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Will Patterson

Ms. Baker
British Literature D
Dark Intentions: Gertrudes Deathly Decision
A cup of poison ends the life of Gertrude, Queen of Denmark. Killed in the same manner
as that of her husband, the poison that flowed into his ear and corrupted his body also courses
through her veins and ends her life. Her death is almost in passing, as if a pause between more
important deaths when, the corpses pile up so fast that the greatest care must be taken to avoid
the effects of farce (Sprinchorn, 14). Some may argue that Gertrude dies solely as a way for
Shakespeare to tie up loose ends, or as blunt plot advancement. However, the significance of her
death, especially the possibility that she committed suicide, cannot be understated. Gertrude took
her own life as a way of both supporting her son and defying Claudius.
In revealing Claudiuss treachery to Gertrude, Hamlet fundamentally challenges her
identity and status. Gertrude admits to this, stating that Hamlet, turnst my eyes into my very
soul, / And there I see such black and grained spots / As will not leave their tinct (Shakespeare,
3.4.89-91). One can infer from this that the Queen, after hearing Hamlets deposition, has a
guilty conscience. These spots, while already present, went unnoticed or intentionally ignored
by her until Hamlet forced her to reconsider her position. Their permanence (as will not leave
their tinct) and their attachment on her soul reenforces the Ghosts sentiment that she will pay
for her sins in heaven. This realization forces her to reevaluate her priorities. After this
altercation between the two, we see her allegiance lies with her son. When Hamlet requests
Make you to ravel all this out / That I essentially am not in madness, / but mad in craft,
Gertrude complies and reveals Hamlet to Claudius (3.4.187-190). Her conscience set and her
allies clear, Gertrude moves to make amends and atone for her sins.
Although the audience never gets a clear picture of Gertrudes thought process, she
foreshadows her own death as a defiance of Claudius. Similarly to Ophelias flower tossing
scene, Gertrude scatters flowers and makes dark proclamations. Possibly drawing inspiration
from her, Gertrude says [Scattering flowers] Sweets to the sweet. Farewell. / I hopd thou
shouldest have been my Hamlets wife: / I thought thy bride-bed to have deckd, sweet maid, /
And not have strewd thy grave (5.1.228-230). When Ophelia tossed flowers, she later
committed suicide by drowning. Gertrude, who models this same behavior, later drinks a cup of
poison and perishes. Whether or not she knew for certain the cup was poisoned is a matter of

debate; however, her striking similarity to Ophelias pre-suicide actions suggests that she had
some knowledge and her actions were intentional. In her exploration of Queen Gertrudes
motives, Abigail Montgomery suggests that, Gertrudes conclusion is what it is because she has
chose, like Hamlet, to defy Claudius. She has further chosen to support her son and to drink the
wine (Montgomery, 112). As a way to mollify the sins that she has committed, Gertrude decides
that the only way to stop is to take her own life.
By taking her own life, Gertrude accomplishes two important things. Firstly, she
demonstrates her allegiance to Hamlet. If she knew the wine was poisoned, she may have
prevented him from drinking. Whether or not she did this knowingly, her death signals her
acceptance of her guilt and her refusal to live with Claudius, the man who killed her husband.
Secondly, she shows independence for the first time be refusing a direct order from the King,
asking my lord, I pray you pardon me rather than permission (Shakespeare, 5.2.283). This,
being her first and last time disobeying the King, suggests that her imbibing the poisoned wine
was an intentional action, rather than a mistake.

Works Cited
Montgomery, Abigail L.. Enter QUEEN GERTRUDE Stage Center: Re-viewing Gertrude as
Full Participant and Active Interpreter in Hamlet. South Atlantic Review 74.3 (2009):
99117. Web
Sprinchorn, Evert. The Odds on Hamlet. The American Statistician 24.5 (1970): 1417. Web