Social and Cultural attitudes towards women are what define the role of women in both plays. In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, women are seen as inferior towards their male counterpart for they have no voice or agency. In contrast, to Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, women play a more dominant role in society, due to the fact that they were seen as a source of power and guidance.
In society, women are generally seen as the weaker sex when compared to their male counterpart. Men often have the upper hand when it comes to decision making whether that be within the household or in the society. In the play, Hamlet, Shakespeare allows men to hold a higher position in the society with this, women are considered weak, they are unappreciated, and they live in the shadow of men. These expectations of women are expressed throughout the play when Ophelia says," No my good lord, but as you did command , I did repel his letters and denied, His access to me." (Pg 40, 108 - 110) Here one can see how Ophelia obeys her fatherââ‚¬â„¢s wishes . She ignores Hamlet's letters and stops meeting him as per told my Polonius, this proves that Ophelia lives under the shadow of her father, she has no power to do whatever she wishes too. Ophelia conforms to the idea of women having no agency for she is taught to do whatever is instructed by the male superiority, Ophelia conforms to the social expectation of women being weak because she has no voice of her own. She is in a constant battle to either obey the orders of her father or lover, but never her own. In contrast to Hamlet, in Oedipus Rex Jocasta challenges the social attitude towards women for Jocasta has equal power to rule as Oedipus. This can be demonstated when Jocasta says ," No. When he came back, And you king in his late master's place, He earnestly begged me to let him go away, Into the to become a shepherd, Far from the city's eyes. I let him go."(pg 46) These lines were spoken by Jocasta to Oedipus when she told Oedipus about the curse that was put on King Laius. This quote shows that by letting the servant resign from his position as servant to become a shepherd, without asking for permission from the King, Jocasta considers herself superior and consumes power as a Queen. Unlike Ophelia who has her decisions made for her, here one can see that Jocasta is the ruler of her own life, Jocasta does not let the social construction of women being weak and without voice let her down. Moreover, in Hamlet, there are some parts in the play which represents female point of view of expressing their roles in society as being the weaker sex. when Ophelia says," I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say 'a made a good end." (Pg 117, 180 - 182) These lines are spoken by Ophelia to Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius because Ophelia is saying that the violets represents faithfulness and they all were dead because she feels betrayed by the men in her life. Ophelia ends up dying in the play due to her trust, which is seen throughout the play. Ophelia has no purpose to live anymore because there is no male figure left in her life to give her guidance which she always received from her father. This further proves that Ophelia conforms to the social expectation of women for Ophelia is portrayed as weak and in need of male reliance. In contrast, to Oedipus Rex, Jocasta is more of a Queen who knows her rights and freedom as a ruler and she uses her power and it's shown throughout the play by the way she talks and gives her replies to everyone in the play, when Jocasta says," What is the meaning of this loud argument, You quarrelsome men? I wonder you are not ashamed, ... Come in my husband; and Creon, you go home. You are making much of some unimportant grievance. These lines are spoken by Jocasta to Creon which portrays that Jocasta considers herself as equal as Oedipus, by ordering Creon to go home, which shows how all three of them consumes equal level of power to rule in Thebes. This proves that Jocasta is given power to speak and she is been respected by both Oedipus and Creon, she therefore does not consider herself to be any weaker than them. This thus proves that women do consume power in Oedipus Rex compared to Hamlet.
In addition, in the play Oedipus Rex, Jocasta plays a more powerful rule in her culture, she does not really care about anyone and there is barely any love shown in the play for her children and her husband. In comparison, Gertrude who also is a queen plays a more submissive motherly role as opposed to a role of a queen. This is due to the fact that women during Elizabethan time are weaker compared to women in Ancient Greece. When Jocasta says ," Fear ? What has a man to do with fear? Chance rules our lives, and the future is all unknown. Best live as best we may, from day to day. Nor need this mother-marrying frighten you; ... Such things must be forgotten, if life is to be endured." (pg 52) Here Jocasta advices that live your life as best as you can , do not let anything frighten you, this shows that she does not care about the world.. This proves how Jocasta has the power of advising the King. In contrast, Gertrude plays more of a motherly rule as opposed to a role of a queen when compared to Jocasta. This can be seen when Polonius says,"Tis meet that some more audience than a mother, Since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear, The speech, of vantage." Here Polonius is saying how he needs to go hide behind the tapestry to hear the conversation of Hamlet and Gertrude because she will go easy on Hamlet due to her love as a mother for her son. This proves that Claudius and Polonius do not consider Gertrude a strong enough individual to talk to her son on her own. Polonius feels that Gertrude needs the presence of a male figure to protect her as well as give her the strength to talk to her own son and so she is considered a weaker ruler because of her love for Hamlet. In contrast, Jocasta is represented as less motherly and caring and more authoritative.. This can be seen when Jocasta states," O lost and damned! This is my last and only word to you Forever ! Here Jocasta shows that she does not care about Oedipus or whatever happens to him, she tells him to stop with the investigation of finding the killer of the previous King and Oedipus still wants to go ahead with the investigation so she just stops caring and leaves Oedipus not caring
about whatever will happen after he finds out about the curse. This proves she is careless and strong enough to leave her husband, the King alone to struggle with the situation himself. However in Hamlet, when Gertrude states ," Within a month; Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears, Had left the flushing of her galled eyes, She married" (I, ii, 153-156) This quote shows that Gertrude feels that she needs a men by her side in life to rule the country, and the reason she marries King Claudius is due to the fact that by marrying him she will have a strong leader to rule her country. This proves that she re-marries because she is weak to be able to rule the country on her own, the society also gives a little pressure on her to find a strong male figure who can rule the country wisely. Therefore, the quotes that are being described proves that Gertrude needs a male in her life in order to take care of her throne and when it comes to her son Hamlet she gets weak due to her extreme love for Hamlet, whereas in Oedipus the King Jocasta has the freedom of choice and voice as it proves in the quotes above.
Although in both plays, women are perceived as the weaker sex when compared to women, in a cultural perspective it can be said that Jocasta holds more power as a Queen than Gertrude. Jocasta is portrayed as a strong willed individual who is capable of making her own decisions as to at is best for herself, her family as well as her kingdom. In contrast, Gertrude is portrayed as conforming to the cultural expectation of how women should be during the Elizabethan era. Although Gertrude is a queen, she plays for of a motherly role as oppose to an authority figure, thus representing her as weak.