Throughout theatre and drama history, we read about and study the great men that have dominated stages and plots. We analyze all of their speeches, actions, and intentions, but can the same be said of women? While women are studied in dramatic context, it is certainly not with the same intensity of men. So, what role does this suggest women play in drama? Women are not usually found in the foreground, but rather they are hidden in the shadows of male characters. Their dramatic functions, especially in early post-Classical theatre, are often to drive the plot or highlight the actions of the men in the drama. While it is true that men were in deed acting in the roles of women, the parts themselves were still representations of actual women. However, it can be said that sometimes in these women and in their small actions and roles are hidden clues to the unlock personalities in the play and critical plot details as well. In other words, women, though often overlooked—most likely as being speaking props—are actually the thread that sews the entire play together.
As an example of this, I turn to Ophelia in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ophelia reveals the sexual nature of Hamlet and also his true priorities. Their interactions demonstrate that Hamlet wants to be involved in everything and be the cause of all action, but he is not as dedicated as he needs to be to actually complete his goals.
[...] The last that we see of Ophelia is when she is singing before she drowns herself. Her music seems like nonsense to those around her, and they are seriously worried about her mental state; however, we know that it is the final expression about how she feels Hamlet has wronged her. Although, what is key to understanding Ophelia is not what she thinks that Hamlet has done to her, but what she has done to herself. She blames herself for the way that Hamlet is treating her, Indeed, without an oath, I'll make an end on't: By Jesus and by Saint Charity. [...]
[...] This weakness surrounding Ophelia has even invaded today's contemporary culture in the forms of books and movements such as Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls a book self- described to “revive these Ophelias' lost sense of self.” While stating that Ophelia not only consummated her relationship with Hamlet, but was indeed pregnant with his child, is a bold claim, strong evidence is found in the text. The first indication of the sexual undertones of their relationship is found in Hamlet's love letter to Ophelia when he says, dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. [...]
[...] Was Ophelia taking the easy way out of the situation, or did she reclaim her honor in the only way that she could? Throughout the play, we see that Hamlet rushes into many things, certainly without thinking first. It is this characteristic, especially living where he is a threat to the crown, which almost guarantees his eventual death in the play. This being said, it is highly probable that even if Ophelia did not take her own life, she would have had to raise a child alone. [...]
[...] Now that it has been exposed that Ophelia is with child, and we are at the beginning of Ophelia's downfall, we must observe what else caused it along the way. In the next scene, Hamlet repeatedly sends sexual messages to her. These mixed messages, of course, confuse her; Hamlet is playing with her sanity and strength at this time in the play, Hamlet: Lady, shall I lay in your lap? (Lying down at Ophelia's feet) Ophelia: No, my lord. Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap? [...]
[...] Then, as she is already feeling low, he again makes a sexual reference of how he would like to lay between maids' legs. To add insult upon injury, Hamlet does not restrict this reference to only Ophelia, but uses the plural term Hamlet's commonplace attitude towards what she thought was a vow of his love for her, is another driving cause to her death. Another injury to Ophelia's mental state is when Hamlet accuses that it is a woman's love that is brief (III.II.141). [...]
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