Gertrude

The obedient newly married queen

Gertrude is another relevant character in William Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet”. She is Hamlet's mother and the widow of the late Dane king. Shortly after the king's death, she married Claudius, the dead king's brother, and thus her brother-in-law. The quick marriage allows her to remain the queen of Denmark even after the death of her first husband.

Gertrude's marriage to Claudius is judged as an incestuous act. Moral ideas and a loyalty to her husband that outlasts death are obviously not as important to her as her own well-being. She therefore proves to be just as selfish and self-centered as her new husband Claudius.

Gertrude describes her marriage to Claudius as "our o'erhasty marriage." (2.2.60). By marrying quickly, she does not remain trapped in the status of a grieving widow, but is able to maintain her high social position at court. Obviously, sexual pleasure also plays a role in her decision. According to the ghost of the deceased Danish king, Claudius has exploited her will for “shameful lust” (1.5.51) and together with her has turned "the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest." (1.5.88-89).

Complicity with Claudius?

It is not clear if Gertrude really agrees with Claudius' deceitful actions. She is too conflict-shy, obedient, and weak as a character to openly express her opinion.

Consequently, it is not explained in the play whether Gertrude was really involved in the murder plot against her husband. In any case, it is noticeable that after only two months she no longer mourns her old husband and almost cold-bloodedly dismisses his death as ordinary and commonplace: "Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity." (1.2.73-75). She apparently cannot understand why Hamlet is so profoundly affected by her husband's death.

The ghost of Hamlet's deceased father also states that Gertrude has really changed sides: Claudius has indeed managed to exploit her will "to shameful lust" (1.5.51). However, he does not communicate when exactly Gertrude withdrew her affections from one and turned them toward the other. It remains open to interpretation whether she gave Claudius the benefit of the doubt before the murder and knew about his murderous intrigue, or whether she was actually unaware of Claudius's murder and gave in to his seductive arts only afterwards.

Hamlet also seems unsure whether or not hi...

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