The Theme Of Ordered To Death In Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Ordered to Death Women have not always existed as equal to or near equal to men in society as they do in modern day America. In fact, during the Shakespearean era, women in England were socially and mentally restricted until they practically had no personal identity without men. Few characters embody this concept more accurately than Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The female social order operated under such extremes within the play that the men in Ophelia’s life constantly instruct her on what she should think, how she should act, and who she should talk to. This causes Ophelia to become virtually incapable of forming her own opinions. The plot thickens for Ophelia when her brother, Laertes, leaves; her father, Polonious, dies; and her lover, …show more content…
Her father consistently tells her to reject Hamlet, which confuses Ophelia because she has always seen men as her superior. She simply does as men wish for her to, and Hamlet wishes to see her. Joseph Rosenblum analyzes the contradictory messages sent to Ophelia by explaining, “Doubtless the most innocent of those who suffer in Hamlet, Ophelia is both the lovely young woman who has won Hamlet’s heart and the obedient daughter who is compelled to reject him” (735). Polonious restricts Ophelia from having her own desires, and she becomes torn between the desires of two different men. If she is inferior to both of them, it becomes difficult to distinguish which one she should listen to. While she never expresses a problem with the internal conflict, one can assume that she struggles to become the ideal, obedient woman that society has taught her to become. In the play, she attempts to argue the suppression when her father insists that she should ignore Hamlet, but Polonious quickly corrects her by stating, “Marry, I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby” (1.3.18). This statement by Polonious and other belittling statements throughout the play highlight just how much pressure Ophelia’s family and society place on her. This constant pressure on her to obey men and ignore her own desires creates a complex that causes Ophelia’s personality to become silent and empty. Gabrielle Dane explains the phenomenon of Ophelia’s internalization in her article “Reading Ophelia’s Madness” by stating, “Seeming to absorb the general absence of belief in her own intelligence, virtue and autonomy, Ophelia is left with an identity osmotically open to external suggestion; that is, she appears to lack clear psychic boundaries” (407). The term “psychic boundaries” refers to the idea that Ophelia cannot form an identity within her own

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