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Unformatted text preview: Maurice Charney, former president of the Shakespeare Association of America, said that because, in Renaissance drama madwomen were "more strongly defined than madmen" and because women's madness was "interpreted as something specifically feminine," the dramatist's use of feminine depictions of madness was able to give women a chance to "make a forceful assertion of their being" in a way which convention had always prevented. 1 But there is more to this case than simply regarding madness as an all-around escape for women. The reader presupposes this idea on the fact that Shakespeare did not create all gender-specific characters alike; that, in Shakespeares writing, there is a clear distinction between a female character and her role and a male character and his role. More specifically, in Shakespeares Hamlet, it is quite easy to see this alternative as a relatively ingenious way of supplying a larger feminine role without complicating a story with more characters. Hamlet is the story of a young Prince who is set on a path to revenge his fathers death all the while coming to terms with his uncle being the murderer, his mother marrying his uncle, and a love interest that has far too many men in her life already. What is interesting to see in this story is that, although there is a healthy supply of females in the story, Shakespeare has not cast them as the typical heroine-types. He has actually had Hamlet assume this role. In Shakespeare's writing, there is a clear repetition of characteristics that are found in each gender. Women, in his plays, tend to be passive, naive, soft, and obedient. Men are arrogant, impulsive, demanding, and generally aggressive. Perhaps the best example of this dynamic can be found in Shakespeare's Othello , not Hamlet . Desdemona, the feminine role, has a character that is almost eclipsed by the more overbearing 1 Charney, Maurice. How to Read Shakespeare . New York, McGraw-Hill, 1971. Othello. When, in a bout of jealousy, Othello physical strikes and screams at Desdemona, her exact words in response are "I am a child to chiding" and nothing else. 2 Society is more to blame for the widespread idea that the feminine is the weaker and often dependent gender than literature alone. However, the female role is often unequipped to deal with the male's actions. There would never have been, in Renaissance times, a world-world or theatrical scene in which a female character like Desdemona's would strike back because it wasnt acceptable. Consequently, it is no surprise that there is a marked distinction between Hamlets character in the first four acts of the play and his in the fifth. In the first four, this essay will suggest that Hamlet assumes more of a feminine role because he must come to terms with all that happens. In the last act, he finally takes action. I will examine Shakespeares use of this dichotomy of character, the character arc of Hamlet, and the relationship Hamlet has with other characters to show how...
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