By Marshal Wang
Harvey Weinstein, famous for all the wrong reasons, was put on trial for the second time on charges of sexual assault and rape. His ill-famed acts of using his position against women behind the Hollywood scenes went unnoticed for decades only to be revealed recently. Despite years of rumours, the implicit power associated with his name protected Weinstein. With 94% of women reporting sexual abuse or harassment in Hollywood and many cases of director’s threatening the halt of actress’ careers, the issue runs deep (Pulver, 2018). Outside these reprehensible actions in and of themselves, a more holistic message emerges—the exploitation of women and their resultant lack of control over their fates.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet details this theme of the oppressive nature of patriarchies. Renowned for its ability to scare o highschoolers, Hamlet stands as a powerful social commentary regarding social differences and familial tragedies. Besides this, the play furthers a less obvious side commentary over the role of women. The only two notable female characters, Ophelia and Gertrude, are often seen as feminine, controllable foils to the rest of the male characters. Despite their status and titles, none of the females in Hamlet have control over their fate. Whether this be the classic depiction of purity and innocence through Ophelia or through Gertrude’s mysterious behind-the-scenes meddling, does status really separate the two?
Ophelia is seen as a low status daughter to an advisor of the royal family. With no social power of her own, she is aliased with those in positions of power over her: Hamlet, the crown prince, and Polonius, her father and advisor to the king. Whether this be through her usage as a spy for the king and her father or Hamlet’s misogyny towards her through his infamous quote “get thee to a nunnery”, her position as an autonomous human being is threatened. Her quick wit, in her ability to keep audience with Hamlet’s tirade of insults, shows her as capable of fending for herself. Shakespeare’s depiction of her character as an intelligent, caring woman with no options and no one to fall back to leads to her resultant death. This type of abuse can be easy to visualize and see in our culture—people in lesser positions of power, similar to many aspiring actresses in Hollywood can be seen.
The juxtaposition of Ophelia’s character is Gertrude. As a possible contender for the most powerful woman in Denmark at the time, her role in the play is a bit disfigured. Gertrude is a powerful character who controls actions behind-the-scenes. The King of Denmark is determined the moment she decides to marry Claudius rather than let Hamlet sit upon the throne. Her political power and influence of the royal court is unrivalled. More importantly is how she defies Elizabethan standards of femininity with her actions and lack of focal point in a singular man. Despite this, she is shackled by the patriarchy of her time. When Hamlet speaks to her with ill-tongue, she has no rebuke, and Claudius has the final say in all her decisions. Her one act of defiance, through drinking the poisoned drink, changes the course of Denmark, but ultimately ends her own life in the process.
In the castles of Elsinore, the structure of patriarchy runs deep, limiting the free will of women both powerful and weak alike. The play details the idea that no matter what roles or status a person has, it is effectively neutralized by a patriarchal society, even in a play from over 400 years ago. Weinstein’s case is likely one of just many examples of the exploitation of females due to disparity of power and innate power placed on men. His abuse of his power as a well-known director against women who were effectively under his control is mirrored strongly by Hamlet. Shakespeare’s commentary on the importance of abolishing these set power hierarchies rings true even today, whether that be in Hollywood, workplace, or politics. Systemic change is necessary to protect those who are vulnerable. We must place an emphasis on this issue which impacts so many aspects of our lives. We must stand up and bring light to this problem. We must end this issue.
Pulver, A. (2018, February 22). 94% of women in Hollywood experience sexual harassment or assault, says survey. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/21/94-of-women-in-hollywood-experience-sexual-ha rassment-or-assault-says-survey