The Character of Gertrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet
It is tempting to condemn Gertrude as evil, but it is probably more sensible to consider her as weak and inconstant. Hamlet's heartfelt line "Frailty, thy name is woman" sums up his view of her actions early in the play. Like many of Shakespeare's women characters, she is "sketched in" rather than drawn in detail. We know that she has a deep affection for her son, which is commented on by Claudius in Act 4 "The Queen, his mother, lives almost by his looks." and we may assume that she has not gone to Claudius's bed unwillingly, although there is a lack of evidence that she returns the King's obsession with her.
She is protected by the ghost, too, who commands Hamlet not to punish her and intervenes in the closet scene when Hamlet's attack on Gertrude is at its height. The ghost's instructions to his son are specific:
"But howsomever thou pursuest this act
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught.." (I. v. 84-6)
Hamlet, too reminds the audience twice how Gertrude behaved in the presence of his dead father, which serves to emphasise the fickleness she has shown since the King's death.
At no time, though, is there evidence that Gertrude was aware of the murder. Her reaction to the play-within-the-play is irritation that Hamlet "hast thy father (Claudius) much offended" and the disclosure he makes to her in the closet scene provokes what seems like genuine horror. Her remorse is for the incestuous nature...