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Research Paper: Susan Glaspell’s Trifles Versus Shakespeare's Hamlet

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After reading both Trifles and Hamlet more than once, there have been new themes that seem to catch my attention. Although there are themes such as death and revenge in both plays, but the most vital one would be the oppression of women in both plays. Considering that these plays were written a long time ago, in a time where women's freedom was restricted and limited, there is alot to observe about the treatment of women back in the day. In Hamlet, Hamlet himself seems to be sexist and has a certain disgust towards women. This stems from his mother's sexuality and her unfaithfulness to his father and his relationship with his lover, Ophelia. Similar to Hamlet, Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” also has themes of revenge, death and gender. However, in Trifles, the theme of gender and women's oppression is seen more vividly than in Hamlet.

In Trifles, Mrs.Wright is a pretty, cheerful woman who enjoys singing in the church choir and an overall social person. After marrying John Wright, she is isolated on their farm and her freedom is limited, she cant even use the phone in her home. Also, Mr. Wright killed the one thing Mrs. Wright loved more than anything, her singing bird. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are a few examples in which Hamlet or other characters express some kind of disgust or oppression towards women. As stated before, Hamlet's own remarks have blossomed through the actions of both his mother and his love, Ophelia. Hamlet consistently expressed his frustration towards her mother's decision to remarry. The fact that his mother not only remarried, but she married his uncle adds more to Hamlet's perception of women. “Why, she would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on :and yet, within a month- Let me not think on’t- Frailty, thy name is woman!” (Act I, scene II lines 137-140). Hamlet finishes off saying that being weak and delicate is the woman's name. In this situation, it seems that Hamlet is making a generalization about woman based off the actions of his mother alone.

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Hamlet can also be referring to his mother and his mother only. Throughout the play, it can be seen that Hamlet seems to lose control of his emotions, making remarks and acting poorly due to these emotions. Hamlet’s ability to be king is soon questioned as well. If Hamlet had not passed away, would he have been a noble king? Due to his lack of control, it seems that Hamlet was too aggressive and close minded when found in an undesirable situation. Hamlet's treatment of not only women but others in the play show that Hamlet might have been incapable to be a noble king. While Hamlet's plot for revenge and madness poison his mind, Ophelia stands against him and Hamlet seems to have a difficult time making a connection between the difference of mens and women's principles. In this case, loyalty is one of these principles that would differ between Hamlet and Ophelia, or man and woman. “You jig and amble, and you lisp, you nickname god's creature and you make your wantonness your ignorance” (Act III Scene I lines 150-152), was said by Hamlet to Ophelia in which Hamlet calls off their love and tells her to leave. What Hamlet means by saying this is he has seen women's real face, how god gives them a face and they paint another one over it. Women laugh and dance and lisp, nickname god's creatures and excuse their sexiness by pleading ignorance.

Hamlet was written somewhere between 1599 and 1601, which is also known as the Elizabethan age. During this period of time, women had little to no role in society, mainly patriarchal. But women were allowed to playwright considering the topic was suitable and were granted more freedom considering previous ages. As a matter of fact, most of the characters if not all of the roles in Shakespeare's plays were played by men (Professor Ferrara). Considering the time period Hamlet was written and women's roles during this period, the treatment and oppression of women was reciprocated into his plays. In Susan Glaspell's “Trifle”, there are also examples of women's oppression and their limited freedom. Trifles portray a time in which society is dominated by man and where social expectations and social norms restrict and confine women to stay at home and become attached to their husbands. For example, “Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?”(line 33), here the county attorney George Henderson stresses Minnie Wright's role as a housekeeper and feel free to judge her based on that. There are three women in the play two of which are only known by their husband's last names, Mrs, Hale and Mrs.Peters. The third woman is Mrs. Wright which is the only women known by her first name. After her marriage to John, Minnie was isolated on her farm with no children, no friends and no love. Although John is her husband, Minnie seems to lack love for him which makes it easier for her to murder her husband.. However, the play only consists of a dialogue between Mrs. Hale, Mrs.Peters, the sheriff and the county attorney. After the death of her husband, Minnie is held for the murder of John. The dialogue in the play is mostly questions asked by the sheriff and responses made by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters about Minnie Wright. The two women defend Minnie by disposing of the dead bird which was the only evidence the police needed to find a motive in John’s murder.

Trifles was written by Susan Glaspell in 1916, which was a historic period for women. In the year 1916, Republican Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first American woman elected to represent her state in the U.S. House of Representatives. That same year NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt reveals her 'winning plan' for suffrage victory at a convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey ( Glaspell herself made her mark in women's history as well, in 1931 she won the Pulitzer Prize in drama (Kingsbury). However, Glaspell seems to remain unknown amongst playwrights and feminists. Of all the other themes that are in the both Trifles and Hamlet such as revenge, death, and murder, the only one that seemed to be one of deeper meaning was the oppression of women. Taking into consideration the time periods these plays were written, these themes are taken from society and reciprocated into the play by the playwrights

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Research Paper: Susan Glaspell’s Trifles Versus Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from
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