The Character of Gertrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet
The Gertrude in Shakespeare’s tragic drama Hamlet is controversial in the sense that some critics uphold her morality and some deny it. Let’s consider this question and others related to this character.
Gertrude has many good qualities in the play; she is not evil through and through. Rebecca Smith in “Scheming Adulteress or Loving Mother” presents an image of the queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that is perhaps not consistent with that presented by the ghost:
Although she may have been partially responsible for Claudius’ monstrous act of fratricide and although her marriage to Claudius may have been indirectly responsible for making a “monster” of Hamlet, Gertrude is never seen in the play inducing anyone to do anything at all monstrous. . . . When one closely examines Gertrude’s actual speech and actions in an attempt to understand the character, one finds little that hints at hypocrisy, suppression, or uncontrolled passion and their implied complexity. . . . She speaks plainly, directly and chastely when she does speak. . . .(81-82)
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)
Gertrude’s “contamination” does indeed affect the hero. Courtney Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks in "Making Mother Matter: Repression, Revision, and the Stakes of 'Reading Psychoanalysis Into’ Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet," comment that “Hamlet is pathologically fixated on questions of his own origin and destination -- questions which are activated by his irrepressible attraction to and disgust with the ‘contaminated’ body of his mother” (1).
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 joins the king in asking Hamlet to stay in Elsinore rather than returning to Wittenberg. Respectfully the prince replies, “I shall in all my best obey you, madam.” So at the outset the audience notes a decidedly good relationship between Gertrude and those about her in the drama, even though Hamlet’s “suit of mourning has been a visible and public protest against the royal marriage, a protest in which he is completely alone, and in...