Eng Seminar Ophelia and Gertrude

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Feminist Literary Criticism
Gertrude   Ophelia

~the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other
rights of women equal to those of men.

~an organized movement for the attainment of such
rights for women.
 Aristotle: "The female is female by virtue of a certain lack of
St. Thomas Aquinas's belief that woman is an "imperfect man."

                 History of Feminist Literary Criticism

              ~Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights
              of woman (1792) marks the first modern awareness
              of women's struggle for equal rights.
              ~Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929)
              became an important precursor for feminist literary
              criticism. Virginia Woolf argues that patriarchal
              society prevented women from realizing their
              creativity and potential.
              ~Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1969) contained the
              first modern principles of feminist criticism by
              criticizing novels that were authored by males for
              their assumptions about females. Also introduced
              many new terms.
               Feminist Literary Criticism
This type of criticism is concerned with the impact
of gender on reading and writing. It usually
includes a critique of patriarchal society. Feminists
often argue that male fears are portrayed through
female characters. This criticism looks at the
female characters and their roles in the text.

 Elaine Showalter’s Three stages of development
              for Female Characters:
1. Feminine Stage – Involves acceptance and
acquiescence to the role society has assigned.
(2) Feminist Stage – Involves protest and doubts
about society’s patriarchalism.
(3) Female Stage - "phase of self-discovery;‖
freedom from dependency. A search for
                         Important Terms Defined

Erotomania: Female love-melancholy in Elizabethan time
 Phallologocentrism - "language ordered around an
absolute Word (logos) which is ―masculine‖ [phallic],
systematically excludes, disqualifies, denigrates,
diminishes, silences the ―feminine‖
 Essentialism - taken from Women Studies page of
Drew University - "The belief in a uniquely feminine
essence, existing above and beyond cultural
Phallocentrism: a doctrine or belief centered on the
phallus, esp. a belief in the superiority of the male sex.
Patriarchy: ~a form of social organization in which the
father is the supreme authority in the family
~a society, community, or country based on this social
        Elizabethan Women
• Limited Roles
• Schools reserved for boys
• Could not enter into professions of law,
  politics, medicine. Only allowed to work in
  domestic service.
• Could not vote
• Childbearing considered a great honor for
• Single women suffered the most- they were
  accused of being witches and looked upon with
• Single women could become nuns but after the
  Reformation, convents were closed.
• Ophelia’s madness would clinically be
  characterized in Elizabethan times as ―female
  love melancholy‖
• Melancholy was fashionable among men at this
  time. It was associated with ―intellectual and
  imaginative genius.‖
• Yet among women, this was seen as an emotional
               Ophelia’s Three Stages
     1. Feminine Stage – Involves acceptance and
     acquiesence to the role society has assigned.
     2. Feminist Stage – Involves protest and doubts about
     society’s patriarchalism.
     3. Female Stage - "phase of self-discovery;‖ freedom
     from dependency. A search for identity.

1.   Ophelia accepts Polonius’s advice. She follows and
     obeys him and thinks of herself as someone who cannot
     make her own decision.
2.   After Laertes’ advice to her, Ophelia tells Laertes not
     to be a bad priest who cannot practice what he
3.   Her craziness gives her ―freedom from dependency.‖
     Contrast of Polonius’s Advice Given to Laertes and Ophelia
Advice to Laertes:              Advice to Ophelia:

•Don’t be too quick to act      •Believe you’re a foolish
on what you think               little baby

•Once you’re in a fight, hold   •Give yourself more respect
your own                        or you’ll make me a fool-
                                either means will give him a
•Clothes make the man so        grandchild, or make him a
spend money on clothes          laughingstock.
•Once you’ve found              •Hamlet’s vows are traps for
trustworthy friends, hold on    birds
to them (He’s trusted to
make his own decisions)         •Don’t Mistake Hamlet’s
                                vows as true love
•ABOVE ALL, Be true to
yourself                        •Don’t waste your time with
                                ABOVE ALL, listen to
    All Practical Advice        Polonius
         Polonius and
• They are the two authority figures in her life
• Before, saw Hamlet’s love as innocent and holy
• She loves Hamlet
• Polonius and Laertes both warn her about his love. She
  begins to see that love may not be so innocent.
• When her own thoughts of Hamlet’s love are replaced
  by her father’s beliefs, she does not know what to
  believe. ―I do not know, my lord, what I should believe.‖
• When her brother and father present a harsh belief
  that Hamlet may not have good intentions, she realizes
  it is a frightening world. She seeks refuge in the
  domestic role that women have been assigned to for
  centuries and becomes passive, only obeying her father
  and brother.
• Act 3, Hamlet says ―get thee to a
• As Ophelia drowns, Gertrude describes
  her songs as religious hymns or old lauds.
• Her songs are like chants that are
  associated with nunneries.
• While pre-reformation women may have
  gone to nunneries to escape, this option
  is not available to Ophelia.
    Owl was a Baker’s Daughter
• In one of her songs, she sings, ―they say the owl was
  a baker’s daughter.‖
• The baker’s daughter was transformed into an owl,
  when Christ asked for bread but she only gave a
  small piece.
• The baker’s daughter being transformed into an owl
  is like Ophelia being transformed by madness.
• Like how the baker’s daughter made the wrong
  decision, Ophelia also made the wrong decision that
  led to her madness and death.
• Ophelia’s decision that led to her madness and death
  was trying to obey her father and be a good
  potential wife to Hamlet.
                  Ophelia Complex
“Ophelia complex,” the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard
traces the symbolic connections between women, water, and
death. Drowning, he suggests, becomes the truly feminine
death in the dramas of literature and life, one which is a
beautiful immersion and submersion in the female element.
Water is the profound and organic symbol of the liquid woman
whose eyes are so easily drowned in tears, as her body is the       I’m
repository of blood, amniotic fluid, and milk. A man                  g…
contemplating this feminine suicide understand it by reaching
for what is feminine in himself, like Laertes, by a temporary
surrender to his oen fluidity that is, his tears; and he becomes
a man again in becoming once more dry when his years are

      Elizabethans would have recognized the flowers she clutched to herself when she
      drowned as definite phallic symbols, indicative of her repressed longings
                                                                      The symbolism in her
Rosemary was often given as a token of remembrance
                                                                      drowning is itself an
between lovers, not merely in remembrance of the dead;
                                                                      emblem of the inner
Pansies the popular name for was ~love-in-idleness', so
                                                                      conflict which drove her to
the ~thoughts' they were used to represent were often
                                                                      madness. She drowns in
erotic ones.
                                                                      her “fantastic garlands,”
Fennel symbolized not only flattery but also fickleness in
                                                                      woven of buttercups,
love, and was even associated by Robert Greene (in A
                                                                      daisies, nettles, and long
Quip for an Upstart Courtier) with women's sexual desire
                                                                      purples, flowers that
in general. Because of the homed shape of its nectarines,
                                                                      represent her innocence,
Columbine became a symbol of cuckoldry for either sex;
                                                                      pain, and sexuality,
rue conventionally stood for sorrow and repentance, but
                                                                      woven together here in
was also thought to abate carnal lust.
                                                                      madness as she had been
Daisy, emblem of Alcestis, symbolized self-sacrifice for
                                                                      unable to do in her life.
love, but also represented dissembling love and the folly
of believing such deceits;
                         When Ophelia is mad, Gertrude says that “Her speech is
                         nothing,” mere “unshaped use.” Ophelia's speech thus
Ophelia is Zero          represents the horror of having nothing to say in the public
                         terms defined by the court. Deprived of thought, sexuality,
                         language, Ophelia's story becomes the Story of O—the zero,
                         the empty circle or mystery of feminine difference, the cipher
                         of female sexuality to be deciphered by feminist interpretation.

   She thinks “nothing” says
   this to both Hamlet and                                       Ophelia’s madness

 Ophelia's virginal and vacant white is contrasted with Hamlet's
 scholar's garb, his “suits of solemn black.” Her flowers suggest the
 discordant double images of female sexuality as both innocent
 blossoming and whorish contamination;

 In Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, the stage direction that a
 woman enters with disheveled hair indicates that she might either
 be mad or the victim of a rape; the disordered hair, her offense
 against decorum, suggests sensuality in each case.
                                                •Hamlet has a misogynistic
Ophelia’s Relationships With Males              attitude towards women in
                                                general. He therefore pushes
                                                Ophelia away.

            •She is subservient and obedient
                •Act 2- the two authority figures in her life: her father and
                her brother “supposedly” give her advice, but really meant to
                frighten and insult her love for Hamlet, which led her to
                doubt herself, her trust in love, and Hamlet’s intentions
                •Trying to submit to her father and to be a good potential
                wife for Hamlet has brought her nothing. Or rather, it has
                brought her shattering grief and madness. Her father warns
                her more abruptly: “You do not understand yourself so
                clearly / As it behoves my daughter and your honour”
                (I.iii.97-98). She is his child, his property, a vessel of
                procreation, no more but so
                •Both her brother and her father warn her repeatedly to
                defend her honor, her virginity, which is the fragile basis for
                woman's respectability and personal value in patriarchal
                                               Ophelia - Dependent on men to
                                               tell her how to behave virgin and
                                               daughter vs lover and
Gertrude and Ophelia’s Relationships           whoreophelia is used by the men
      with the male characters                 around her.polonius' daughter
                                               and spylaertes' sister who is
                                               under his control and will do
                                               what he askshamlets' lover: she
                                               will perform her wifely duties
                                               even though she is not
 The Gertrude who does emerge clearly        the differences: Gertrude is
 in Hamlet is a woman defined by her         strong enough to manipulate the
 desire for station and affection, as well   men around her but its the men
 as by her tendency to use men to fulfill    around her that accidentally lead
 her instinct for self-preservation—         her to her demise. Ophelia is
 which, of course, makes her extremely       weak and her innocence and
 dependent upon the men in her               dependence on men destroy her
 life. She is at her best in social          also. the difference is the men in
 situations when her natural grace and       Ophelia's life love her but their
 charm seem to indicate a rich, rounded      love and repression cause her
 personality. At times it seems that her     insanity and suicide. but in both
                                             cases these women are
 grace and charm are
                                             dependent on the m en in their
 her only characteristics, and her
                                             lives who though provide them
 reliance on men appears to be her sole      meaning in their life, cause their
 way of capitalizing on her abilities.       deaths as well
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