English 12, Period 1
March 14, 2019
Shakespeare's Use of Stereotypes In Hamlet
As readers of Shakespeare in the 21st century, the topic of gender roles, stereotypes, and
hyper masculinity/ femininity become more apparent than ever. Hamlet was made in the 17th
century where the gender roles in place during that time were drastically different to the current
modern lifestyle. The further the story progresses in Hamlet the more Shakespeare uses
femininity and masculinity to create conflicts within the plot. This is shown through the inner
conflicts of Hamlet through his father’s death,the tale of Ophelia's love, and emotional
manipulation of Laertes. Shakespeare use the stereotypes and social constructs for men and
women to create conflict in order to further the story of Hamlet.
The character most used as an example of gender roles would be Ophelia. Throughout the
story of Hamlet her femininity is used as a starting point to create conflict within the plot. In the
first act as Laertes is departing he tells Ophelia
It fits your wisdom so far to believe it
As he in his particular act and place
May give his saying deed, which is no further
Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal.
Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmastered importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia. Fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection. (I,iii,25)
Shakespeare uses the generic ideas of femininity by having Laertes, a male figure, to determine
Ophelia’s choices in life. The idea of having men dominate women was a very common
occurrence during Shakespeare’s time period, and it clearly translates when he has Laertes
suggest that Ophelia should better protect her “chaste treasure” or her virginity/ purity. His
purpose in this was not only to protect her from Hamlet but also to secure her likeness towards
other potential men by still being innocent. This plays into her madness she eventually reaches;
Ophelia throughout this story had been pressured into the ideas of maintaining her purity for
marriage, but as soon as she gives herself to Hamlet, expecting marriage, she is rejected leading
to her ruin.
Not only is the use of femininity used as a point to set character’s roles in this society but
Shakespeare also uses hypermasculinity in order to set the tone of what a male, specifically
Hamlet, should be in during this time and how they should adhere to it. When Hamlet was
mourning over the death of his father, Claudius comes to him and says
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness. 'Tis unmanly grief.
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschooled.
For what we know must be and is as common. (I,ii,93)
Claudius calls attention to Hamlet’s weakness of showing too much emotion and being
vulnerable over an occurrence that continuously happens throughout...