The Gertrude of Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Is Gertrude, in the Shakespearean drama Hamlet, a bore? A killer’s accomplice? The perfect queen? A dumbie? This paper will answer many questions concerning Claudius’ partner on the Danish throne.
In her essay, “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging,” Ruth Nevo explains the deleterious effect of Gertrude’s behavior on her son’s relationship with Ophelia:
His mother has predisposed him to believe in women’s perfidy, has produced in him a revulsion from sex and the stratagems of sex; he was unable to draw Ophelia’s face by his perusal; she has refused his letters and denied him access; now returns his gifts. What form of devious double-dealing shall he expect? (49-50)
Gertrude is indeed not the ideal mother. Lilly B. Campbell comments in “Grief That Leads to Tragedy” on Queen Gertrude’s sinful state:
Shakespeare’s picture of the Queen is explained to us by Hamlet’s speech to her in her closet. There we see again the picture of sin as evil willed by a reason perverted by passion, for so much Hamlet explains in his accusation of his mother:
You cannot call it love, for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it’s humble,
And waits upon the judgement; and what judgement
Would step from this to this? . . .
O shame! [. . .]
And of the Queen’s punishment as it goes on throughout the play, there can be no doubt either. Her love for Hamlet, her grief, the woes that come so fast that one treads upon the heel of another, her consciousness of wrong-doing, her final dismay are those also of one whose soul has become alienated from God by sin. (97-98)
Gunnar Bokland in “Hamlet” describes Gertrude’s moral descent during the course of Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
With Queen Gertrude and finally also Laertes deeply involved in a situation of increasing ugliness, it becomes clear that, although Claudius and those who associate with him are not the incarnations of evil that Hamlet sees in them, they are corrupt enough from any balanced point of view, a condition that is also intimated by the “heavy-headed revel” that distinguishes life at the Danish court. (123)
At the outset of the drama, Hamlet’s mother is apparently disturbed by her son’s appearance in solemn black at the gathering of the court, and she requests of him:
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity. (1.2)
The queen obviously considers her son’s dejection to result from his father’s demise. She is primarily a mother. Angela Pitt in “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies” comment:
She seems a kindly, slow-witted, rather self-indulgent woman, in no way the emotional or intellectual equal of her son. . . . Certainly she is fond of Hamlet. Not only is she prepared to...