Death is a thing of life, something everyone will go through and something that will affect the lives around you when it’s your time. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, spoiler alert, everyone, in the end, dies because of Hamlet in one way or another, may that be procrastination, stabbing, poison etc., but some of these deaths aren’t like the rest, some of these deaths happen while in a duel and die heroically while others unexpectedly die just to make Hamlet a more complex character, but I believe Shakespeare used this misogynistic trope intentionally to speak out against men in power.
In March of 1999 a group of feminist comic book fans led by Gail Simone, created a website called “Women in the Refrigerator” the term Women in Refrigerator was used as the website’s title and subsequently the tropes name because it is a reference to the green lantern comic book number 54 where Green Lantern unexpectedly finds his Girlfriend’s dead body stuffed into a fridge by the villain. Simone and company compiled a list of 111 superheroines who have been anywhere from killed like Batwomen
to being ‘mind-controlled, impregnated by rape, powers and memories stolen, cosmic-powered then depowered, alcoholic” like Ms. Marvel who of which Simone commented, “SHEESH” but these women were not just killed, these women were killed specifically as a plot device to further a male character’s story arc or to make this character seem more complex. The use of women beings to be killed and tortured is even more appalling when you take into account how often Violence against women occurs in our country, about every one third of women murdered are murdered by an intimate partner and in 2005 accounted for about 1181 total women, and in 2006 about 232,960 women were either sexually assaulted or raped according to The National Organization for Women.
I believe this trope applies to Ophelia in two ways the first way is when she loses her sanity, and the second being when she drowns. In Act IV Scene V we see Ophelia has lost her mental stability, which can be seen as a sort of power seeing as this whole play is based around sanity vs madness, the important thing to note in this scene is that fact that Ophelia’s lose of sanity pushes, with the help of Claudius, Laertes to revenge. Then in Act IV Scene VII, we learn that Ophelia has drowned while singing Hymns which is very symbolic to a siren which could be used to vilify Ophelia and her sexuality, this death pushes Laertes over the edge to go through with Claudius’ plan of revenge. In the first scene of Act V, Hamlet now gets word of Ophelia’s death from the two clowns. The death of his girl crush then pushes him to finally be decisive for once in the book by challenging Laertes to a fencing duel over who loves Ophelia more. We can see throughout these three scenes how Ophelia’s insanity and death both pushed Hamlet and Laertes’ story arch by making Hamlet more decisive and by making Laertes further Claudius’ plan of revenge. We can obviously see how we can label Ophelia’s death as following the Women in Refrigerator trope, death, loss of power, to characters becoming more developed and seeking vengeance.
I also believe this trope could be applied to Gertrude as well. In Act V Scene II the fencing duel between Laertes and Hamlet has commenced with the poison sword and poisoned drink. Claudius offers Hamlet the poisoned wine but Hamlet declines so instead Gertrude drinks it and is doomed to die. Time passes and Gertrude calls out that her drink has been poisoned, Laertes says that Gertrude will die and that Hamlet will die soon after. Then quickly Hamlet makes a decision and stabs Claudius with the saber. I believe this scene shows how Gertrude has also been stuffed into the fridge like Ophelia, she gets poisoned and her inevitable death push hamlet to stop procrastinating and finally kill Claudius like he planned all the way back at the beginning of the play. This major character development happening because of Gertrude’s death might just be the best example of the women in refrigerators trope in the play.
Now you might be saying, “Why is this trope just about women dying for plot development? Men die all the time in media why aren’t they included in this trope?” well this question was a big criticism of the original trope so in response to this Simone and company created a second trope called Dead Men Defrosting, Comic book fan and activist John Bartol says this on the matter, “In cases where males heroes have been altered or appear to die, they usually come back even better than before, either power-wise or in terms of character development/relevancy to the reader” and Simone also responded by saying, “First, there’s a larger selection of male characters, so a handful killed made barely a ripple. Second, they didn’t seem to be killed in the same way—they tended to die heroically, to go down fighting. Whereas in many cases, the superLADIES were simply found on the kitchen table already carved up.” we can see the difference between these two tropes the easiest with both Batgirl and Batman. In one comic starring Batgirl, the Joker shoots Batgirl in the spine to drive her father, Commissioner Gordon head of the police department, insane she becomes permanently paralyzed and has to leave the Batgirl identity behind. Compare this to when Batman has an altercation with the villain Bane where Bane breaks Batman’s back over his knee, he fully recovers… We see the Dead Man Defrosting trope at the very last page of the book where Fortinbras tells the Horatio to treat Hamlet’s death as a soldier because he is sure he would have served as a great king. If you ask me however I don’t think someone of his mental state should be in charge of any government or kingdom.
These two tropes affect society both in very misogynistic ways. The Women in Refrigerators trope when used equates women to objects to be killed off randomly for cheap drama. It also portrays women as docile, unlike their male counterparts who die while fighting as they’ve never fought before. I am not however calling Shakespeare a misogynist, I think he is quite the contrary. Like how he called out the theater and said what he believed good acting was I believe he called out the misogynistic society in which he lived by telling the audience when men are the ones solely in control things end badly. We can see this multiple times before any of these tropes occur when Polonius tries to control his daughter’s love life because he knows what’s best for her, or when Laertes does the exact same, or even when Hamlet starts yelling at his mother which not so coincidentally is when all the death and chaos starts. This criticism of his society when not thought about could just fly right over a reader (or in his time a spectators) head but they would stick out if you had experience with misogyny.
- Hitch, Aaron. “Women in Refrigerators: Killing Females in Comics.” The Artifice, 11 Oct. 2015, the-artifice.com/women-in-refrigerators-killing-females-in-comics/.
- Sarkeesian, Antia. “Tropes vs. Women: #2 Women in Refrigerators.” Feminist Frequency, 9 Aug. 2016, feministfrequency.com/video/tropes-vs-women-2-women-in-refrigerators/.
- Simone, Gail. Women in Refrigerators, Mar. 1999, www.lby3.com/wir/index.html.
- “Violence Against Women in the United States: Statistics.” National Organization for Women, now.org/resource/violence-against-women-in-the-united-states-statistic/.