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Ophelia and Gertrude are the only two female characters in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. In the play, Gertrude is the mother of protagonist Hamlet, and Ophelia is the love interest of Hamlet. In many ways, Ophelia is similar to Gertrude. They seem to be the same person at different stages of their lives. Along with similarities, they both have some differences too. In the play, these similarities and differences influence Ophelia’s character and her tragic fate. Although Ophelia and Gertrude are two different women of different generations, they seem to be trapped in the same condition in the play Hamlet. This essay will be focusing on how Ophelia is similar to and different from the older women Gertrude in the play, how the similarities and differences influence Ophelia’s character and her tragic fate, and also my thoughts regarding what Shakespeare might be saying or showing via these intergenerational differences.

Firstly, I am going to discuss how Ophelia is both similar to and different from the older women Gertrude in the play. One of the similarities between Ophelia and Gertrude is that they are both dependent on men. Gertrude’s dependency on men shows up when she quickly gets married to Claudius after the death of King Hamlet. Ophelia is also dependent on men. Ophelia’s dependence on men shows up when her father Polonius is accidentally murdered by Hamlet. She was dependent on her father. She becomes mad after the death of her father. They both are easily manipulated and influenced by the men in their lives. In the case of Gertrude, she is manipulated by Claudius. She believes what Claudius says to her. She is so manipulated by Claudius that she doesn’t even want to believe that Claudius has murdered her late husband King Hamlet. Like Gertrude, Ophelia is also manipulated and influenced by men. In her life, she does everything according to her brother Laertes’s and her father Polonius’s choices. She obeys and does everything that her brother Laertes and her father Polonius tell her to do. Despite loving Hamlet, she avoids him when her father tells her to do so. I also see men’s manipulation in her life when she says ‘ I shall obey my lord ‘ (1.3.140).

Here, she is referring to being obedient to her father and brother.

Another similarity between Ophelia and Gertrude is that Hamlet sees both of them as deceiving women. According to Hamlet, Gertrude has betrayed his father by quickly getting married to his uncle Claudius after the death of his father. Because of this deception from his mother, he transfers his anger towards women in general which also includes Ophelia. That is one reason why Hamlet sees Ophelia as deceiving. Also, he is aware of the fact that Ophelia’s father Polonius, and brother Laertes are using her against him. Because of this, Ophelia is avoiding him. That is why, he tells Ophelia that he is aware of her deception by telling her :

‘ I have heard of your paintings too,

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well, enough.

God has given you one face and

you make yourselves another’ (3.1.143-146). One of the main differences between Ophelia and Gertrude is their love for Hamlet. Although they both love Hamlet, they love him in different ways. Gertrude loves him in a motherly way, and Ophelia loves him as a lover. Another difference between them is that Gertrude’s family has a higher status than Ophelia’s family. Gertrude is the queen of Denmark, and her family is a royal family. On the other hand, Ophelia’s family is connected to the royal family only because her father Polonius is the councilor of King Claudius. In the play, Gertrude maintains a quiet status. She loves her husband Claudius and always stands by him. Although she maintains quiet status, her choice to love Claudius makes the play chaotic. On the other hand, Ophelia is a type of outspoken person. Even though she is manipulated by the men of her family, she still speaks her heart and continues her goal to love Hamlet.

These are some of the similarities and differences between Ophelia and Gertrude in the play Hamlet.

Now I am going to discuss how these similarities and differences influence Ophelia’s character and her tragic fate. Ophelia is a sweet and innocent girl. She always obeys her father Polonius and her brother Laertes. When they asked her to avoid Hamlet, she started to avoid him. Despite loving Hamlet, she obeys her father’s order not to see Hamlet. Through this manipulation of her father and brother, she returns the little presents that Hamlet had given her in the past. Hamlet gets really angry at this behavior of her. So, he loses all the anger and bitterness toward Ophelia that he has been feeling since his mother’s marriage to his uncle Claudius. Ophelia couldn’t bear the rude behavior of Hamlet. She becomes really upset. Here, we see Ophelia hasn’t done anything wrong but she is suffering because of the manipulation of men in her life. Men’s manipulation surely affects and influences her character. Because of men’s manipulation, she is taking actions that she doesn’t want to take. Ophelia’s dependence upon men and her love for Hamlet also influence her character and her tragic fate. In the play, Ophelia is dependent on her father. When Hamlet accidentally murders Polonius the father of Ophelia, then Ophelia becomes really mad with grief. Because her father has been murdered by the man she is in love with. Ophelia’s madness drove her toward her tragic fate. Although it is not confirmed whether Ophelia committed suicide or not, her death is definitely a result of her tragic fate. Despite not doing anything wrong, she has been victimized by Hamlet’s madness and manipulated by her father Polonius, and her brother Laertes. Men’s actions and manipulation influenced her character and that ultimately led to her tragic fate. This is how the similarities and differences influenced Ophelia’s character and her tragic fate.

I think by these intergenerational differences, Shakespeare might be saying over the years in a patriarchal society how women are objectified and manipulated by men. Shakespeare also might be showing how women are affected by men’s misogynistic behavior. In the play Hamlet, Gertrude, and Ophelia are the only two women of different generations. Despite the intergenerational differences, they both seem to face the same kind of problem at different stages of their lives. Through this play, Shakespeare has shown us in a patriarchal society how men manipulate women and objectifies women as they want. Men have the power of controlling women’s actions. Shakespeare has illustrated this through the actions and words of Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, and Laertes. The patriarchal society has given these men the power to treat women of their lives like an object and control their actions. Claudius has manipulated Gertrude and used her as an object to become king. Ophelia’s father Polonius and brother Laertes also used her as an object and controlled her actions. Throughout the play, Shakespeare has also shown us men’s misogynistic behavior towards women. Gertrude and Ophelia both are misunderstood by Hamlet. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude married his uncle Claudius who had murdered his father King Hamlet. Hamlet couldn’t accept his mother’s quick move on with his uncle Claudius. After Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius, Hamlet started to build a rage against women. He started to hate women in general. He has also started to see women as weak, unloyal, seductresses, and pretenders. He also builds the same misogynistic behavior towards Ophelia. He didn’t even want to understand the circumstances of Ophelia and Gertrude. Hamlet’s misogynistic eyes failed to see that if Ophelia didn’t obey her father and brother what would have happened to her? He also failed to see that Gertrude might have Claudius out of fear. Rather, he has behaved with them disrespectfully. Hamlet’s misogynistic behavior has an impact on Gertrude’s and Ophelia’s demise. Through, Hamlet Shakespeare has shown us over the years in a patriarchal society men’s misogynistic behavior toward women.

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