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Alena Kuczynski First Year Seminar - 5th / 6th periods - Dr.

Matthews 6 June 2005 Women and Men: The Perpetual Power Struggle Part I For as long as civilization has existed, women and men have constantly been at odds with one another and competed for social power. In past centuries, women have experienced a drastic shift in social expectations of their behavior and have risen to positions that were, for many years, unimaginable and hopelessly idealistic. Many modern women consider themselves mens equals, while some social analysts maintain that there remains an inextricable inequality between the sexes. While it is obvious that women are physically weaker than men - this simple fact of biology cannot be disputed - many experts assert that females mature more quickly than males do. In two texts that we have studied, Don Giovanni by Lorenzo Da Ponte (music by Mozart), and Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, women are portrayed as weak and often painfully docile. Is this accurate or just a misrepresentation of women due to historical standards and expectations of gender? Which is the weaker sex and which sex wields more power over the other? In Hamlet, the main character is male and secondary characters that wield the most control are male as well (at least superficially; perhaps, as I will argue later, this is not the case). The female characters seem to be psychologically malleable and constantly controlled by the men. The most prominent and clear example of this is Ophelia Hamlets supposed lover (or exlover, as it so happens). Ophelias story is inextricably intertwined with Hamlets. Elaine Showalter quotes Lee Edwards, who writes, We can imagine Hamlets story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet (Showalter 222). Ophelias whole existence and behavior in Hamlet seems to reflect her reliance on the males in her life. Never in Hamlet do

we see Ophelia control her own fate until she commits suicide (as is subtly suggested). There are several instances in which the author shows Ophelias docility in terms of being controlled by males. Firstly, her father Polonius (who is a councilor to the King) forces her to cut off her romance with the young Hamlet. Polonius says, I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth / Have you so slander any moment leisure / As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet (Shakespeare 1.3.133-135). Ophelia then dutifully agrees even though she arguably knows that cutting off the affair will throw her into a fit of obsessive depression. Showalter describes a common mindset during a specific era - she writes, [F]emale madness was a part of female nature (Showalter 225). This alleged madness, coupled with emotional instability, contributes to the reputation of weakness given to women. Another example in which Ophelia shows her alleged powerlessness is the way that she responds to Hamlet. Although Hamlet insults her and tells her to retreat to a nunnery, she cannot resist loving him. Ophelias suicide, to which Shakespeare subtly alludes, can be seen as a result of Ophelias relations with Hamlet. How is a reader to speculate that Ophelia committed suicide and that her death was not a tragic accident? Gertrude, Ophelias mother, says, [S]he chanted snatches of old lauds, / As one incapable of her own distress, / Or like a creature native and endued / Unto that element (Shakespeare 4.7.178-181). It is as if Ophelia, once in the water, did not struggle instead, she felt at home in the water, for she was nearing the freedom that she so desired (death). This passage reinforces the theory that Ophelia committed suicide. Accepting the speculation that Ophelia committed suicide leads to the conclusion that Shakespeare represents women as emotionally weak. Indeed, many individuals insist that suicide is the ultimate weakness it is admitting that life is too painful and it is, to some people, the easy

escape. Since Ophelias suicide was the result of the painful termination of an affair with Hamlet, and possibly the death of her father as well, her suicide shows her excessive emotional involvement in life and the extent to which she is controlled by the lives of men around her. In Don Giovanni, women are also portrayed as weak and overly emotional in a negative, nonproductive way. Donna Elvira is one example of a woman that is easily controlled and manipulated by Don Giovanni. All of the women in Don Giovanni are represented as excessively emotional, and this ability to feel emotions strongly (which, in other contexts, could be seen as a virtue) is a hindrance to their lives at best. Women such as Donna Elvira, who are controlled by men and by their own sensitive natures, seem to stand for the opinion that women, in their delicate emotional vulnerability, make themselves easily manipulated and, ultimately, controlled in every aspect of their lives. The emotional vulnerability mentioned above does not seem to depend on the unique personality of the female in question; the authors of Don Giovanni and Hamlet appear to be making the generalization that all women are, because of their emotional susceptibility and subsequent inferiority, easily controlled by men. After being abandoned by Don Giovanni, Donna Elvira is filled with rage and hatred. However, she is unable to remain rational and eventually forgives him when she believes that he repents. This shows her weakness she is so eager to believe that Don Giovanni still desires her that she intentionally deludes herself, forgiving the man who continues to deceive her. Pulled in different directions by her heart and her mind, she wavers with uncertainty, and this is due to her emotional vulnerability as a woman. Donna Elvira says, what conflicting emotions arise in [my] breast! why these sighs? and these pangs? and several lines later bluntly states, But betrayed and abandoned, I still feel pity for him (Da Ponte 95). This shows her helplessness and

weakness she truly is represented as a slave to her emotions and to the man (Don Giovanni) who plays with them. Don Giovanni admits to his manipulative qualities when he says, do I know how to get what I want? (Da Ponte 26). Da Ponte and Shakespeare both portray women in harsh and insulting ways - do women really have so little control over themselves and over men? Part II Despite apparent overwhelming evidence on the contrary, I will now argue that women wield power over men that either equals or exceeds the power that men exert over women. This can be substantiated by analysis of both Don Giovanni and Hamlet. In both texts, it is obvious that women are easily controlled because their emotional sides are emphasized. However, the men in the texts are equally controlled; Hamlet and Don Giovanni are as weak and controllable as any female in the texts - they are simply subtler in displaying this inherent weakness. In Hamlet, Hamlet bottles his emotions up and fails to communicate much that is on his mind. Although he does not show Ophelia obvious affection, it becomes clear throughout the text that he is, or was, strongly in love with Ophelia. Ophelia simply expresses her desire and sadness more than Hamlet. Todays society is no different men usually tend to show less attachment than women because it is socially unacceptable for men to express their sensitive sides. In any case, Hamlets fate is drastically changed as a result of his love for Ophelia. As he watches Laertes, Ophelias brother, jump into Ophelias grave and express his sorrow, Hamlet is overcome with bitterness. He feels that Laertes is showing off and that his sorrow is not genuinely felt or expressed. Therefore, he lashes out and gets into an argument (both physical and verbal) with Laertes. This, in turn, leads to Laertes challenging Hamlet to a duel. The duel, as we are well aware, ends in Hamlets tragic death. Why is it so important for Hamlet to attack

Laertes, though? In my opinion, this shows that Hamlet loves Ophelia so much that he cannot stand to see her disgraced in any way. Therefore, it is Hamlets love for Ophelia that controls him and ultimately leads him to his death. One possible refutation to my argument is that Ophelia is controlled more by Hamlet than the other way around after all, it seems that Ophelia takes her life because of her weakness as an emotional female. However, I would maintain that Ophelia is anything but weak. Firstly, it takes an immense amount of courage to commit suicide. If Ophelia does in fact take her life in Hamlet, it merely shows her brave determination to control her own fate rather than have others decide it for her. In addition, I would argue that Ophelia is just as influential in indirectly taking Hamlets life as Hamlet is in indirectly taking hers. Don Giovanni is also a slave to women rather than the other way around. Rather than controlling women, I believe he is controlled by women. He says, Long live women, long live good wine! sustenance and glory of humankind (Da Ponte 110). The way this passage is worded shows that Don Giovanni could be referring to both wine and women when he refers to the sustenance of mankind. Likening women to a water-dense liquid insinuates that Don Giovanni not only enjoys women, but that he needs women to survive. Therefore, although he is represented as an emotionally cold individual who uses women and then abandons them, I would argue that it is Don Giovanni who is the most dependent in this text. A feasible disproof of my argument is that Don Giovanni does not need any certain woman, and that since he denies emotional attachment, he does not need any woman for more than her body, which shows that he cannot be controlled by any woman (since he does not care for any woman). However, I would reply to this by saying that while Don Giovanni does not need any particular woman, he does need women on the whole. Don Giovanni is defined by women and by his relationships with

them. Therefore, he is controlled not by a single woman but by womankind. In conclusion, although on the surface women seem to be weak and controlled by men in both Hamlet and Don Giovanni, I believe that the women in these texts exert their own subtle but powerful influences on the men in their lives. A womans power in literature and in society is easier to overlook than that of a man because of the way men outwardly appear emotionally cold and thus more in control, yet this does not negate the fact that the womans power still present and indeed just as strong as the power of man.

Works Cited

Da Ponte, Lorenzo. Don Giovanni. Trans. Ellen H. Bleiler. New York: Dover, 1964. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Bantam, 1980. Showalter, Elaine. Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism. First Year Seminar Anthology II. New York: 2002.