Teenage queens of tragedy: the protagonist of Romeo and Juliet, Ophelia and the men of Hamlet

It is not easy being a girl, especially a young girl in love. First, you need to worry about what your parents will think about your new child. Second, you need to find out how intimately you want to get with said guy. Then, of course, there’s the whole boyfriend-killed-a-relative-and-been-exile thing. Well, this is how William Shakespeare writes about the tragic love of young people: always tense between child and family loyalties. What can a girl do?

Well, given Shakespeare’s literary history in Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, young women commit suicide when divided between lovers and families. Of course, those incidents have a tragic effect, but we are getting ahead of ourselves here. In fact, Romeo’s Juliet and Hamlet’s Ophelia have become something of adolescent female idols, for better or for worse. Juliet, probably the most famous 13-year-old wife of the last 400 years, is often the first introduction of high school students to Shakespeare’s female characters. Ophelia is also another identifiable character, often used as a symbol of marginalized adolescent girls in countless psychological and feminist works, including books from Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia to Sara Shandler’s Ophelia Speaks.

However, what makes these two female characters figures of interest, beyond their emotional passion and tragic endings, is their relationship with the men in their lives and how they cope. Ophelia is often seen as a victim of good patriarchy, thanks in part to Shakespeare’s comprehensive description. She is completely obedient to her father and brother, who constantly use her as pawns to trap Hamlet or instruct her on how to protect her euphemized “button” – or flower bud – because a “deflowered” woman is the worst thing there is.

In fact, a quick survey of select quotes from Hamlet shows that the play is constantly concerned with his sexuality, as well as that of Queen Gertrude, hence many literary scholars are eager to point out some incestuous hints of the Danish prince. Most of the prominent quotes – such as the famous “get yourself into a nunnery” tirade against Ophelia – are accusatory or condemnatory phrases of Hamlet, whose misogyny runs rampant in the story of the murder of his father and the fratricide of his uncle. . In fact, the whole business of the murdered father occasionally takes a backseat to Hamlet’s concerns about Ophelia’s and her mother’s sexual purity or lack thereof, which is emphasized as the only value of a woman in the play.

Back to Ophelia. After Hamlet unintentionally but without regret kills his father, he goes insane, delivering symbolic flowers and herbs from the garden (there is a full botanical theme here) and then falls into the river and drowns. Whether it was intentional or accidental is unknown, but many critics are in the suicide camp, and are quick to argue that his death occurred because the loss of his father destabilized his life so drastically that he was unable to cope and reunite. no personal agency for herself. Victim of the oppressive patriarchal society.

Juliet has different but equally difficult situations with the men in her life. However, unlike Ofelia, she possesses an unexpected maturity, despite being only 13 years old. Girls mature faster than boys, apparently. She starts off heavily dependent on her family (again, she’s only 13 years old) but evolves throughout the play as someone who makes her own decisions, to hell with family. In fact, she decides to choose Romeo over her family, especially after they try to force her to marry Paris. Little do they know that she is already married (TURN!) And staying with her man, even though he killed her cousin. While that may seem naive and a bit unhealthy, staying with someone who violently killed a blood relative, she makes her bed and lies in it too. In fact, she has the gall to fake her own death in that very bed and evade her family so she can live happily ever after with Romeo. Too bad Romeo didn’t get the whole fake death memo. Moral of the work: check your messages.

For a young woman of this time, you are surely breaking a lot of rules, but you are unapologetic about it, shedding the demands and restrictions that are placed on you simply because of your gender. Of course she does it for a guy, but she does it anyway. When he decides to follow Romeo’s suicide, he does so by choice and with conviction, something we cannot say about Ofelia. Of course, Juliet had bet her entire family on her relationship with Romeo and cannot easily reconcile with them, especially since they believe she is dead and they also threaten to disown her if she does not marry Paris. In fact, that’s one area where Ofelia and Juliet share something in common: the loss of family support and stability. Their shared situation, whether by choice or not, points to the larger theme surrounding these iconic Shakespearean female characters. They operate in a world that is not only unforgiving to them, but is built with a built-in hatch in case they go out of bounds. They have no real safety net, no backup plan, no agency, or survival skills. Ofelia goes crazy with the idea, while Juliet opts for suicide due to a lack of viable options. Shakespeare, a playwright whom Virginia Woolf praised as someone who could write knowingly from both male and female perspectives, understood this. Their deaths, caused by a lack of support, are the real tragedy.

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