Hypocriticisms: Double Standards in Literature No. 4

Clipart depicting two women. Left, a woman is bent double and struggling under a huge stack of books. Right, a woman stands on her tiptoes to add another book to the top of the stack.

Welcome back to Hypocritisms, the series in which we list a few double standards we find in literature!

If you’ve ever read a book, you might have noticed that sometimes there are some double standards.  All kinds. It’s not limited to gender roles or sexuality. Just like in real life, you see discrimination for aspects like age, religion, justice/law, race/nationality, nepotism, and so on.

We can’t talk about double standards without mentioning poor little actually pretty badass (if not a little unstable) Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Here’s just a few of my favorites:

Ophelia tells her brother off for telling her to keep her legs closed. She says she’s not going to listen to someone who “recks not his own rede” – heeds not his own advice. Basically, “I’ll keep my legs closed if you keep it in your pants. Have fun at college.” 

A bit later, Ophelia returns Hamlet’s love letters because she doesn’t want attention from an unkind person like him. Of course, finding himself on the losing side of the argument, Hamlet attacks her sexual reputation, claiming she tricked him—you know, because he felt something below the belt and obviously it was her fault.  

They argue about that back and forth about this a bit, she saying “I was the more deceived.” So she stuck up for herself there, but Hamlet literally drove her insane by constantly pestering her to open her legs to him. He probably sent her a few penis portraits whilst he was abroad. (All puns intended.)

Oh, and he murdered her father but that probably had less to do with it, right?

(ID: Ink drawing depicting Hamlet drawing aside a curtain, knife in hand, revealing the dead body of Polonius, whom he just stabbed. Captions over it read: Ophelia: baby come over. Hamlet: I can’t I’m hiding a body. Ophelia: my dad isn’t home. Hamlet: I know.)

What double standards have you noticed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

-Leigh Ann

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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