’ Disease Essay, Research Paper

The Tragic Fate of Shakespeare s WomenWithin the tragedies of Shakespeare there exists a wide variety of women, ranging from the naive to the aware. However regardless of how alert they are these women are still unable to escape their inevitable death. This is not due to their own tragic flaws; rather, the flaws exist in the relationship to the men with whom they associate. In Hamlet and Othello the four central female characters are surrounded by powerful male figures that see no problem in using these women as tools to achieve their goals. Even though their deaths are not always intentional, they are unable to control it, due to their dependence on the males who surround them. The central female characters in Hamlet and Othello remain completely unable to control their fate and cannot prevent their own death. Queen Gertrude is one of these characters who cannot alter fate, nor does she really wish to. According to A.C. Bradley, Gertrude is described as like a sheep in the sun. She is very happy with her present situation, her only wish being that she wants her son to share in her happiness. She genuinely loves him, and shows much concern for his welfare. When she is led to believe that Hamlet s changed demeanor is due to his loss of Ophelia, Gertrude is truly worried that he suffer [s] from love madness, (II, ii, 56-57) and refers to him as a poor wretch. She supports Rosencrantz and Guilderstern in their quest and hopes that they will decisively determine the problem. However, this is the full extent of her concern and guilt. She is too absorbed in her new husband to truly be aware of the situation. She acts completely oblivious to the fact that her first husband is dead, and that she has actually broken Canon Law by marrying Claudius and engaging in an incestual relationship. Gertrude was too shallow and weak-minded to see these problems for what they really were. Her life at this point can only be described as weakness manifested by sensual passion. She loves the new emphasis on physical pleasure and does not wish to see anything more. It is not until the bedroom scene with Hamlet that Gertrude takes the first reluctant step towards moral awareness and self-criticism. However she wants to remain na ve, and instead of truly considering Hamlet s blunt and abrasive words and actions, runs to Claudius for support. She now truly believes that Hamlet is mad, yet she has allowed herself to remain quite undisturbed by his blatant accusations. It is by this action that Gertrude seals her own fate. In the final scene, Gertrude wishing to praise her son, and quite happy that he seems to be returning to normal, innocently drinks the poisoned cup. It is only in her dying moments that she truly makes a move toward redemption. Claudius states she is fainting at the sight of blood but Gertrude in her last breath says that the drink has been poisoned to warn Hamlet. The covert actions of the man that she blindly followed have killed her. Ophelia was a victim of the secrecy of the male characters and was helpless to change it. In fact the very name, Ophelia, can be translated to mean helpless. She was caught in a web of Polonius espionage, and used as a pawn in a game of wits between Hamlet and the Danish crown. However, Ophelia, unlike Gertrude is not subliminally wishing for everyone to be as happy as she and cheerfully disregarding the truth. Ophelia becomes a victim of the truth. It is only due to the actions of others that she is left na ve, which ultimately drives her insane. In addition, she is young and inexperienced and has no maternal influences to draw from, which leaves her vulnerable to the manipulation of men. Ophelia begins the play with a very keen intellect, as can be seen how she good-naturedly tells her brother to practice what he preaches when he gives her advice on how to deal with Hamlet. However when confronted by her father regarding the same issue, she agrees to fulfill her duty and says, I shall obey, my Lord. (I, iii, 136), when he further tells her to avoid the company of Hamlet. Thought it is obvious from this scene that she has a strong sense of obligation, it is equally obvious that Polonius cares only for his image and he does not concern himself with her feelings or well being. Furthermore, it shows that he sees no problem in using her as an instrument to achieve his successes. Hamlet also begins to use Ophelia in order to confuse Claudius as to his true intentions. In Act III scene 1, Hamlet is aware that Claudius and Polonius are watching the meeting of Ophelia and himself, and therefore uses this as motivation to fake insanity. Hamlet s feeling for Ophelia become secondary to his primary goal of hurting Claudius. It is here that Ophelia begins to loose her innocence and her views of genuine love begin to be corrupted. However, Hamlet continues to feign madness during the play scene, assaulting her with sexual phrases such as Lady, shall I lie in your lap. (III, ii, 107) and continuing with That s a fair thought to lie between maid s legs. (III, ii, 113) Throughout these discourses, Ophelia has been reduced to the role of hapless victim in the battle between Hamlet and Claudius. It is then, after the death of her father, that Ophelia loses her grasp on reality. She is completely alone; her father is dead, her brother is still abroad, Hamlet in his antic disposition has completely rejected her, and Gertrude, the only female influence in her life, has become too embarrassed to even see her, saying that [She] will not speak with her. (IV, v, 1) However, she is given audience, where she sings an ironic song about female abandonment; and then returns and proceeds to give flowers to the now returned Laertes, Claudius and Gertrude. Both the song and the flowers that she gives are symbolic of some emotion that she has or some warning that she is giving. Even in her insanity, she is still able to preach grains of truth.

After this episode, her mind completely gone, she commits suicide by drowning herself. Unfortunately, her death was inevitable, there was nothing left for her to do. She had no one to go to for comfort; she was facing the consequences for obeying the whims of her manipulative father and was being used as a pawn by Hamlet in his games with Claudius. Othello has female characters that face similar problems with their male counterparts. Emelia, the wife of Iago, the plays antagonist, like Gertrude, understandably does not want to believe that Iago is capable of such base actions, even though he treats her so coldly. He rarely refers to her as anything but a wench. As a result, she is very cynical towards the male sex. She says that women are only objects, and men are permitted to walk all over them. They are all but stomachs, and we are all but food; They eat us hungrily, and when they are full, They belch us. (III, iv. 103-105)However, she still takes Desdemona s handkerchief at Iago s request, even though she knows it will cause Desdemona pain, Poor Lady, she ll run mad when she lack it. (III, iii, 317-318) Once Emelia discoveries that Desdemona s life is in danger, Emelia betrays her husband s confidence and speaks the truth. Even after Desdemona s death, she is intent upon protecting her friend s integrity and is prepared to tell everything. She denies her husband s order to go home, admits that it was she who took the handkerchief, as ordered by Iago so he could use it in his games, and that Desdemona was indeed faithful to Othello. But it is at this point that her husband seals her fate and murders her. As soon as Emelia was prepared to step out of place and right the wrongs, she was silenced, incapable of changing the course of her predetermined destination. Desdemona can be seen in a similar light to a character in Hamlet. She, like Ophelia had no maternal influences, and had her love for a man used to suit the needs of a villain. However, Desdemona did possess the strength that Ophelia lacked. In addition to the fact, the man whom she married was black. However, the strength she possesses is used against her and her lack of experience does not allow her to recognize that fact. Iago begins to use Desdemona, as a pawn in his revenge against Othello, even before her first entrance. In the opening scene of the play we see his first act of revenge against Othello. He has come to alert Brabantio, Desdemona s father, of the elopement of his daughter and the Moor. He uses strong sexual insults and images, of Desdemona and Othello, in hopes of getting Othello removed from the position of General. Through out the play Iago uses Desdemona s headstrong, yet innocent, persona to convince Othello that she had not been faithful. Desdemona s desire to do the right thing and get Cassio reinstated is used by Iago, and he makes her persistence in this matter seem like unfaithfulness to Othello. He forces Othello to remember that Desdemona and Cassio have known each other for a long time and thus implies that they could be having an affair. Through his accusations of Desdemona he starts to bring on the downfall of Othello and the women around him. When confronted with the false accusations by Othello, Desdemona is too young, innocent and her love is true pure for her to even fathom the accusations. She does not see that she has done anything wrong, or even that her actions could be taken as such. She wishes only to love and please Othello, and obeys his every order. Desdemona cannot see that Iago has manipulated them all, and in turn, determined her fate. Even in her last moments before Othello kills her, she maintains her innocence and begs for her life. She remains youthfully na ve to the end; she does not fully grasp why exactly Othello wants her dead. But she still remains loyal to him, even as he kills her. When asked by Emelia, Who hath done this deed? (V, ii, 124) Desdemona blames herself replying. Nobody. I myself, Farewell Commend me to my lord, O, Farewell. (V, ii, 125-126)Desdemona s only sin is her naivete, she unintentionally allowed herself to become an instrument in Iago s plot for revenge. Each of the women in Hamlet and Othello are victims of the men who control them. Though they are individually strong in character, each of them is met with circumstances, which exploits these strengths rather than allow her to use them for her advantage. I find it interesting to think about what would happen if the women in these plays reversed situations. Would Desdemona have obeyed Polonius orders, and conversely, would Ophelia have begged so passionately for the reinstatement of Cassio? If reversed, they would have been in more control of their fate and may have prevented the tragedy, or at least their own demise. However, the men and circumstances, which surround these women, gave them no choice but to comply to the men in their lives, and this compliance led to their unavoidable death.


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