Siddhartho Sankar Roy Eng 3210 9 April 2011 Shakespeare‟s attitude towards women with special reference to Hamlet and The Tempest Issues relating to gender in Shakespeare's dramas have inspired critical interest for centuries, but in the late twentieth century gender has become of tantamount importance to many Shakespearean scholars. Modern commentary has focused on a variety of issues related to gender, including relations and conflicts between the sexes, the concept of what it means to be masculine or feminine, and the ambiguous ground where differentiation between the sexes blurs. Additionally, many critics have taken an interest in the historical component of gender on the Elizabethan stage, noting, for instance, the fact that female roles were originally performed by young boys. Also, scholars have explored Shakespeare's ideas about gender identity as they evolved over time in the different dramatic genres he produced, from the early comedies to the histories and later tragedies and romances. Taken as a whole, these studies portray the dramatist's highly complex and varied approach to the question of gender as an evolving personal, social, and cultural phenomenon. Shakespeare, it is claimed by many modern critics, was a feminist. Shapiro for example goes so far as to claim that Shakespeare was 'the noblest feminist of them all'. Many say, “Shakespeare wrote for a male entertainment”; but, it is historically incorrect to regard him as a feminist. I believe that Shakespeare because of his extraordinary genius for portraying human behaviour, necessarily depicted the condition of women within a patriarchal system and created
women characters which in their richness, transcend the limitations of his time. The most famous quotation of Hamlet can be can be a specimen of Shakespeare‟s attitude towards women; Frailty, thy name is woman!-A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she follow'd my poor father's body, Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she-O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle, My father's brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules: within a month: Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not nor it cannot come to good: But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.
In this task I will explore chiefly Shakespeare‟s attitude towards women with especial reference to Hamlet and The Tempest. There is no archtypical "Shakespeare woman"; in each play, women take different and varied roles, just as the men do. Because of this, to speak of "Shakespeare's portrayal of women", it is necessary to choose one of his plays only; I have chosen "Hamlet", with its two women characters, Gertrude the queen and Ophelia, Hamlet's lover.
Shakespeare created an interesting problem for himself with the character of Gertrude. As a dramatist, he needed to nourish the conflict between his characters in order to keep the heat and pressure up to the point where the action was ready to explode at any moment. At the same time, he created a character that sits in the middle of the conflict, and seems intent in defusing it at every turn. That character is Gertrude. She is both mother and peacemaker in a blended family that has just come into an unstable existence. When we first see her, she takes on the unofficial task of reconciling her new husband‟s enthusiasm for his recent alliance with her son‟s apparent apparent mourning for his recently deceased father. One assumes that Claudius‟ announcement in that scene that Hamlet is next in line for succession to the throne comes about as one of the terms of the agreement that created the alliance. It is certainly an expre ssion of Claudius‟ willingness to honor his new wife‟s affection for her son.
Gertrude is thoughtful and sensitive in her attempts to intervene. She is not simply an
unwitting victim of her circumstance, as some critics would have it:
Gertrude is wholly ignorant of Caludius' successful plot against her first husband and equally oblivious of Hamlet's protectively possessive feelings towards her. She finds his melancholic behaviour exasperating, and is unable to understand why he will not rejoice with the rest of the court at her marriage. She seems a kindly, slowwitted, rather selfindulgent woman, in no way the emotional or intellectual equal of her son. When Hamlet finally determines to make her see the ghastly error of her choice his cruelly-chosen words force her to feel guilty:
O Hamlet, speak no more. Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul, And there I see such balck and grained spots As will not leave their tinct. (III,iv.88-91)
... He begs her not to sleep with Claudius again, but although she promises not to tell anyone what he has said, she avoids giving a direct answer. It may be that Gertrude is attempting a practical compromise: she wants to calm Hamlet but cannot bring herself to swear to something she will not be able to do. No clue as to her subsequent sexual relationship with Caludius is given. - Angela Pitt, Shakespeare's Women, David and Charles, London, l981. p. 58f.
What sabotages Gertrude‟s attempts to contain the conflict between Claudius and Hamlet is the fact that she is not entirely in the know. Claudius is not entirely forthcoming to Gertrude as a result of his deceit, whereas Hamlet is taciturn. The dramatic irony that increases the poignancy of her position has to do with the fact that we are continuously aware of covert actions against Hamlet that Claudius has kept from Gertrude: the intention to have the English execute Hamlet upon his arrival there, the baiting of Laertes‟ foil with poison, etc. It is, in fact, one of these covert actions (as usual kept from Gertrude) that causes her undoing. In effect, Gertrude does not know what she has married, and the gradual realization provides one way to chart her trajectory through the action of the play. p lay. To begin with, there is the fact of Claudius‟ role in her former husband‟s demise. While While it appears clear that Gertrude was not involved in the murder of the former king, the issue still seems to generate discussion. In particular, some argue that this was not Shakespeare‟s original intention and that he waffles on the question.
Early feminist critics such as Linda Bamber argue that Gertrude's involvement in the death of the former King Hamlet is not really at issue at all. She focuses on Hamlet's fascination with what he imagines to be his mother's sex life.
Gertrude's innocence or guilt is not really an issue in the play. She, like Cleopatra, is a character of ambiguous morality whom we can never fully know; but whereas Antony and Cleopatra continually invites our judgment of Cleopatra, Hamlet
continually deflects our impulse to judge Gertrude. First of all, we have no firsthand evidence. Although Hamlet sees his mother as a disgustingly sensual creature, the relationship that we see between Gertrude and Claudius is domestic and ceremonial, never sexual at all... The Gertrude that we see -- as opposed to the one that Hamlet imagines -- is her son's mother and a worried, affectionate partner to her husband, who happens to be going through a period of political danger. - Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men, Stanford Univ. Press., Stanford, 1982. p.75
Franco Zeffirelli stages the shots which contain both Gertrude and Caludius (Glenn Close and Alan Bates) in such a way that Gertrude always appears to be looking over Claudius' shoulder. The viewer's surmise is that she is looking for Hamlet; trying to assess where she and Claudius stand in relationship to her son. This stresses Gertrude's role throughout as a mother who is trying to reconfigure her family around her new husband. She tries to pull Hamlet in and to smooth over any rupture that might exist. It also becomes Gertrude's role to paint the verbal portrait of Ophelia's death and to deliver an elegy for her.
Sweets to the sweet! Farewell.
I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife. I thought thy bride bed to have decked, sweet maid, And not have strewed thy grave.
It is cynical to doubt the sincerity of her feelings for Ophelia. The two of them seem assigned to the role of safeguarding the feminine heritage of the play, and with the loss of her potential daughter-in-law, that heritage is sadly terminated. Zeffirelli's Gertrude is clearly a peacemaker. In an early sequence, Franco Zeffirelli has Gertrude abruptly leave off kissing Claudius to go look for Hamlet (to Claudius' evident dismay) and then leave off kissing Hamlet to go join Claudius (also to Hamlet's dismay). This interplay continues in the film until the closet scene (Act III, scene iv). The change that takes place after that scene can be interpreted as suggesting that Gertrude takes Hamlet's stern message to heart.
A lot rests on the director's view of Gertrude's sexuality. For Linda Bamber, the focus is on Hamlet's assumed fascination with Gertrude's sexual behavior (which she refers to as "sex nausea"). In order to highlight his pornographic imagination, it is essential the his view be incorrect. Director Tony Richardson, however, presents a Gertrude who justifies Hamlet's portrayal of the relationship. He even goes so far as to have Claudius and Gertrude (Judy Parfitt and Anthony Hopkins) conducting matters of state from their bed. Richardson seems to give credence to Hamlet's accusations:
Nay, but to live In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love Over the nasty sty.... (III.iv.92-95)
The Freudian assumption (for Oedipus Rex as well as for Hamlet is that the repression of mourning has a psychological effect which will eventually find expression.
What I have just said about mourning in Hamlet must not obscure the fact that at the bottom of this mourning, in Hamlet as in Oedipus, there is crime. Up to a certain point, the whole rapid succession, one instance of mourning after another, can be seen as consequences of the initial crime. It is in this sense that Hamlet is an Oedipal drama, one that we can read as a second Oedipus Rex and locate at the same functional level in the genealogy of tragedy. This is also what put Freud, and his disciples after him, onto the Hamlet . - Jacques Lacan,. importance of Hamlet Lacan,. p.41f.
Throughout the drama, Gertrude is constantly there, attempting to maintain the home base. From even before the drama starts, her sorrows come, "not single spies but in battalions," and one by one, she is forced to repress her grief in favor of maintaining an appropriate front. Contrary to diminishing the likelihood of a collapse of the established order, this sequence of events increases it. It becomes certain that this edifice will crumble at some time to reveal the emptiness behind it. Each grief is not allowed its appropriate response in favor of political necessity. The human cost is considerable.
Ophelia's character is even more interesting and far more complex. Ophelia is Hamlet's lover, and her character is founded on a reaction to Hamlet's. The love between them is intense, that can be seen clearly, but Hamlet's obsession with revenge distances him from Ophelia. Hamlet is constantly plotting to kill Claudius, and he spares no means to achieve his goal;
because of this, he dedicates very little time to Ophelia, and at one point rejects her completely. When Hamlet pretends to be insane, Ophelia believes it, and his words and actions are so harmful to her, that- failing to reconcile her intense love for Hamlet with her vulnerability towards his presumed insanity- she is herself driven insane, and eventually commits suicide. In this, Shakespeare proves that he does not simple-mindedly view all women as passive and accepting; suicide is not passive but extremely active. Ophelia cannot sit by and live miserably without acting; in her death she lashed out at the world, accusing it of being so intolerable death is preferable to living in it. Unlike Gertrude, who was willing to continue living even as her husband was killed and his thrown usurped, Ophelia acts out against this in the most powerful way she can. In this character, Shakespeare places vulnerability on the one hand and yet a kind of nobility on the other, thus pronouncing without doubt his acknowledgement that women are not of a single mind and temperament, but each has her own vices and virtues, her own ideas and beliefs.
The extent to which Hamlet feels betrayed by Gertrude is far more apparent with the addition of Ophelia to the play. Hamlet's feelings of rage against his mother can be directed toward Ophelia, who is, in his estimation, hiding her base nature behind a guise of impeccability.Through Ophelia we witness Hamlet's evolution, or de-evolution into a man convinced that all women are whores; that the women who seem most pure are inside black with corruption and sexual desire. And if women are harlots, then they must have their procurers. Gertrude has been made a whore by Claudius, and Ophelia has been made a whore by her father. In Act II, Polonius makes arrangements to use the alluring Ophelia to discover why Hamlet is behaving so curiously. Hamlet is not in the room but it seems obvious from the following lines that he has overheard Polonius trying to use his daughter's charms to suit his underhanded
purposes. In Hamlet's distraught mind, there is no gray area: Polonius prostitutes his daughter. And Hamlet tells Polonius so to his face, labeling him a "fishmonger" (despite the fact that Polonius cannot decipher the meaning behind Hamlet's words).
As Kay Stanton argues in her essay Hamlet's Whores:
Perhaps it may be granted...that what makes a woman a whore in the Hamlets' estimation is her sexual use by not one man but by more than one man.... what seems to enrage [Hamlet] in the 'nunnery' interlude is that Ophelia has put her sense of love and duty for another man above her sense of love and duty for him, just as Gertrude put her sense of love and duty for her new husband above her sense of love and duty for her old. Gertrude chose a brother over a dead Hamlet; Ophelia chooses a father over a living Hamlet: both choices can be read as additionally sexually perverse in being, to Hamlet, 'incestuous'. New Essays on Hamlet 168-9) (Stanton, New
But, to the rest of us, Ophelia represents something very different. To those who are not blinded by hurt and rage, Ophelia is the epitome of goodness. Very much like Gertrude, young Ophelia is childlike and naive. Unlike Queen Gertrude, Ophelia has good reason to be unaware of the harsh realities of life. She is very young, and has lost her mother, possibly at birth. Her father, Polonius, and brother, Laertes, love Ophelia tremendously, and have taken great pains to shelter her. She is not involved with matters of state; she spends her days no doubt engaged in needlepoint and flower gathering. She returns the love shown to her by Polonius and Laertes tenfold, and couples it with complete and unwavering loyalty. "Her whole character is that of simple unselfish affection" (Bradley 130). Even though her love for Hamlet is strong, she obeys her father when he tells her not to see Hamlet again or accept any letters that Hamlet writes. Her
heart is pure, and when she does do something dishonest, such as tell Hamlet that her father has gone home when he is really behind the curtain, it is out of genuine fear. Ophelia clings to the memory of Hamlet treating her with respect and tenderness, and she defends him and loves him to the very end despite his brutality. She is incapable of defending herself, but through her timid responses we see clearly her intense suffering:
Hamlet: ...I did love you once. Ophelia: Indeed, my, lord, you made me believe so. Hamlet: You should not have believed me...I loved you not. Ophelia: I was the more deceived.
Her frailty and innocence work against her as she cannot cope with the unfolding of one traumatic event after another. Ophelia's darling Hamlet causes all her emotional pain throughout the play, and when his hate is responsible for her father's death, she has endured all that she is capable of enduring and goes insane. But even in her insanity she symbolizes, to everyone but Hamlet, incorruption and virtue. "In her wanderings we hear from time to time an undertone of the deepest sorrow, but never the agonized cry of fear or horror which makes madness dreadful or shocking. And the picture of her death, if our eyes grow dim in watching it, is still purely beautiful". (Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy 132-3). The bawdy songs that she sings in front of Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius are somber reminders that the corrupt world has taken its toll on the pure Ophelia. They show us that only in her insanity does she live up to Hamlet's false perception of her as a lascivious woman.
Another great woman character is Miranda though she is not the main character in The Tempest. Like all the works of Shakespeare, The Tempest has been studied in great detail. There
are books and articles on every imaginable aspect of it and on that of its adaptations. What is remarkable though is that most of these books and articles focus on Prospero and Caliban. Of course, in the light of recent events (decolonisation and changing views on racism) and the flourishing field of postcolonial studies it is not strange that most attention goes to these two characters, but it does mean that some of the characters get less attention than they deserve. Although there are of course articles or books on the other characters of The Tempest or characters that are not even visible in the play, e.g. Stephen Orgel's Prospero's Wife, most scholars seem to forget Miranda or are of the opinion that she is not relevant, that she is only an object of exchange in Prospero's schemes to regain his position and get back to the mainland. Initially, I must confess, I did the same thing: I was so focused on Caliban and Prospero that I took Miranda for granted, but I became aware of this after reading Jessica Slight's essay "The Rape and Romanticization of Shakespeare's Miranda" and decided that indeed the role of Miranda was interesting enough to investigate. This paper will give a short overview of how Miranda has traditionally been regarded by Tempest critics and evaluate the way she is represented in two well-know Tempest adaptations: Davenant and Dryden's The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island and Derek Jarman's screen adaptation of The Tempest.
Miranda is the only female character present in The Tempest , but she has a paradoxical role as the dependent female who is however crucial for the dynamics of power in the play. Political readings of Shakespeare‟s plays over the the last thirty years have tended to side always with the victims of the power structures represented in each play. In the case of The Tempest , the predominant readings of what we will call the Postmodern paradigm in Shakespearean studies
have sided with Caliban as the victim of colonial oppression. We could say that the text of the play erases Miranda as the virtuous and rather bland daughter whose main role is to obey her father and serve his purposes. What I am calling the double erasure of Miranda in The Tempest is my sense that she has also been frequently neglected in recent political readings of the play, which have centered their analysis of its power scheme on the issue of colonialism. Thus they have seen Caliban as a symbol of the exploited native but have often underplayed or ignored the specific repression of Miranda. It is clear that from a feminist perspective the power scheme in The Tempest must be opposed from an anticolonialist stand that also takes into account gender
In the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, there were mainly sentimental readings of The Tempest . William Hazlitt, for example, in his work Characters of Shakespeare's Plays describes Miranda as a "goddess of the isle" and says that "[t]he courtship between
Ferdinand and Miranda is one of the chief beauties of this play. It is the very purity of love." Most of his discussion of The Tempest deals with Caliban, according to him one of Shakespeare's masterpieces, and the "essence of grossness". One would think that the attempted rape of Miranda is a clear example of one of his gross acts, but Hazlitt does not even mention it, nor does he say anything else on the relationship between the two. According to Slight, it is common for the critics of this period to remain silent on the subject of Miranda. They hardly mention her, or like Hazlitt perceive her as some goddess or natural woman. In the twentieth century, postcolonial readings of the play came to dominate the field. Postcolonial critics emphasised the relationship between Prospero and Caliban, and again often ignored Miranda or labelled her irrelevant. Miranda was, according to many of them, only important to help realise her father's
goals. When she is seen as a person, she is often seen, like her father, as the oppressor. Some critics even believe that Caliban cannot be blamed for his acts, as does Lorie Jerrell Leininger who argues that "anyone who is forced into servitude, confined to a rock, kept under constant surveillance, and punished by supernatural means would wish his enslavers ill" (Leininger, quoted in Slights 2001: 373). Add to that that many critics see Caliban as a brute who is not capable of restraining himself and so the offence is turned into a matter of colonisation and Caliban becomes the victim. Another example Slights provides is that of Kim Hall, who says that she does not want to excuse Caliban, but explains his acts as a threat to Prospero's "quest for social and political integrity" (Hall, quoted in Slights). However, she does not discuss in any way how this act threats Miranda and so, again, Miranda only represents Prospero's interests in this interpretation.
As said in the previous paragraph, Miranda is often seen as irrelevant. It is the question whether this interpretation of her character is correct. Most critics point out the fact that Prospero is the dominant character in The Tempest and that he dominates both the narrative and all the other characters. However, this view of the situation is not completely correct. As her father, Prospero certainly has power over her. Miranda is still young, she has no one else but her father to help her and to protect her from Caliban, and therefore it is only natural that she respects and obeys him. This does not mean that she has no will, or that she obeys her father against her will. The passage where Prospero tries to tell her of Milan, for example, suggests that Miranda does not always pay attention to what he says, because he repeatedly asks her to pay attention (Tem I.2). Later on in the conversation she interrupts him to ask questions or make comments. This can be seen as impolite and as a mild way of challenging his authority, but it can also be
interpreted as a sign of her intelligence, for example when she asks Prospero: "Wherefore did they not / That hour destroy us?" (I.2, 138-9). This indicates that she is quick on the uptake and is curious to find out more. Prospero does not ask a lot of his daughter, but when she meets Ferdinand he wants her to stay away from him. Although he is the one who manipulated the situation in order to rearrange a marriage, he has no control over Miranda's feelings. She goes to visit Ferdinand and falls head over heels in love with him. Prospero, however, does not forbid her to see him for his own sake, but because he is worried that "too light winning / Make the prize light" (I.2.441-53). The scheme to bring Miranda and Ferdinand together is of course in his interest, but it is not completely selfish. Ferdinand is a good match for Miranda, and it enables both himself and Miranda to get home safely. In the end, no harm is done and everybody profits from his plans. Prospero never has the intention of harming anyone. Although he is often accused of being a manipulative and authoritarian father, he does everything for his daughter. To Miranda he says; I have done nothing, but in care of thee" (1.1.16). He also proves that he cares for her by reassuring her that nobody was harmed in the storm that took place in 1.1. Ferdinand in this speech admired Miranda: Admired Miranda! Indeed the top of admiration, worth What‟s dearest to the world. Full many a lad y I have eyed with best regard, and many a time Th‟harmony of their tongues tongues hath into bondage Brought my too diligent ear. For several virtues
Have I liked several women; never any With so full soul but some defect in her Did quarrel with the noblest grace she owed And put it to the foil. But you, O you, So perfect and so peerless, are created Of every creature‟s best. (3.1. 37-48)1 37-48)1
The relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda also reveals that she is certainly not the innocent and naïve girl that she is thought to be. Apart from the fact that she disobeys her father to be able to meet him, she also takes a lot of initiative in her relationship with Ferdinand. She tells him how she feels and eventually even asks him to marry him. She goes to visit him when Prospero locks him up, and when Ferdinand complains about his punishment Miranda offers to carry the logs for him, so he can sit down. Although in Shakespeare's age women were supposed to be in the service of their husbands and not the other way around, Ferdinand calls her "mistress" (3.1.86) and says that
The very instant that I saw you did My heart fly to your service; there resides To make me slave to it. And for your sake Am I this patient log-man. (3.1.64-7)
Miranda also does not give Ferdinand a lot of choice. Whether he agrees or not, she is his:
I am your wife, if you will marry me. If not, I'll die your maid. To be your fellow You may deny me, but I'll be your servant Whether you will or no.(3.1.83-6)
She is also very open about her attraction to him. She feels she does not have the self-discipline to hide her growing passion for Ferdinand, and tells him so. Miranda is specifically created and described by Shakespeare as the “perfect” woman in in The Tempest . In fact, the role of Miranda as the “perfect” woman has not only been created by
Shakespeare but been conditioned beyond the text by social, racial and gender politics that presume “female imperfection.” Such a role as the “perfect” woman under patriarchal domination has significantly influenced Miranda‟s formulation of gender and iden tity, making her (the female other in the play) conform to the patriarchal ideology and become blind to her self. This essay hence undertakes a comparative compa rative deconstruction of Miranda‟s body, which has been constructed and mythicized in the Renaissance historical context, modern critical interpretation, visual art, and theatrical performance. As shown in the example of Miranda, the notion of “perfect” and the concept of the ideal woman have appeared to be neutral. Nevertheless, not only is the notion of the “perfect” woman subjectively determined and socioculturally constituted but the link between female beauty and feminine behavior — behavior — two two crucial factors in defining Miranda as an absolutely “perfect” woman— is also arbitrarily made. When the male characters of the play, moder n critics of Shakespeare‟s text, painters and directors perceive, interpret, and embody Miranda, they assume an absolute concept of the “perfect” and take certain body images for the naturalized identity of the ideal woman. Miranda, as a
representative of “perfect” of “perfect” women for men, has been created as “a transcendent myth” and thus has ironically become invisible to herself and to those who read The Tempest . The marriage masque given to Miranda and Ferdinand by Prospero in Act 4 could be used both as an entertainment and a literary form. As a spectacle performed at court, it offers a visually gorgeous scene for the nobility in the audience to watch and invites the courtiers to enter as masquers and to dance. Symbolically, “the themes of chastity and fertility elaborated in the masque,” as Bette Werner argues in “Masque v s. Drama,” deliver the concept of “the right order of nature” (71) and further enhance the purpose of the masque to glorify the court and, in particular, the monarch. As the masque manifests, in the system of nature, with the supreme God as the center, the three goddesses descending from the heavens — heavens — Juno, Juno, Iris, and Ceres — Ceres — stand stand for fecundity of the earth and celebrate chastity. Prospero‟s masque, while it seems on the surface a celebration of Miranda‟s Mir anda‟s marriage, is intended to remind the newlywed bride of purity and virginity and to obey discipline and order in the patriarchal system: fathers superior to daughters and husbands to wives. Furthermore, it comes off even more powerfully as a display of Prospero‟s supernatural magic and his dominance of the spirit-servants. spirit-servants. To begin the masque, Prospero thus summons Ariel and demands obedience: Go bring the rabble, O‟er whom I give thee power, here to this place. Incite them to quick motion, for I must Bestow upon the eyes of this young couple Some vanity of mine art. (4.1. 37-41)
Shakespeare's attitude towards women in his works is often highly ambiguous. The heroines of Shakespeare's comedies are usually from high-class backg rounds. Shakespeare‟s depiction of women was constrained by a set of interacting factors, which included a scrupulous adherence to sources, the staffing complements of all the public theatrical companies, audience factors expectations and by social prejudice again st talkative women as „shrews‟. All these factors limited the audience acceptability of women characters of any kind and restricted the utterances of those who did appear. Women in Shakespeare is a topic within the general discussion of Shakespeare's Shakespeare' s dramatic and poetic works. Women appear as supporting and central characters in Shakespeare's plays.
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