28.01.2020 in Exploratory

Text And Tradition Assessment

Recently, there appeared the prevailing viewpoint that the Enlightenment and the Renaissance writers used female characters to support the main male characters and reveal their hidden traits to the audience. The supportive role of the female characters has resulted in the popularization of a viewpoint that they play the insignificant role, stand behind the male protagonists, and have no autonomous story. This work aims at confirming that despite the fact that female characters add some shades of meaning to the image of the work’s male heroes, they also denote their own stories to the audience. Without female protagonists, the works become deprived of the gender roles and lose their appeal. In order to certify this statement, it is worth analyzing Hamlet by William Shakespeare and “Fifth Walk” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 

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Hamlet and Female Characters

Hamlet is one the most studied and popular plays ever written by William Shakespeare. In this work, William Shakespeare has masterfully portrayed not only the fate of his protagonist, but also revealed the public the fate of female characters. The work has two female characters, and their stories not only support the plot, but also enrich it with contextual and cognitive details.


At first, it is worth analyzing the role of Gertrude in this work. Her life and her deeds set the tone of the work, and initially, the readers are even more excited about her fate. From the very beginning, the author attracts the reader’s attention with this character. At first, it is Hamlet who plays the additional role, as he is portrayed as the victim of the decisions made by his mother Gertrude. Fisher and Silber state that despite the fact that Gertrude is generally perceived as a one-dimensional character, close investigations show that she is more complex than it appears at first glance. She is one of the most provocative characters in the play Hamlet. Gertrude cannot be simply considered a silly woman, who has been deceived. She intrigues the readers by her relationships with the husband’s brother. At the Shakespearean times, such kind of behavior was perceived as incest. Moreover, Shakespeare uses Gertrude as character in order to create the atmosphere of misery and secrecy. The target audience constantly thinks whether she has been deceived and simply started the relationship with her husband’s brother or whether she is has been truly insidious and has planned her husband’s death together with Claudius. Predinger, Lester, and Ishizuka emphasize that Gertrude represents the Matriarch archetype. This fact definitely intrigued the reader even more than sufferings of Hamlet. Analysis of Gertrude’s actions reveals the fact that she is a truly mature and intelligent woman who manages to speak her mind. She boldly tells Claudius and Polonius that the main reason for Ophelia’s madness is the death of her husband and her marriage. Research of this female character shows that, despite the fact that public often disregards the significance of Gertrude’s participation in the play, she is truly one of the key dramatic persons of this tragedy. Gertrude represents the medieval sample of a vamp woman and attracts the readers with her anarchic female sexuality. She is smart, self-confident, and even crafty. The plays centers on the story of her life since it was Gertrude, who had buried husband and got married to his brother.

Ophelia has also played essential role in the play, but it is different from the one played by Gertrude. She is the icon of effective sufferings. There is a viewpoint that Shakespeare has created the character of Ophelia to mirror the play’s protagonist Hamlet. Their fate is similar. Both lost their parents and both experienced severe sufferings because of that. It might be stated that unlike in Gertrude’s case, it is quite difficult of perceive the story of Ophelia without Hamlet. The problem is that she is the manifestation of Hamlet’s story, but not her own. She performs the role of a puzzle that depicts Hamlet’s suffering. Ophelia has truly occupied the marginal status in the work, and her madness represents the inability of a woman to outlive the difficulties of patriarchal society. With the help of this character, Shakespeare attempted to shed light on the limited roles, provided to women at his times. 

General analysis of the female characters applied in Hamlet has shown that they truly perform significant role. One cannot assume that they simply represent and enlighten the male characters only. Unlike the general viewpoint, Gertrude character turned out to be essential for the story’s development. Shakespeare portrayed her not as addition to Hamlet’s image, but as independent character with her own fate, actions, destiny, and failures. Unfortunately, the critics often represent Gertrude as weak one-dimensional character, but the play investigation has found out that author managed to depict her as complex dramatic figure. She did not serve as character, aimed at revealing the Hamlet’s hidden traits. Gertrude turned out to be intelligent and smart woman, who maintained the reader’s attention due to her rebellious and noteworthy behavior. One might argue stating that there was nothing rebellious in her decision to marry her husband’s brother; however, it is not so. She went against the public viewpoint and even disregarded the viewpoint of her son, whom she truly loved. Taking into account the temporal period of this play, one can state that Gertrude has broken all the rules and norms. It is quite difficult to state whether she was a positive or negative character but the truth is that her deeds were catchy, and her role was groundbreaking. Gertrude performed bright and really important part in this work. Despite the fact that she did not participate in the dialogues quite frequently, she managed to express her inner nature during that moments, when she appeared on the stage. 

In case Ophelia, the situation is quite different, as her role is tightly linked to Hamlet. There is a viewpoint that author created this character in order to shed light on the Hamlet’s inner feelings. There is a feeling that Shakespeare concentrated not on the madness and death of Ophelia, but on their effects on Hamlet. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and His “Fifth Walk”

The “Fifth Walk” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the part of his Reveries of a Solitary Walker. The book initially represents Rousseau’s miserable senses. Norris emphasizes that in this work, Rousseau represents the protagonist as the “victim of a society that has conspired against him and in so doing conspired against itself”. This part enlightens the thoughts of male protagonist. Slowly, Rousseau introduces his defensive celebration of his feeling of existence to the reader. The author is very concentrated on depicting all the shades of his soul. Jean-Jacques Rousseau deprives this part of the work of the female characters and produces the bittersweet reflections only. 

It is quite difficult to compare this work to Hamlet, because they are different. In Hamlet, Shakespeare attempts to denote his ideas to the mass audience through the depiction of certain situation. Rousseau simply allows readers to penetrate into his stream of consciousness. He depicts his life on the island and his inner thought; however, without presence of female characters, this part seems to disperse the idea of loneliness and remoteness from the real world. 

Absence of the female characters in “Fifth Walk” dispossesses this part from the contrasting viewpoint towards the author’s thoughts. The author is concentrated on his feelings, and presence of a female character could dilute it a bit. It would add some new shades of meaning and would make the text more appealing. If there were a female character in “Fifth Walk”, the author could use it to support his ideas or, on the contrary, object them, to reveal different angle of his life vision to the readers. 


After conducting the analysis of two works written by William Shakespeare and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one may state with confidence that presence of female characters makes the plot and the story in general more intriguing. By their nature, women are different from men.  They are often involved in drama and various risky and unthoughtful deeds. However, these things attract the reader’s interest. Presence of female characters provides additional connotations to the story. It becomes more colourful, and it is much more interesting for the reader to find the author’s main idea.

The main objective of this paper was confirmation that female characters might be independent and be truly significant, even outside the male protagonists. This research has managed to prove it partially. The bright example is Queen Gertrude from the play Hamlet. Unlike the general viewpoint, her character turned out to be quite autonomous despite its direct connection to Hamlet’s personality. Gertrude, her life, and marriage are interesting for the readers even outside the story of Hamlet. She is an embodiment of anarchic female sexuality, inner pin, determinacy, and even motherly love. She is a mix of different traits that seem to be nonbonding at first sight. However, Ophelia, another female character, fully corresponds to the idea that writers create female characters to reveal the traits of the male counterparts better. Finally, it should be admitted that female characters are necessary, as they add specific features to the work and make it distinct from thousands of other writings.


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