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The Role of Women In Hamlet and Macbeth

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Queen Gertrude is portrayed to be a very weak and dependent woman. She craves the luxuries of being a queen, which is possibly why she married Claudius. Though she is intelligent enough to use men to fulfill her personal desires, she is incapable of thinking on her own. There are many questions conserning the truth of Queen Gertrude's character. Does she know that Hamlet really is sane? Is she merely trying to protect her royal status? Does she really love Claudius or is this only a convenience? Regardless, Gertrude's tendency to rely on men turns her into a very frail character. Some readers would argue that she is completely oblivious to what is taking place in the play...others though, would strongly disagree. Ophelia was also an extremely weak and dependent character. She was so easily influenced by men such as Polonius, her brother, and Hamlet. She possessed a very weak mind that eventually leads her to madness. Ophelia is an obedient woman who is used to following the direction of her father and brother. She, much like Queen Gertrude, is unable to think for herself and therefore relies on men to make decisions for her. However, unlike the Queen she has not been pampered [by men] and does not possess the desire for royalty and high social status. Ophelia and Gertrude contribute a sense of guilt and falseness to the role of women in Hamlet. They are not conniving or complex but instead fragile and ridiculously dependent. Shakespeare's portrayal of women in this particular play is thought to be a rather shallow one. The two women are regarded as pathetic and incapable, however they do fulfill the stereotype of women in Shakespearian times.

On the other end of the spectrum, Macbeth offers much more of a variety in female characters. First mentioned in the play is the "weird sisters", also known as the witches, who serve as almost a comic relief. Their rhymes throughout the play are ridiculous and appear to serve only as foreshadows. However, the witches themselves, like Lady Macbeth, are very powerful and wicked. Without their predictions, Macbeth may have never killed the king. The readers are probably confused as to what exactly their purpose is, and Shakespeare offers no easy answers. Instead, they serve as mysterious characters who are not susceptible to human comprehention. Probably the most prominent female character in Shakespeare's many plays is Lady Macbeth. She is the embodiment of evil and is the driving force behind Macbeth's act of murder. She is wicked and not the typical woman of those days by any means. Lady Macbeth talks her husband into committing the murder by questioning his manhood and capability. It is almost as if she and Macbeth switched traditional roles and he becomes the easily swayed weakling. Her great ability of manipulation gives Shakespeare's portrayal of women a little twist. Though most of his female characters are vulnerable and dependent, Lady Macbeth breaks this mold. In fact, she becomes almost supernatural-neither male nor female. The only female character in Macbeth who is not wicked is Lady Macduff. Though she is not a main character in the play, her role is extremely important. Specifically, she serves as a major contrast to Lady Macbeth. The glimpse of her character portrays her as a motherly figure and a typical woman of the time. However, the emphasis on her pure character is only added to the play to shine light on the seemingly evil, dark nature of the other female characters.