Common Literary Themes
Gender inequality as a theme across literary works
"Frailty, thy name is woman"
This quote sets the general tone toward women for most of the play. Hamlet rants about how Gertrude remarried so soon after her husband's death. He cannot accept the idea of his mother marrying Claudius. This shapes his views on women in general. Much like their contemporaries in historical literature, the female characters in Hamlet are completely dependent upon the men in their lives.
"Perhaps he loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will, but you must fear."
At first, her brother Laertes warns her to be careful and not to think much of Hamlet's professions of love, later Polonius gives her stricter orders and basically makes her distrust herself completely. When she loses her lover and her father dies, she goes mad and commits suicide because she cannot perceive a life of her own beyond these influences.
Penelope is a portrayal of the faithful wife, waiting for her husband when everyone else believes him to be dead. In the above quotation, she implies that her self worth is completely dependent upon her husband, and in the context of the story, this makes her a model wife.