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Ophelia's Double Standard Essay

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After the death of her father and departure of Hamlet, Ophelia arrives at the castle and pays an unsolicited visit to the royal majesties. She sings, “Young men will do’t, if they come to’t./ By Cock, they are to blame” (4.5.60-61). This passage is often interpreted as Ophelia airing the grievances that Hamlet has committed toward her--namely, he used her solely for sexual pleasure and discarded her when he lost interest. In summary, Ophelia exposes the double standard prevalent in her society: to a man, a woman’s value lies only in her virginity. She blames “Cock”, which represents the patriarchy at large, for society’s willingness to excuse male lust and irresponsibility. This is often presented in a “boys will be boys” or “He can do x because…show more content…
When Laertes arrives back from Paris, he confront Claudius at the castle, only to have Ophelia interrupt him. Upon hearing her song, he remarks, “This nothing’s more than matter” (4.5.173). The reason that these meaningless words mean more than words with meaning is because they are in fact not meaningless. Ophelia is still very much conscious and perceptive as before, except unlike before, she is verbalizing her thoughts and observations. Although she still retains some gender appropriate behaviors in this enlightened state--like encrypting her intent in song form instead of blurting them out--her assertive tone, unabashedness, and willingness to take action all contradict her previous teachings. Thus, Ophelia’s “madness” is determined by the extent to which she subverts female gender expectations. The more she exhibits traits traditionally associated with men, the more “mad” she becomes. In this context, Ophelia serves as both a caricature and a warning against female enlightenment as told through a patriarchal lense. She is ultimately ostracized from society, implying that women who seek freedom will receive the same fate as
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