Gertrude and Ophelia are the only two leading ladies in Hamlet. They are two totally different women who were trapped in the identical circumstances in relation to Hamlet. They are both in love, they love their men and are ready to blindly follow them. They are embarrassed though and cannot control their surroundings. Because Ophelia is a young girl, it makes her more innocent and naïve than Gertrude. Ophelia is seen as the greatest victim in the play. Unlike Gertrude, Ophelia is completely free from any conscious or subconscious wrongdoing. As the play unfolds the two characters are becoming weaker and more exhausted because of their surroundings and external circumstances, which eventually make them see no way out except for the death.
Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet, is the first obvious character that the reader learns as being in contact with external difficulties. Because of King Hamlet’s unusual death, Gertrude got married with her brother-in-law, Claudius, who became the King of Denmark. Now Gertrude has a new status, she is a wife of Claudius. Gertrude had to make a choice between her own son and the throne. She chose the throne. Because of this Hamlet is led to believe that his mother has changed. Hamlet notices his own mother as incapable of love, for he refers to her earlier regard for King Hamlet in terms of physical appetite,“Why she would hang on him/ As if increase of appetite had grown/ By what it fed on.” Finally because of the improper actions of his mother, Hamlet concludes that all women are immoral. Unfortunately he does believe Ophelia is not the exception.
Power is one of the key concepts for all characters of Shakespeare’s tragedy. The reader may or may not categorize Gertrude as a victim of the circumstances, but she was a queen of yesterday and it was her conscious decision to become a queen of today. She lost her husband but kept the throne. The lust for power united Gertrude and Claudius no less than love and probably that is why the queen does not protect Hamlet. The queen sees the danger in Hamlet, because he is a direct heir of the throne. Gertrude does not lose her mind and she is always ready for decisive actions. When Ophelia lost her mind and wanted to meet with the queen, Gertrude refused to do that. Ophelia’s songs alerts the queen. She finds them to appeal to the secret corners of her soul, which Gertrude would like to forget. It is difficult to find any logic in the speech of an insane girl, but her songs are like the doors, which leads to her destiny. Ophelia sings about death, “He is dead and gone, lady,/ He is dead and gone;/ At his head a grass-green turf,/At his heels a stone.”
Ophelia sacrificed all her heart to love, but Gertrude betrayed the one she loved for the sake of power, since her desire to keep the throne was too strong and irresistible. Gertrude is a weak-willed but not foolish woman. Because of her majesty and outward charm the reader may notice later the queen has neither marital fidelity, nor motherly sensitivity. Scathing and undisguised reproaches of Hamlet addressing to his Mother-Queen are fair. Although at the end of the tragedy her attitude to Hamlet is getting warmer, as the reader one does not feel sympathy for her accidental death, because Gertrude stands out as a circumstantial Claudius’s accomplice. In the end of tragedy Gertrude is an unintentional victim of Claudius’s evil deed.
What separated the mother and Hamlet? Only her love to Claudius? Not only. Desire for power unites stronger than love. When Claudius loses his self-control in a dangerous situation, Gertrude reminds in no way a hesitant woman, she acts with confidence and certainty.
Ophelia is one of the most touching characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Her love, her madness, her death are described with the truest touches of tenderness and pathos.
Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, chief advisor to the Claudius and the sister of Laertes. Like Gertrude, she is a victim of external conflict. The reader is led to believe that Ophelia wants to become closer to Hamlet, she dreams about that, but she must follow her father’s orders. Her father tells her to stay away from Hamlet. This becomes a conflict, which tears her soul and heart into pieces and leads to unfortunate results. Ophelia is hurt, but she is just a puppet in men’s unfair play.
Hamlet expresses his affection to Ophelia, which subsequently gives rise to many debates on the matter of love affair of Hamlet and Ophelia. Without any doubt Ophelia is attracted to Hamlet. However it is difficult to judge whether Hamlet’s feelings for Ophelia are true because of his rude behavior later on. Nevertheless, his madness could be used as a proof of his love for Ophelia: Hamlet gets mad when he learns that the only woman he loves is in fact spying on him. This betrayal causes Hamlet to associate Ophelia with Gertrude, whom he was blaming for a quick recovery from the grief of his father’s death.
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Ophelia is young, impressionistic and unhappy. Hamlet’s unacceptable behavior and attitude to her, made Ophelia lose her mind and eventually caused her death. Ophelia was told to break the relationship with Hamlet, which she did because she was an obedient child to her father, whom she loved and at the same time was afraid of. Ophelia saw Hamlet’s madness, and could not believe that he was pretending. Convinced of the fact that her love made Hamlet mad, Ophelia decides to speak to her beloved one, yet she was coldly rejected by Hamlet, who screams,“Get thee to a nunnery!”
Ophelia is not aware that Hamlet is disappointed and disillusioned with all women. He cannot even trust his own mother anymore, why should he trust Ophelia? She is just another woman, another traitress.
Later, Ophelia learned that her father Polonius died at the hands of Hamlet, the man whom she loved. Ophelia could not bear it anymore and she loses her senses. Ophelia makes her choice in favor of death instead of a life full of grief and sorrow. She cannot be blamed for it as it was the only way out for her.
Gertrude is the one who talks about Ophelia’s death since she is the only remaining woman character in the play. In the queen’s longest lines at the end of Act 4, Gertrude eloquently sums up both hers and Ophelia’s lives. It shows that Shakespeare believed that women are able to empathize with one another.
Originally, while the queen is describing her version of Ophelia’s death to Laertes, in Act 4, Ophelia’s death is framed as an accident, when Gertrude says, “Clamb ring to hang, an envious silver broke,/ when down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook.” The queen is describing the way Ophelia has drowned, when the branch Ophelia was on broke and the girl fell into the waters.
It looks like these women characters in tragedy Hamlet are passive and only used as puppets in men’s doings. Gertrude categorizes Ophelia’s passing as an accident, though even gravediggers right in the next scene contradict it, insisting instead that Ophelia has committed a suicide, “Argal, she drowned herself wittingly.” The status of women is thus pushed further into obscurity, when simple gravediggers are able to refute the queen’s claims about Ophelia’s death.
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However, the two ladies seem to lead parallel existences. The description Gertrude gives of Ophelia’s death seems to ironically mirror their lives. Here, the queen tells of how Ophelia fell into the water and sang without being aware of her imminent danger,“And mermaid like awhile they bore her up,/ which time she chanted snatches of old lauds, as one incapable of her own distress.”
Furthermore, Gertrude describes Ophelia as “a creature naive and indued unto that element,
implying naivete.” The way Ophelia died can be paralleled in the last section of Gertrude’s verses as well, “Till her garments, heavy with their drink, / pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death.”
Both women in Hamlet are passive in life, death and relationships. Is this fair, when we do not see their side of the story? In Gertrude’s case, there could have been a lot of reasons for accepting Claudius. Probably Gertrude saw in him such a perfect man that she found him irresistible. She could be described as a lady-magnet. It is impossible to imagine the tragedy without this character; she adds spice and impulse to the plot.
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In the kingdom whereby the two most powerful men are involved in creating their personal conspiracies, the women have no chance to survive, especially since their role in society equals a puppet. The queen and Ophelia are both only props to Shakespeare’s male-dominated world of Hamlet. But in spite of this, Ophelia can be seen as the real victim in this play. She died because she was too much in love and too pure, naïve and innocent to stand for herself. The reader can assume that Ophelia died because of her virtues while the other characters, Gertrude included, perished as a result of their own faults.
These two women are not treated by the men of the tragedy with the respect they deserve. The above analysis can conclude that the probable reason of all Ophelia’s and Gertrude’s misfortune is Hamlet. Ophelia loved Hamlet sincerely and selflessly, the man who repudiated her feelings and also killed her farther, but he rejected her and led her to her death. On the other hand, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, died at the hands of her husband through a poison cup intended for her own son. Shakespeare showed two different worlds, two different women in his tragedy Hamlet. Both of them were in love, but different types of love. Ophelia’s love was a true love, while Gertrude’s love was a love for power. Yet, as it can be seen from the play it did not matter, death took away both of them.