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Aug 17, 2022

In today's episode, we are going to be discussing the female characters of Hamlet: Ophelia and Gertrude. We will be tackling some of the more difficult parts of the play for modern readers and theater-makers: the misogyny and seeming lack of female agency.

In the first half, Korey will help us grapple with the seemingly inherent misogyny of the text (is the play misogynist just because the title character is? Or is there another possible reading?).

Then, Elyse will lead us through what an Early Modern audience member would have understood about Ophelia's death and Gertrude's part in it. Specifically we will focus on a cultural knowledge that has largely been lost for the modern audience, and the agency granted to these characters through that understanding. 

Content warning: we will be discussing abortion, reproductive health, misogyny, and include brief mentions of assault and violence. Please listen with care. 

  • We do not recommend any early modern medical advice. We are not doctors now or in the early modern era. 
  • Also, we may use women, feminine, and female interchangeably to discuss issues pertaining to non-cismale bodies. While we know that people of all genders can be affected by patriarchy as well as become pregnant and need to be able to make their own decisions about reproductive health, we are aligning our language for this episode with that of the early modern writers we are analyzing. 

Shakespeare Anyone? is created and produced by Kourtney Smith and Elyse Sharp.

Note: When this episode was recorded, Kourtney Smith was using the stage name "Korey Leigh Smith".

Music is "Neverending Minute" by Sounds Like Sander.

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Works referenced:

Brustein, Robert. “Misogyny: THE HAMLET OBSESSION.” The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time, Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 13–52. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.
Culpeper, Nicholas. The Complete Herbal: To Which Is Now Added, Upwards of One Hundred Additional Herbs, with a Display of Their Medicinal and Occult Qualities ; Physically Applied to the Cure of All Disorders Incident to Mankind ; to Which Are Now First Annexed, the English Physician Enlarged, and Key to Physic, with Rules for Compounding Medicine According to the True System of Nature Forming a Complete Family Dispensatory, and Natural System of Physic. Edited by Thomas Kelly, Thomas Kelly, 17, Paternoster Row, 1843.
Culpeper, Nicholas. The English Physitian, or, an Astrologo-Physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of This Nation: Being a Compleat Method of Physick, Whereby a Man May Preserve His Body in Health ; or Cure Himself, Being Sick, for Three Pence Charge, with Such Things Only as Grow in England, They Being Most Fit for English Bodies ... Edited by Thomas Cross, Peter Cole, at the Sign of the Printing-Press in Cornhil, near the Royal Exchange, 1652, Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership,, Accessed 16 Aug. 2022.

Leong, Elaine. “‘Herbals She Peruseth’: Reading Medicine in Early Modern England.” Renaissance Studies, vol. 28, no. 4, 5 Sept. 2014, pp. 556–578.,

Neville, Sarah.“Early Modern Herbals and the Book Trade: English Stationers and the Commodification of Botany”. Cambridge University Press, 6 Jan. 2022. Online. Internet. 26 Jul. 2022. Available:

Riddle, John M. Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West. Harvard University Press, 1999.