AS Shakespeare 2000 word coursework - Hamlet/Much Ado

'Women of Shakespeare's time were regarded as possessions of men and were conditioned to be submissive; Shakespeare presents women as such in his play' To what extent do you agree with this statement? Got full marks, so enjoy!

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'Women of Shakespeare's time were regarded as possessions of men and were conditioned
to be submissive Shakespeare presents women as such in his play' To what extent do you
agree with this statement?
While the plays Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing have contrasting genres, one being
a tragedy, the other a comedy, the characters within them have more in common than one
would first suspect. Hero is first and foremost seen to be a timid and obedient character,
saying only seven words in the first scene and these words are in response to a question of
her father's. So as the devoted, amenable daughter Hero is, she instantaneously gives
Leonato the answer he was looking for `My cousin means Signior Benedick of Padua',
while this not only hints at the close understanding between Hero and Beatrice, it also
demonstrates Hero's character as the conventional Elizabethan woman. Primarily seen but
not heard, while bowing to her father's will and command.
Similarly in Hamlet, after speaking with Laertes about Hamlet's supposed love for her,
Ophelia promises her brother `Tis in my memory locked, you yourself shall keep the key of
it' explicitly saying that their discourse will remain a secret. However, when her father asks
`What is't, Ophelia, he hath said to you?' she immediately, without so much as a hesitation,
informs her father of what Laertes `hath said', going so far to say `So please you',
effectively presenting Polonius' complete and utter power over her, and cementing the
modern audience's image of Ophelia as totally submissive and repressed by her father. In
the Elizabethan era however, this obedience would have been seen as convention abiding,
and would be what one would expect of a lady of high status.
In Amanda Mabillard's essay `Ophelia'1 Ophelia is described as `childlike and naïve' yet at
the same time `the optimum of goodness'. This description is definitely applicable to both
Hero and Ophelia, certainly at the beginning of the plays.
1
Mabillard, Amanda. Ophelia. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (4th February 2012) <
http://www.shakespeareonline.com/plays/hamlet/opheliacharacter.html >

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The juxtaposition of characters, such as Beatrice and Hero, effectively enhance this idea of
goodness. Beatrice's outgoing, crude and scurrilous demeanour, standing up to men, even
going so far as to outright insult them ('Scratching could not make it worse, and 'twere such
a face of yours' ) is a great contrast to Hero's purity and placidity this succeeds in amplifying
both character's unique and opposing personalities. However the 'optimum of goodness'
could be interpreted in many ways.…read more

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If this is the case, the theory of Hero's goodness being an act is
fortified, if she can fool her cousin, her closest friend, then surely she can fool everyone else.
Is this also the case with Ophelia? One could argue that by being obedient to her father and
hiding her affection for Hamlet, she is putting on a show. However this obedience seems to
be who Ophelia truly is.…read more

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Act 4, Scene 1), but also shows her ability to stand up to men, when
before she would only do as her father ordered.
However, Ophelia is the most violent example of man's influence on women. Every
unfortunate event that happens seems to be in direct relation to the men around her. Her
descent into insanity mirrors Hamlet's feigned madness, and is in many ways ironic.…read more

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Heavenly powers restore him!'. Whereas in act 4, scene 5, she
does not look for such heavenly support, in the time when she requires it most. Instead of
singing the Lord's praises, she sings ballads with vulgar and sexually oriented meanings. The
line 'Young men will do't if they come to't' is just one example of her uncharacteristic crudity.
This could also be seen as a criticism of men and the social conventions of Elizabethan
England.…read more

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Perhaps her madness is her freedom, or perhaps it is her
death.
In my opinion Shakespeare presents women not just as a narrative device to further the plot,
but gives them complex personalities and a variety obstacles for them to conquer, or be
defeated by, to allow them to be important, interesting factor of the plot in their own right.
Bibliography
Blackmore, S.A. The Riddles of Hamlet. Boston: Stratford & Company, 1917
French, M. Hamlet, The Problem Plays, Shakespeare's Division of Experience.…read more

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