “So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun An thou hadst not come to my bed.” In other words Hamlet no longer desires to marry Ophelia for she has lost her innocence and is now seen as unworthy in the eyes of Hamlet and society. This shows that early modern Europe’s society condemned and punished women who did not practice abstinence. In “Gender, Power and Privilege in Early Modern Europe”,further elaborates on the idea by stating “women’s sexual transgression could be notorious and fatal” (Munns and Richard 18). The play reveals that society in early modern Europe punishes Ophelia for her adultery by stripping her away of her societal status, respect, and is sent to be exiled.
Throughout the entire play there are men who dictate and try to control Ophelia’s life. The surrounding men around Ophelia can explain the patriarchal system during the time of early modern Europe, for they try to micromanage every aspect of her life, from dating to proper etiquette in public. “Gender, Power and Privilege in Early Modern Europe” further explains the need to control women for it is “one of the conditions of being a man” (Munns and Richard 15). Shakespeare’s use of this kind of system suggests how men dictate women’s lives. These stereotypes gives insight in a society for it occurs within Ophelia. For they are forced to be in a mold or it can lead to self deterioration. An example would be when Ophelia complies to her father. Her father manipulates Ophelia to tell Hamlet he is not in the room, for spying purposes (3.1). This dilemma drives her to the insane for she is torn between the two of her father and her lover. This dilemma ultimately leads to Ophelia’s own alienation. Thus, the time of misogynistic society destrusticley impact women.
Shakespeare, William, and John C.. Crowther. No Fear Shakespeare: Hamlet. SparkNotes, 2003
RICHARDS, PENNY, editor. “Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern England.” GENDER, POWER AND PRIVILEGE IN EARLY MODERN EUROPE: 1500 – 1700, ROUTLEDGE, 2017