“Frailty, by the unequal relationships she has with
“Frailty, thy name is woman!”(1.2.150). Many men believe that women are fragile, but men are oblivious towards the fact that they are the ones that try to control every single factor in a woman’s life. This quote in Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, expresses the common viewpoint from men that women cannot fend for themselves. Women are subject to the decisions men make for them because they are seen as weak, and have little chance to redeem themselves.Women are depicted to be dependent on men because they are unable to make decisions on their own. This is evident through Ophelia’s passiveness throughout the play. Being a woman, Ophelia has to suffer from living under the demands of a man’s world. This is demonstrated by the unequal relationships she has with the men in her family. For example, Polonius and Laertes dictate most of Ophelia’s life, in fact, when she is first introduced, Ophelia barely speaks because Polonius and Laertes spend the majority of the scene telling her what to do. Polonius and Laertes warn Ophelia about trusting Hamlet. Clearly, it is important to Laertes that Ophelia remains “pure”, and he warns, “Keep you in the rear of your affection, out of the shot and danger of desire. The chariest maid is prodigal enough if she unmask her beauty to the moon”(1.3.35-37). Although it is normal for everyone to be concerned about the virginity of a woman during this time period, it is wrong for Ophelia’s brother (who is not so pure himself) to tell her what to do with her body. This illustrates how if she were anything other than “pure,” no man would want to marry her. Later in the scene, Polonius’ authoritative power over Ophelia can be seen when he forbids her from seeing Hamlet. When speaking with Ophelia, Polonius uses patronizing language, he tells her, “You do not understand yourself so clearly as it behooves my daughter and your honor”(1.3.96-97). Not only does Polonius refer to Ophelia as a baby, but his tone differs greatly than the one he uses when speaking to Laertes. When Polonius gives advice to Ophelia, it is clear that he assumes she is entirely helpless to do anything for herself. Polonius also adds that “with a larger tether may Hamlet walk than may be given you.” (page 471, lines 134-135). Even though Hamlet and Ophelia are young, they are held to different expectations. While Hamlet can afford to flirt and sleep around, these are opportunities that Ophelia does not possess. It seems as though Ophelia’s father and brother indicate that her only duties as a woman are to remain “pure” and obey her family. Perhaps Ophelia’s acceptance of Hamlet’s proclamations of love can be seen as an act of disobedience. In the end, however, Hamlet was abusive towards Ophelia, which only proves the importance that Ophelia must obey the authoritative men in her life in order to survive. Higher standards and expectations aren’t the only things Ophelia is held to. While men can freely express their emotions, women lack this opportunity. Throughout the play, the male characters are able to act out how they want. Even though Ophelia goes through horrific times, like her father’s death and Hamlet’s insults, she has nothing to help her cope with her emotions of anger, fear, and frustration. After act 4, the one thing Hamlet and Ophelia share are that they have both lost their fathers, but this loss exhibits itself differently in Ophelia than in Hamlet. While it’s natural for Hamlet to seek revenge, for Ophelia to do the same would be unheard of. Her brother, Laertes, is the one who takes action. He returns to the kingdom and proclaims he will, “be revenged most thoroughly for his father”(4.5.153-154). Because Laertes is a man, he has the privilege of being able to take action due to his pain, while Ophelia, who shares the same feeling, is expected to mask her pain and remain silent. Hamlet and Ophelia symbolize how different genders are able to react to horrific events. As defined by society, Hamlet’s reaction is precisely male, while Ophelia’s is precisely female. Ophelia’s guidance she received began to disappear towards the end of the play. She was suddenly left to act on her own. Since men constantly dictate women lives, when left on their own, women are so accustomed that they are unable to act at all. When Ophelia’s father died, she became mad. Ophelia sings, “And will he not come again? No, no, he is dead” (4.5.214-215). When all of Ophelia’s male guidance was stripped from her, she had no ability to fend for herself, which ultimately lead to her death. When Ophelia makes multiple references to her father during her madness, she further proves that she still has the urge to turn to the men in her life, even when they are gone. Ophelia did not have any control over her faith, but in the end, the foundation of her madness can be linked to the realities of a woman’s life today. Unfortunately, to say that Ophelia’s story is unrealistic would be false. Her passiveness, unhealthy relationships with men, and her inability to think or act for herself, sound all too familiar. Today, women still live in a male-dominated society and are still held to unrealistic standards. Women are still seen as weak and incapable to do anything for themselves.