The character of Gertrude in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, is not a woman for emulation by others. She is too human, and not very intelligent. Let’s consider her in this essay.
Mary Bradford-Whiting, in her article “Mothers in Shakespeare” compares the mother of Juliet to the mother of Hamlet:
Juliet has a mother, to whose heart of stone she appeals in vain:
. . . O, sweet my mother, cast me not away! [Romeo and Juliet, III.v.198]
Hamlet has a mother, each remembrance of whom is a pang to his distressed mind, and of whose conduct he can only say:
Let me not think on’t. Frailty, thy name is woman! [Hamlet, I.ii.146] (251)
Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is apparently disturbed by her son’s appearance in solemn black at the gathering of the court, and she requests of him:
Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
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 which he has hurt his mother” (Burton “Hamlet”). Gertrude would be hurt even more if she were to overhear Hamlet’s first soliloquy, which expresses anger at the quickness of his mother’s marriage and its incestuousness: “Frailty, thy name is woman! . . . .”
When the ghost talks privately to Hamlet, the prince learns not only about the murder of his father, but also about the unfaithfulness and adultery of his mother. Gertrude was seduced by “that incestuous, that adulterate beast, / With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts” – Claudius himself – prior to his brother’s passing. “So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd, / Will sate itself in a celestial bed,/And prey on garbage.” This revelation shows Gertrude’s complex temperament and motivation and renders her much more rounded in the dramatist’s development of her (Abrams 33). The ghost asks the protagonist to disregard revenge on Gertrude: “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive / Against thy mother aught,” and to leave her “to those thorns that in her bosom lodge, / To prick and sting her.”
Gertrude has a contrasting character in the person of Ophelia, who is the picture of purity and innocence. Ophelia obeys her very morally and socially conservative father, Polonius, in every detail,...