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Women in Hamlet and The Lady of Shalott

            The tragic story of male oppression and female madness is one that fills literature throughout history. Shakespeare's Hamlet and Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott both highlight many of the physical and psychological barriers that women have been resigned to for hundreds of years. By comparing the two narratives through a feminist lens, many parallels can be drawn between the main women in both works. The stories of Ophelia and The Lady of Shalott serve as allegories of female oppression in the Elizabethan and Victorian eras. The women live in a time when expressing their thoughts and feelings was forbidden and where they served as captives in a male-dominated society which ultimately led to their demise. .
             For The Lady of Shalott, this imprisonment takes form in the "four grey walls, and four grey towers."(Tennyson 1.15) in which she is held; secluded from the world. Because of a curse, the only possible way for her to see the world is through a reflection in a mirror she has in her room. Ophelia's confinement comes in a different and less physical form: through her father. Ophelia's amenability to her father is one of the forces that drives her into madness and is so strong that, like The Lady of Shalott she is unable to express what she truly believes. In Tennyson's poem, the Lady's imprisonment is the primary cause of her madness and in turn her death. Being confined to a small room the Lady has nothing but "A charmed web she weaves alway." (Tennyson, 2.2). For the majority of the narrative, the only thing that the Lady can do is weave, making the web serve as a symbol of her life and imprisonment on the island. She can only weave because of the threat of her curse and this uncertainty leaves her trapped in the tower, "She knows not what the curse may be; Therefore she weaveth steadily, Therefore no other care hath she," (Tennyson, 2.6-7). The unknown consequence of what leaving the island would entail keeps the Lady locked away both physically and mentally.

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