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O Most Pernicious Woman:

Gertrude’s Role in Hamlet’s Downward Spiral into Madness

Submitted to: Mr. Freitas Submitted by: Jacob Babiak Date: 03/03/2017 Course:ENG4UP

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the themes of depression and madness are clearly

visible through Hamlet’s character. Claudius is thought to be the source of Hamlet’s declining

mental state. Gertrude’s recent decisions, specifically her newfound marriage with Claudius is

the true source of Hamlet’s uncontrollable anger and increasingly odd and sporadic behaviour,

not the murder of his father committed by Claudius. Hamlet constantly throws harsh insults

towards Gertrude throughout the entire play, also there are substantially more insults towards

Gertrude than Claudius. Hamlet also decides to go against his father’s wish to leave Gertrude

alone. Hamlet is initially in a depressed state of mind because of the newly formed marriage

between Gertrude and Claudius, even before gains the knowledge of his father’s murder.

Hamlet’s mental state starts to decline even before he finds out that his father’s death

was a murder. Particularly, he is very discontent on the fact of Gertrude remarrying so quickly

after his father’s death, and also that his new stepfather is his uncle, he states “And yet, within a

month…(O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason Would have mourned longer!), married

with my uncle”(Shakespeare pg.31). He strongly disagrees with the marriage saying that “With

such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not, nor it cannot come to good”(Shakespeare pg.31),

but he cannot speak out against the marriage saying “But break, my heart, for I must hold my

tongue”(Shakespeare pg.31). Hamlet is also the only person still mourning the death of his

father. He is infuriated that people are celebrating this marriage and that he is told his grieving is

“unmanly grief”(Shakespeare pg-.27). He feels like he is not understood and his father’s life is

not being honored. He starts to have suicidal thoughts because of this “incestuous” marriage,

saying “His canon ‘gainst <self-slaughter!> O God, God, How <weary,> stale, flat, and

unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world!”(Shakespeare pg.29). This state of depression

and suicidal thoughts are instantiated by the marriage between Gertrude and Claudius.

Hamlet barrages Gertrude with harsh insults throughout the entire play. Hamlet is a

cunning character who has the intellectual capability to insult anyone he pleases and this includes

the king Claudius. But most of Hamlet’s insults are directed at his mother. This shows how angry

he is with Gertrude, insulting her on various fronts instead of Claudius. Hamlet seems to lay a

portion of the blame on Gertrude for the death of his father, even when he knows who is truly

responsible. One notable insult starts with Gertrude asking “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much

offended”(Shakespeare pg.169) to which Hamlet replies with “Mother, you have my father much

offended”(Shakespeare pg.169). Hamlet is saying that Gertrude has betrayed his father which is

not true according to his father’s ghost. The ghost did not reveal how he felt about Gertrude all

he stated was that she is not to be dealt with. So Hamlet is going out of his way to insult Gertrude

based on his assumptions. It is odd that Hamlet is spending his time insulting Gertrude when his

real concern should be avenging his father.

Hamlet chooses to ignore his father’s request to leave his mother alone. When Hamlet

meets the ghost for the very first time the ghost tells him ”Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul

contrive Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven And to those thorns that in her bosom

lodge To prick and sting her”(Shakespeare pg.61). Hamlet clearly disobeys the ghost’s orders

when Hamlet confronts Gertrude in her bedroom. Hamlet hurls insult after insult at Gertrude, and

even going as far as to blame her for his father’s death. He calls her a murderer while keeping

her pinned on the bed and physically abusing her. This displays Hamlet’s anger with Gertrude

but also how he has gone somewhat mad. This is the first time in the play where Hamlet finally

takes action instead of just thinking about his next move. Hamlet takes his first action against

Gertrude when his target is Claudius

Lashing out at her to a point where the ghost must re enter

to remind him of his goal. His anger and madness take hold of him finally telling his mother

what he thinks.

Hamlet’s anger and depression is a result of Gertrude’s behaviour and marriage with

Claudius. Hamlet puts off killing Claudius to deal with Gertrude. Ultimately Hamlet only takes

action against Claudius once Gertrude has perished. He even references Gertrude while he kills

Claudius and not his father. He says “Follow my mother”(Shakespeare pg.281) and before

Hamlet dies he says farewell to his mother, While Hamlet’s main goal was to kill Claudius and

avenge his father, but he was truly angry at his mother not Claudius.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.Ed. Barbara A.

Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012. Print.

Rough Copy

Topic: “It is the discovery of his mother’s shallowness and sensuality that is the key to Hamlet’s

attitude, not the murder of his father.” To what extent do you agree?

Question: is Gertrude’s new union with Claudius and recent decisions the true source of

Hamlet's anger and odd behaviour, not Claudius’ evil deed?

Thesis:Gertrude’s recent decisions specifically her newfound marriage with Claudius is the true

source of Hamlet’s fiery rage and increasingly odd and sporadic behaviour, not the murder of his



Hamlet’s constant insults towards Gertrude throughout the play

Hamlet’s abusiveness in her bedroom

Hamlet choosing not to listen to his father, and go after his mother

Hamlet’s anger and depression start before he even finds out about his father’s