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Hamlet Essay: Comparison of Gertrude and Ophelia

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Hamlet – a Comparison of Gertrude and Ophelia

 
    Even though at opposite ends of the courtly society in the halls of Elsinore, the characters of Gertrude and Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet have much in common. This essay intends to explore that commonality.

 

Howard Felperin in his essay “O’erdoing Termagant” illustrates one point of similarity between these two female characters – they are both recipients of Hamlet’s ill-will. Here he describes Hamlet’s verbal attack on Gertrude in the closet scene:

 

Even Gertrude vaguely perceives that Hamlet’s speech is inspired more by ancient texts than by any immediate situation: “Ay me, what act, / That roars so loud and thunders in the index?” (III.iv.51-52) Here, as in so much of the play, we are confronted not with the ravings of a disordered personality but with the heroic frenzy of the prophet’s role.

Moreover, Gertrude’s terms are theatrical as well as bookish. They recall Hamlet’s own caveats to t he players about mouthing lines, tearing a passion to tatters, and splitting the ears of the groundlings. Surely at this moment Hamlet o’erdoes Termagant and out-herods Herod, o’ersteps the modesty of nature, and violates his own neoclassical doctrines of decorum in speech and action as flagrantly as the most unreformed ham among the tragedians of the city. In sum, Hamlet turns the stage during the closet scene into something closely akin to the older theatrum mundi of Termagant and Herod, as he recasts the experience of the play into a straightforward morality drama in which everyone has a clear-cut and conventional role [. . .]. (103)

 

Other critics agree that both women are recipients of Hamlet’s ill-will. In the Introduction to Twentieth Century I...


... middle of paper ...


...ntieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Ed. David Bevington. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968. Rpt. from An Approach to Hamlet. Stanford, CT: Stanford University Press, 1961.

 

 

Pennington, Michael. “Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from “Hamlet”: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.

 

Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Rpt. from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.

 

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html

 

Wilson, John Dover. What Happens in Hamlet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

 


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