Shakespeare presents Hamlet’s and Gertrude’s relationship as a crucial factor for the plot of the play. Gertrude is vital in fuelling Hamlet’s hatred of women as well as his drive for revenge. Her remarriage also causes Hamlet to sink into melancholy as Bradley states it provided a ‘violent shock to his moral being’. Gertrude’s remarriage for Hamlet is seen as the root cause of the corruption and decay of Denmark.
Many critics argue that female characters in ‘Hamlet’ are passive and in the use of De Beauvoir’s terms for femininity as immanence. Gertrude could be seen as a passive character pushed aside by the male characters; however, she could also be seen as a transcending female; one that is not simply an object in the play, but a subject.
Arguably, without Gertrude, Hamlet’s passion for revenge and hatred for women won’t be the same. And like Adelman argues that “as an avenger, Hamlet seems motivated more by his mother than by his father”. One of Hamlet’s main reasons for seeking revenge is his mother’s remarriage and he tells Horatio that Claudius has “Killed my king and whored my mother” thus revealing his greater emphasis on his mother’s remarriage, hence their relationship as mother and son is crucial for the plot as a revenge tragedy.
Throughout the play, Hamlet obsesses over Gertrude’s haste remarriage and lack of grief for his father’s death. After she accuses Hamlet of faking his grief at the start of the play, Hamlet replies “‘seems’ madam – nay it is”. The anaphora of ‘nor’ here reiterates his grief of his father and reveals his deep inner suffering which comes about with his mother’s ‘incestuous’ and haste remarriage. Here Hamlet is mocking his mother.
This contrast in mourning emphasizes Hamlet’s concern for his mother’s lack of grief also emphasizing his agitation towards her not showing her true feelings. Hamlet’s obsession with her remarriage is shown in one of his soliloquies when saying “but two months dead” also comparing his father and Claudius as “Hyperion to Satyr”.
The use of Greek mythology here shows us that he sees his father as God-like and idolizes him meanwhile Claudius is a low-life ‘satyr’ often associated with lust and intoxication. Therefore, his anger at the remarriage fuels his passion for revenge thus making him plan his revenge.
A moment in the play where Hamlet’s relationship with Gertrude is shown to fuel his revenge is in the Closet Scene. Hamlet attacks Polonius after confronting his mother thinking it is Claudius who’s behind the arras.
Right before he kills Polonius Hamlet touches on the familial troubles that have befallen the royal family. Hamlet says to Gertrude “You are the queen, your husband’s brother’s wife”, here the confusing use of familial roles reveals the confusion that has ensued Denmark causing Hamlet inner suffering and ‘violent shock to his moral being’ (Bradley) which came about with his mother’s remarriage.
The start of the closet scene reveals his anger at his mother which fuels his passion for revenge hence leading to Hamlet’s remorseless murder of Polonius. After the murder Hamlet remarks “thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!”
He shows no sympathy or remorse as he calls him ‘fool’ and ‘rash’ which is ironic and hypocritical, as Hamlet is rash here for killing Polonius without knowing who was behind the arras. He is presented as a morally responsible prince who has been contemplating whether he should commit murder or not but ends up killing the innocent with ease thus showing how his anger at his mother’s marriage encouraged him to take action against the person behind the arras.
Accordingly, Hamlet responds to his mother’s remark at the murder of “what a rash and bloody deed is this!” with “almost as bad… as kill a king and marry with his brother”. Here Hamlet does not only focus on his father’s murder but also Gertrude’s remarriage revealing how it is crucial to his revenge and it pushed him in this specific scene to act ‘rash[ly]’. Therefore, Gertrude and Hamlet’s relationship is presented as crucial to the plot as it fuels his passion for revenge.
Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship is also presented as the reason behind Hamlet’s hate for women. Rebecca Smith states that Hamlet “attacks what he perceives the brevity of women, women’s wantonness and women’s ability to make ‘monsters’ of men”. We see this with his anger at Gertrude’s remarriage as he states “Frailty, thy name is women.” The word ‘frailty’ suggests weakness thus he is belittling women and showing his hatred towards them. This comes right after his confrontation with Gertrude when she thinks he ‘seems’ mournful.
This reveals his newly found hatred towards women as now he is suffering due to the mistrust his mother has created. Gertrude’s lack of grief and haste remarriage leads to his generalized hatred and mistrust of women as seen by his mistreatment of Ophelia. When attacking her at the ‘nunnery scene’ he generalizes women by saying “I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.”
Shakespeare uses the inauthenticity of painting the face with makeup as an analogy for women’s deception just like Gertrude’s betrayal of marrying Claudius and Ophelia knowingly being a pawn used by Claudius and Polonius. Hamlet shifts his specific criticism of Ophelia in this scene to attack women in general as a criticism of makeup was a standard element of misogyny in Elizabethan England. This shift from specific to general criticism links to his anger at his mother who initially caused his hatred for women.
Hamlet also says to Ophelia in this scene that “wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.” This is an allusion to the idea that men whom their wives cheated on grew horns thus suggesting that all women are unfaithful and turn their husbands into monsters.
Hamlet is doubting Ophelia’s loyalty and faithfulness however this doubt sparked with his mother’s marriage to Claudius which led to Hamlet’s deep mistrust of women thus making their relationship as mother and son crucial in developing Hamlet’s hatred for women.
Finally, Hamlet sees his mother’s remarriage as a reason for Denmark’s ‘rotten’ and corrupt state. Marcellus says “something is rotten in the State of Denmark” which connects to the Elizabethan idea that the health of the nation is connected to the legitimacy and purity of the throne.
Laertes describes Hamlet by saying his choice “affects the health of the State” thus showing how his actions are important as he has the responsibility of looking after Denmark and upholding its stability.
This arguably applies to Gertrude as well, as Hamlet describes her marriage bed as the “Royal bed of Denmark” and by then describing it as ‘enseamed’ and ‘rank in corruption’ reveals how Hamlet associates his mother’s marriage with rot and decay.
His mother’s hast remarriage affects the whole of Denmark and the image of her marriage bed being the bed of Denmark reinforces the idea that corruption has become innate to Denmark and the decay and rot that comes with corruption spreads from the throne to society.
The use of the extended metaphor of an ‘unweeded garden’ to describe Denmark as the corruption of the throne and his mother has spread like an ‘unweeded garden’ to the state and people causing troubled times and for this to end, corruption needs to be stopped. Thus, we see Gertrude as presented in some play adaptations willingly drinking the poison, which is representative of corruption, therefore she ends her inner corruption with suicide as she couldn’t bear it any longer.
Denmark has to decay to be saved from the corruption just like human flesh rots and decays then fertilizes the ground hence the extended use of imagery of rot and decay associated with Gertrude’s remarriage and the throne of Denmark. Therefore, Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship is crucial in revealing the corruption of Denmark.
Overall, Shakespeare reveals the importance of Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship as his mother’s remarriage is the main factor that fuels his passion for revenge as well as hatred for women. Their relationship also reveals the corruption of Denmark thus Hamlet’s need to take action to purify it.