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Among the most interesting female characters in Shakespeares oeuvre is Hamlet's Gertrude.

Many
studies have been conducted on the critical study of the character of Hamlet's mother. Critics have split
in their views of Gertrude. Many condemn her and view her as an embodiment of the "frailty" her son
used to describe her "weak" and "shallow" gender; some even go far enough to suggest a role in her
husband's murder. Other critics have accepted the apparition's word "adulterate" to convict her. On the
other hand, other critics condole with Gertrude and see in her character marks of the "dull and shallow"
type to think of murder. She is the malleable, weak character. Feminist critics, however, came forward
to highlight traits in her character deliberately ignored by male critics and insist that Gertrude is
"intelligent, penetrating, and gifted with remarkable talent for concise and pithy speech".

Hamlet feels that Gertrude has betrayed his father by marrying with his brother. Throughout the play,
he is consumed with avenging his fathers death and all the mistreatment the former King had suffered
and still suffers after his life is over. Gertrude adds to the dead Kings tarnished memory by not
mourning and instead rejoicing in her new marriage. Hamlet is thus extremely angry with Gertrude and
expresses this anger towards her directly and indirectly through his words, both to himself and to other
characters. Gertrudes actions of marrying her husbands brother after this king was only two months
dead causes Hamlets view on love to change. He noted that when Gertrude was with his father he
was so loving to and she would hang on him (I.ii. 140, 143). This is how Hamlet believed true,
stable love was to be. But his mothers ability to marry so quickly after his fathers death made Hamlet
conclude that a womans love is fickle and he states frailty, thy name is woman . By frailty Hamlet is
not referring to a womans physical abilities, but rather her emotional frailty and her ability to change so
quickly after having, assumingly, loved so deeply. Thus Hamlet feels that Gertrude, not only betrayed his
father, but also has betrayed the sanctity of love and marriage.

Gertrude is considered guilty of several things. First, she is guilty of not following proper mourning
etiquette by maintaining black clothing and a modest demeanor. Instead, within two months of her
husband's death, Gertrude has discarded her mourning clothes and has remarried; both of these are
affronts to the memory of her husband. Also, Gertrude is guilty of affecting the line of inheritance for
the throne of Denmark. By marrying Claudius, Gertrude could potentially take away Hamlet's right to
the throne because any child of Gertrude and Claudius's marriage would have the direct right to the
throne. Finally, Gertrude is guilty of engaging in an incestuous marriage under the canon law of
Elizabethan time in that she marries her brother-in-law. Each of these guilty acts gives a better
illustration of the problem of Gertrude and why Hamlet and the Ghost are so offended by her behavior.

Gertrudes role has traditionally been seen as passive, with critics often discounting the few, short,
speeches she makes as merely the reflection of her male counterparts thoughts and opinions. Yet upon
closer analysis, her speech proves to be invariably direct, insightful and innuendo-free. Gertrude often
anticipates, or correctly identifies, key moments, themes, or implications within the play as a whole. Her
clipped instruction to Polonius to speak [m]ore matter with less art (2.2.96) identifies Polonius as a
pretentious, rambling old fool while at the same time asserting her authority and intelligence all of
which is accomplished in a poetic heartbeat. She instinctively perceives the true cause of Hamlets antic
disposition in Act 2, and doesnt mince words when she explains to Claudius that it is their union which
has upset her son so: it is not other but the main His fathers death and our oerhasty marriage.
Despite Gertrudes gift for making shrewd observations she appears content not to act upon them, and
instead submits to the schemes of her husband and his councillors in the first half of the play: I shall
obey you. Gertrudes compliance is open to interpretation: does it demonstrate passiveness, apathy, or
simply dedication to her spouse and trust in his judgement regarding her son? Gertrude is therefore
enigmatic, and because of this her character struggles to define itself against the Hamlets explicit
opening opinions. However, the strength and complexities of Gertrudes personality do emerge as the
play progresses and she is forced to confront the realities of her situation.

The pivotal and revelatory closet scene of Act 3, Scene 4 is the first and only instance in which Hamlet
and Gertrude are alone on stage. It is the intensity of their interaction, as well as the shock of Poloniuss
assassination and Hamlets subsequent accusations of murder and incest, which begin to reveal the
emotional depths of Gertrudes character:

Thou turnst mine eyes into my very soul,

And there I see such black and graind spots

The knowledge that her first husband, King Hamlet, was murdered by Claudius causes Gertrude to
experience a moral awakening: what was once an ethical grey area (her oerhasty marriage) has
become a black and graind spot upon her very soul. Gertrudes suffering at these revelations is
genuine; her repeated requests for sweet Hamlet to speak to me no more (3.4.86) belie the shame
that she now feels. Her reaction is such that even the Ghost, a previous critic, observes that amazement
on thy mother sits and warns Hamlet not to distress her further.

Critics have been sharply divided over the nature of Gertrude's guilt. Many, following A. C. Bradley,
maintain the extraordinary charge that she committed adultery before King Hamlet's death, whereas
others, following John Draper maintain her innocence. Baldwin Maxwell argues that Gertrude is weak
until the end of the play where the only act that demonstrates independence ironically causes her
death. Linda Bambers Comic Women, Tragic Men goes even further to claim that the misogyny of the
play reduces Gertrude to a vessel for Hamlets feelings with little independence as a character. Freud
and Jones see her, the object of Hamlet's Oedipus complex, as central to the motivation of the play.
Several critics agree that lust, the desire for sexual relations, as the passion, in the Elizabethan sense of
the word, the flaw, the weakness which drives Gertrude to an incestuous marriage, appalls her son, and
keeps him from the throne. They explain her marriage to Claudius as the act of any but a weak-minded
vacillating woman. Carolyn Heilbrun's 1957 essay "Hamlet's Mother" defends Gertrude, arguing that the
text never hints that Gertrude knew of Claudius poisoning King Hamlet. This analysis has been
championed by many feminist critics. Heilbrun argued that men have for centuries completely
misinterpreted Gertrude, believing what Hamlet said about her rather than the actual text of the play.
By this account, no clear evidence suggests that Gertrude is an adulteress: she is merely adapting to the
circumstances of her husband's death for the good of the kingdom.

It is remarkable of Shakespeare, the playwright, how he could frame a character who could incite such
controversy but with ample textual proof to support the particular point of view. Heilbrun uses the same
examples to show Gertrude, if lustful, is also "intelligent, penetrating, and gifted with a remarkable
talent for concise and pithy speech".

Only in Shakespeare ever exists a character like Gertrude once exonerated by not showing any reaction
in the play within the play episode yet is denied seeing or hearing the apparition of her former husband
on grounds of her lack of purity; otherwise why should be barred from encountering it when it was
spotted first by characters far remote from Hamlet the King than her such as Barnardo, Marcellus and
Horatio.

Gertrude remains the Mona Lisa of Shakespeare sketched by a magnificent artist who created her,
simultaneously, condemned and condoned.