The Character of Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Essay

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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
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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, even to the extent of giving him her love-letters from Hamlet; unlike Gertrude, who brazenly violates her marriage vow, then breaks social conventions in marrying within a month of her first husband’s funeral, and incestuously marrying her husband’s brother. Though Gertrude and Ophelia contrast morally, they are close socially; the queen confides in Ophelia:
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