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THE HERITAGE INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE OKARA

CHARACTER SKECTH OF GERTRUDE


Few Shakespearean characters have caused as much uncertainty as Gertrude, the Queen of
Denmark and Hamlet’s mother. The play seems to raise more questions about Gertrude than it
answers, including: Was she involved with Claudius before the death of her husband? Did she love
her husband? Did she know about Claudius’s plan to commit the murder? Did she love Claudius, or
did she marry him simply to keep her high station in Denmark? Does she believe Hamlet when he
insists that he is not mad, or does she pretend to believe him simply to protect herself?

The ghost of King Hamlet calls Gertrude his "most seeming virtuous queen." He requests Hamlet:
"Leave her to Heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
To prick and sting her."
These words mean that she is not blameless. In Act II, scene 2, there is evidence that Gertrude really
hasn't taken part in the plot. Hamlet suspects her of being an accomplice with Claudius in his
father's murder. It's too bad, therefore, that Hamlet doesn't hear Gertrude's private conversation
with Claudius in which she gives her theory about Hamlet's anger:

I doubt it is no other but the main,


His father's death and our o'erhasty marriage.”

Hamlet’s most famous comment about Gertrude is his furious condemnation of women in general:
“Frailty, thy name is woman!”. This comment is indicative of Hamlet’s agonized state of mind, but
to a great extent Gertrude seems morally frail. She is a woman whose poor judgment leads to her
death and the downfall of others as well.
We first realize in Act I, Scene 2 that poor judgment is her major character flaw. As the mother of a
grieving son, Gertrude should have been more sensitive to Hamlet's feelings. Instead, less than two
months after King Hamlet's death, Gertrude remarries Claudius, her dead husband's own brother.
Gertrude should have realized how humiliated Hamlet would feel as a result, because at that time it
was considered incestuous for a widow to marry her husband's brother. There is also jealousy on
the part of a son, who feels that his mother should be giving him more attention during the
mourning period. Gertrude is not in touch with her own son's feelings to see why he is angry.
Hamlet expresses this outrage during his first soliloquy:
O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (I.ii 156-157)
If Gertrude were an adulteress, she would have been almost certainly been involved in Claudius'
plot of murder, and therefore she would be the play's villainess and not its child-like victim.
Claudius would believe her to be an accomplice and confide in her, but he does not. Moreover, if it
were true, it most surely would be foremost on Hamlet's mind, but when Hamlet confronts
Gertrude in her closet and announces all her crimes, he does not once even imply that she has
committed adultery.
Despite her moral weaknesses, she loves Hamlet like a true mother. But she truly does not know
what she has done to make Hamlet so furious, and it is only when he tells her that she understands
her actions to be wrong:
...O speak to me no more;
these words like daggars enter my ears;
No more, sweet Hamlet!
Even though Hamlet condemns his mother’s marriage with Claudius and blames her for disloyalty
to her former husband, she remains faithful to him, protecting him from the King. And, although her
love for Claudius is wrong by moral standards, she is now his queen, and remains loyal to him. We
see she has the potential for great love -- she wants to protect Claudius from the mob, and she cares
deeply about Ophelia and Polonius, and is concerned for Hamlet in the duel even though she has no
idea that it is a trap. It is Gertrude's hidden goodness that redeems her. Her men forgive her for her
shallow, sensual nature and her addictions to comfort and pleasure because they see that she is
innocent of premeditation.

Resource Person: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 0303-2461219