Christina Attwood tells the story of aChristina Attwood tells the story of a

Christina Chiarlitti

Mrs. Racco

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ENG 4U1a

Wednesday January 17, 2018

Culminating Performance Task:

The Roles of Woman in Hamlet and
The Handmaid’s Tale


The play Hamlet by William
Shakespeare is a work of betrayal, revenge and death.  The main character Hamlet is faced with a
moral dilemma when he is told by the ghost of his dead father that his own
brother killed him. Hamlet chooses to take revenge on his uncle not only for
the death of his father, but his rightful title and dishonoring his mother’s
commitment to the late king. To do so he must take on an antic disposition and
appear to be insane in front of his family and friends. Of course, like any
other Shakespearian tragedy this leads Hamlet and the rest of the characters to
their downfall.


The Handmaid’s Tail by Margrett
Attwood tells the story of a future closely associated to the world’s current
time in which human production rates are down due to pollution and chemical
spills. This causes the government to be overthrown and women to be treated as
property to their husbands. There was a system put in place where married
couples are to keep handmaids for reproduction proposes. The book follows one of
the handmaids Offred; the story goes back and forth between her past before the
US turned into the Republic of Gilead and the present where she is living as a
handmaid for The Commander and his wife Serina Joy. The book is open ended as
the readers are told that this material was used for learning purposes only and
no one ever found out what happened to Offred after the events of the novel.


Both Hamlet and The Handmaid’s Tale
share the same theme of women being mistreated. Hamlet show this through the two
female characters Ophelia and Gertrude and how the men around them treat them
and what they expect from them. In The Handmaid’s Tale it’s shown through the
women in the past and the present living up to the norms established by Gilead
and their assigned families.


In Shakespeare’s plays he always
used examples of how women were treated in the 1600’s to construct his female
characters. Most of the women Shakespeare create symbolize innocence and
purity. All of Shakespeare female characters have a purpose this is the same
with the Women of Hamlet. Ophelia is created to be Hamlet’s foil, she contrasts
all of Hamlet’s traits he shows during the play. Unlike Hamlet, Ophelia does
not have an antic disposition she does truly go mad. Ophelia is dependent on
the others in the play this is opposite to Hamlet because he tales his act of
revenge upon himself instead of having anyone else be involved. This can also
be seen when Ophelia first went mad, she went crazy because the people she
depended on most in her life either wanted to kill each other or were already
dead. “That it should come to this: But two months dead—nay, not so much, not
two. So excellent a king, that was, to this Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to
my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too
roughly. Heaven and Earth. Must I remember? why, she would hang on him As if
increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on. And yet, within a month Let
me not think on ‘t; frailty, thy name is woman!” (1.2.141-150) Gertrude is used
as a mediator between Claudius’ character and Hamlet’s. In Shakespeare’s time
women were always treated as if they were the inferior gender and they had to
take orders from them no matter what standing the woman had. This made
Shakespearian women seem week; Shakespeare shows this in his characters Ophelia
and Gertrude as they are shown to not be able to completely think for
themselves simply because they are women.


Attwood takes a similar approach
with her characters from The Handmaids Tale. She places her characters in a
situation where they were respected and had rights and wound back the clock to
bring them back to the 1600’s mindset that Shakespeare always referred to.
Instead of making women second class to men by having the overall story
surround the male characters; Margret Attwood made the women of her story have
the most significant role in the overall plot and showed the same situation
from the woman’s eyes. “Freedom,
like everything else, is relative.” (Margret Attwood, The Handmaid’s Tale) In the
novel the same relationship between men and women showed in Hamlet can be seen.
Men treat women as they are something to be owned and taken care of; women are
treated like the pets of the men in Gilead. The novel shows women in six
categories Handmaids, Jezebels, Unwomen, Marthas, Wives and Aunts. Handmaids as
procreators, Jezebels and Unwomen as the ones who have been shunned by Gilead,
Marthas as house keepers, Wives as citizens that rely on her husband for
everything, and Aunts as the teachers of Gilead.


In Hamlet the women don’t get many
chances to show their strengths. Ophelia did get to have her moments of
independence, but her dependence of others is what lead her to death. “Fear it,
Ophelia; fear it, my dear sister, And keep you in the rear of your affection, Out
of the shot and danger of desire.” (1.3.27-39) In the play Gertrude shows
herself as a strong woman; unlike other females of her time she does not always
answer to or take orders from the men around her. When Hamlet begs her to not
sleep with Claudius she doesn’t give him the luxury of a direct answer. Instead
Gertrude later on decided to not sleep with Claudius on her on accord. Gertrude
again shows an act of independence at the end of the play when she is about to
die and tells Hamlet the drink is poison; even though she knows that telling
Hamlet is an act against Claudius.


Through the novel the strengths of
the women are showed countlessly even though their new rules are very restricting
towards them. “Better never means better for everyone…
It always means worse, for some.” (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale)  The Handmaids show defiance towards their new
system the society and how they’ve been treated because of their sexuality.
Offred does her best to not go mad through the book, she does this by going
over the events of her past and reading the commanders magazines to pass time.
While Offred goes over her past she learns to suppress her feelings for her
husband and her daughter, she uses this multiple times especially when she
discovers what her true feelings are towards the commander. She defies the
Gilead system on countless occasions by stealing, illegally speaking, illegal
relationships and having material goods. Offred was very well informed that
this was all illegal, but still did these illegal acts to go against the
system.  Serina Joy is shown to be
against the system as well; she is visibly upset that her husband must have
relations with another woman. She attempts to suppress her anger with her
gardening and smoking, these habits tend to fail to hide her understandable
anger. Olfgen, even though part of the resistance she still follows the same
expectance as every woman living in Gilead even if she hates it.  In The Handmaid’s Tale woman are shown as
possessions or pets of the men. They must have their husbands approve
everything they do.


Hamlet shows woman being treated
according to their status, because both female character of Hamlet are of high
status they are treated differently then other women of Denmark. Ophelia, since
she was Polonius’ daughter was treated very highly by most people in the play.
Ophelia’s status was lower than Hamlet and Claudius; which is why she is seen
to be mistreated by both of them. Hamlet puts Ophelia through verbal abuse
countless times and plays on her emotions just so he could justify his antic
disposition. @Listen to many, speak to a few.” (1.3.65) Claudius treated
Ophelia like she was nothing to him, when she died Claudius simply did not
care. Gertrude was very respected by the people of Denmark. Hamlet does
mistreat his mother, he would insult her and held her as the reason why he
hates woman. Claudius treated his wife as if she did not have a say in
decisions. He married her only for her status but barely listens to her valid
points through the play. The same situations are seen with The Handmaid’s tale.


The Handmaid’s Tale is based around
how the women are treated in this new society called Gilead. Offred is treated
as just a baby carrier, she is seen to only be respected when she is presumed
pregnant. Though Handmaid are viewed as valuable in Gilead thy are still seen
as possessions of men and are still wrongly treated by their commanders. Moira
was treated the worst of the other characters of the novel she was not worthy
enough to have a status and was forced to be a prostitute. She is seen as an
out cast because she did not have a man who possessed her. The maids such as
Cora and Rita were given respect within their homes and were given much more
freedom since they served their commander and his wife. Serina Joy, since she
is a Wife was given much respect. She was unable to leave the house during the
novel and was regarded as the authority of the home. “A
rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.” (Margaret
Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale) Aunts like Aunt Lydia are given most respect in
the novel and are given the most authority over all ranks. She is not well
liked amongst Handmaids.


In both works women are not at all
respected. They are described to be tolerated and are not given great power.
The woman like Serina Joy and Gertrude who do know they have power still do not
have say in their husband’s actions or their home life. They choose to accept
their husband’s choices and do not speak out against them. It is seen as the
man’s job to look after the woman like they are possessions such as pets. Both
works have a large theme against woman; in Hamlet it’s his hatred towards them
and how he mistreats them after he realizes his feelings. In The Handmaid’s
Tale it is the government that decides the women shall be used as possessions
and stripped them of the rights they had leading up to the events of Gilead.
Our current world respects woman; though women do not have all the same rights
as men western governments are trying to equalize them.