Frailty, thy name is woman! Discuss the portrayal of women in Hamlet.

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The portrayal of both of the female characters in Hamlet is shaped by the male characters with which they interact. Ophelia’s character seems to be wholly reliant on the men to whom she is related or linked. Gertrude, while possessing more power than Ophelia, is similarly dependent on men to provide the dramatic action in which she is involved and is portrayed. Nonetheless, both characters are required on almost every level of Hamlet’s plot and much of the conflict is caused by the existence or actions of the women. The idea that Ophelia is an essentially insubstantial character is introduced in the language of her first line. As is the case with the play itself, Ophelia’s first line is a question, in which she asks Laertes, Do you doubt that? in response to his request for contact while he is away. The language employed seems to show Ophelia as a character with no opinion of her own to offer. The response manages to show devotion to her brother without revealing anything of herself. Not only are her words in response to Laertes, rather than from her own mind, but Shakespeare also uses stichomythia here to give the impression that Ophelia is part of Laertes, an extension of the men with which she speaks rather than a character in her own right. She finishes his line, which could indicates that she complements him rather than meriting her own existence outside of male thought patterns. This technique is developed in the exchange between Laertes and Ophelia, in which he tells her that ‘The perfume and suppliance of a minute No more.’ Ophelia replies, ‘No more but so’ to which Laertes tells her to ‘think it no more.’ These three statements make up the pentameter, meaning that Ophelia’s words are lost between those of her brother. The repetition of ‘no more’ adds to this, in that it seems as though Ophelia is reiterating her brother’s
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