Gertrude is a character in the Shakespearian play Hamlet. She is the mother/aunt of Hamlet, and she is also the wife/ex-sister-in-law of King Claudius. In the play Gertrude demonstrates many characteristics and traits as the play progresses. She is a very caring character when Hamlet is thinking about going back to Wittenberg for reasons that are unknown, Gertrude tells Hamlet, “Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet; I pray thee stay with us; go not to Wittenberg” (1.2,18-19). She is also confused because she wants to love two people who dislike each other, Hamlet and Claudius, so she tries to satisfy both men. After Hamlet stabs Polonius to his death, Gertrude goes to Claudius, “Branish apprehension kills the unseen good old man” (4.1.11-12). After Hamlet tells her that he is only acting mad, she lies to the king when he asks if Hamlet is fine, “Mad as the sea and wind when both contend” (4.1.7). Thus showing how she is trying to help both her love ones by distrusting one and lying to the other. Throughout the play she is known as an ignorant character because she is not aware of anything that is happening. She is not aware that King Hamlet’s murder was by his own brother Claudius, even when all of Denmark was already suspicious of Claudius. Another situation that she is unaware of is when Claudius and Laertes make plans to put poison into Hamlet’s goblet, which ends up killing her. Overall her ignorant trait causes her death. Gertrude is express as a sexually active woman in the play as Hamlet’s Soliloquy tells, “She married; O most wicked speed, to post” (1.2.156). Another situation where Hamlet assumes she remarries for her sexual needs, “O shame! Where is thy blush? Rebellious hell, if thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones, to flaming youth let virtue be as wax” (3.4.82-84). One of Hamlet’s feelings throughout the play is rage. The cause of Hamlet’s rage would be Gertrude, for her hasty marriage and her mourning are not long. Hamlet vents his anger about it by insulting his mother, “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty—“ (3.4.91-93). Therefore Gertrude helps build Hamlet’s personality. Gertrude’s actions also help Hamlet with his drive to kill Claudius. Gertrude is Hamlet’s shield. She protects him as a hawk would protect its babies. If Gertrude was not Hamlet’s mother or of royalty, than Hamlet would be dead. Laetes and Claudius are having a private discussion when Leartes asks why he has not murdered Hamlet yet, Claudius answers “The queen his mother lives almost by his looks; and for myself—my virtue or my plague, be it either which—she’s so conjunctive to my life and soul” (4.7.11-14). Another incident where Gertrude protects Hamlet, without realizing, is when she drinks Hamlets goblet which is mixed with poison. This is what could have killed Hamlet if he did not get cut by the rapier and thus she is Hamlet’s shield. Hamlet dies after she dies because now Hamlet is defenseless and cannot hide behind her for protection, his shield is broken. In conclusion Gertrude is a strong character in the play and affects the plot. She is a loving caring character and wants everyone to get along with each other. Gertrude also symbolizes Hamlet’s shield and protection.
Hamlet features many central characters, each following their own shifting paths based around their own actions. One of these characters, the Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, tends to stir the plot with her own ill-thought actions. This is not to say that Gertrude means to cause harm, she is simply not the brightest character in this play.
Gertrude’s first action in the play is marrying Claudius, an action which sets a disturbed young Hamlet over the edge with her incestuous marriage to his uncle. Without her knowledge, Gertrude causes the main problem in Hamlet’s life, and she does so only thinking about herself and her adulterous ways. Shakespeare portrays her as a sexually driven, almost ditzy character. She tends to not think beyond her own pleasure, which causes more problems than she notices, especially with her son, Hamlet. “Gertrude is the antithesis of her son. Hamlet is a scholar, and brightly witted, where Gertrude does not think before she acts, she simply does.” (Amanda Mabillard in Shakespeare’s Gertrude)
Many of the characters in Hamlet follow a recognizable path through the play, shifting and changing around events. Gertrude, on the other hand, stays mostly a flat line, ignoring the cries of her son and yielding to Claudius’ wants. She stays this way until Hamlet tells her how he feels, and even then, she does not react in a very big way. Even after Hamlet stabs Polonius, she is still removed from the situation, struggling to digest what Hamlet is telling her. At most, she seems surprised, but not realizing that she has caused Hamlet’s actions.
“She is a very caring character when Hamlet is thinking about going back to Wittenberg for reasons that are unknown, Gertrude tells Hamlet, “Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet; I pray thee stay with us; go not to Wittenberg” (1.2,18-19). She is also confused because she wants to ” (Phil Anderson of schoolworkhelper.net, Queen Gertrude Character Analysis (Hamlet)) Mr. Anderson interprets the quote deeper to come to the conclusion that Gertrude is actually trying to protect Hamlet, but not seeing that she is actually harming him. Anderson also says that she is trying to “love two people who dislike each other, Hamlet and Claudius, so she tries to satisfy both men,” but only succeeds in satisfying her new King, while a mortified Hamlet struggles to cope in the background.
Probably one of the most reputable sources for Shakespeare Analysis is Oxon Pseud, a studied scholar and published author. In his book An Analysis and Study of the Leading Characters of Hamlet, he says “Gertrude was in no sense an accomplice of Claudius. Of her husband’s murder she knew nothing, till Hamlet denounced Claudius as a murderer.” Pseud also goes on to give examples of her innocence.
The ghost says nothing of her guilt. The ghost says that Gertrude is adulterous and lustful, but never guilty. Another point in Hamlet in III.iv., would not have merely denounced her second marriage, had he not considered her guilty of murder, a far more heinous crime. Also, The king never treats Gertrude as an accomplice. Indeed she is by no means the sharer of all his secrets.
Gertrude also never lets drop a word from which her guilt can be inferred. Though she speaks sparsely, in her dialogue she never mentions that she married Claudius out of spite for her late first husband. Also, if she were an accomplice to the murder of Hamlet Sr., in the least degree, her conscience, which has great power over her, would have made her show it.
If she were guilty, her consummate self-command in concealing that fact entitles her to be regarded as the strongest character in the play, whereas in all other respects she is one of the weakest.
Oxon also tells of her guilt: She has committed adultery, she has remarried with indecent haste, she has cast a slur on her son by her misconduct and other reasons.
All scholars seem to agree on one point: Gertrude does not mean harm, but still causes harm to those around her. Orah Rosenblatt in her Gertrude in Hamlet, Critical Analysis Essays, says “Gertrude is a woman who means no harm but whose poor judgment contributes greatly to the terrible events that occur.” In Hamlet, Gertrude’s ill-thought actions cause many events to unfold, including the accidental murder of Polonius. Orah also brings to the surface another excellent point: “There are only two female characters in the play, and neither one–Gertrude or Ophelia–is assertive.” Orah points out that none of the women in Hamlet seem to have a say over what happens to them, and they only cause more issues than they prevent. This could also be an inside look into Shakespeare’s own views on women. “We first realize in Act I, Scene 2 that poor judgment is her major character flaw. As the mother of a grieving son, Gertrude should have been more sensitive to Hamlet’s feelings. Instead, less than two months after King Hamlet’s death, Gertrude remarries Claudius, her dead husband’s own brother.” Gertrude is portrayed as a loving mother, but not necessarily the most outwardly thinking. Any normal mother or even human being would have realized the issues that Hamlet was facing and would have tried to help. As Hamlet said, “O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (I.ii 156-157)” This quote serves as an excellent outline for why Hamlet is so upset.
Delving deeper into Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius, Sasha Safonova in her Character Analysis of Gertrude in Hamlet explains how Hamlet’s mother’s incestuous relationship destroys his life and others. “Gertrude’s decision to marry her brother-in-law allows for great controversy among her surrounding society. Most importantly, this movement hurt her son Hamlet. Gertrude’s unsafe situation made her go against the society’s rules and quarrel viciously with her child.” Gertrude does not realize how taboo and harmful her relationship is with Hamlet’s once Uncle, now Father. She can almost be seen as a modern day “stereotypical dumb blonde,” though there is no indication as to her hair color. It’s almost pitiful how unaware Gertrude is throughout the entire play (until Hamlet tells her otherwise) about the situations she creates.
Though she may not mean harm, Gertrude does manage to cause harm to those around her. Her lackadaisical thinking patterns eventually end in her downfall, when she drinks the poisoned wine meant for Hamlet. Much in the same way Polonius’ character flaws lead to his death, Gertrude’s do to her, too.
There is a term in Sociology which describes what Hamlet is going through after seeing his mother’s actions. The term is Grandiose Self, which can defined: As a child, you see your parents as perfect. When they show weakness, you reflect that upon your own faults and actions. Gertrude is certainly not in any way a flawless mother, leaving Hamlet with a shattered matriarchal figure and lost at what he should be feeling.
It could also be argued that Gertrude employs the use of Cognitive Dissonance, meaning that, though she knows incest is wrong, she creates a new belief system or rationalization in order to justify her new relationship with Claudius. It has also been noted by many scholars that Gertrude may have been an alcoholic, concerned only with herself, explaining her narcissistic actions.
Gertrude is almost a textbook narcissist. She does not see the world outside of herself, and she does not care about what happens to others as long as she can derive pleasure from her actions. Her lack of empathy or outside thought provide enough evidence for readers to conclude that she does display narcissistic characteristics.
Gertrude may not have as much stage time in the play Hamlet, but she is still a pivotal character in her actions and how her actions effect others, namely, Hamlet. Like scholars say, Gertrude does not mean harm, but instead causes ill events to unfold because of her lack of outside thinking. Gertrude is more than just ‘Hamlet’s mom,’ she is her character, like all of the other central characters in Hamlet. Her actions cause a beautifully crafted domino effect that collides with other characters’ in the play to come to a grand finale.
- Anderson, Phil. Queen Gertrude Character Analysis (Hamlet). https://schoolworkhelper.net/. St. Rosemary Educational Institution, August 4, 2010. Web. Retrieved on: Tuesday 1st May 2012. https://schoolworkhelper.net/2010/08/queen-gertrude-character-analysis-hamlet/.
- Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare’s Gertrude. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. April 25th 2012 <http://www.shakespeare-online.com/hamlet/gertrudecharacter.html>.
- Pseud, Oxon. An Analysis and Study of the Leading Characters of Hamlet. http://books.google.com/books?id=bRAOAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Analysis+of+Hamlet&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-cufT8HSGoj-9QSBo8ykAQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Analysis%20of%20Hamlet&f=false February 12, 1885. Retrieved April 29th, 2012.
- Rosenblatt, Orah. Gertrude in Hamlet. Critical Analysis Essays. http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/critical.html#hamlet. December 20th, 1992. April 29th, 2012.
- Safonova, Sasha. Character Analysis of Gertrude in Hamlet. Article Myriad. http://www.articlemyriad.com/character-analysis-gertrude-hamlet-sasha-safonova/%2015%20January, 2012. April 28th, 2012.