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Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
Gertrude is the beloved wife and mother in the play, Hamlet. Many say that she is
responsible for Hamlet’s agony in not being able to proceed with his revenge, and
Claudius’ hesitation to guard himself through the destruction of Hamlet. She is the woman
who was “my virtue or my plague, be it either which,” for both of her loves, and is herself
a very ordinary person. Seemingly beautiful and warm-hearted, she has no mind of her
own, and is vulnerable because she tends to be pulled by whatever force is the most
powerfully aimed at her at any moment. Because of her character and personality, she
turns to the “sunny side of life” and hates facing pain or any type of conflict. Also, the fact
that Claudius carefully hid his crime of killing her husband from her shows her lack of
criminal daring and his concern for her peace of mind. When things worked out so that she
was able to marry her lover, however, she was happy and only wanted all the difficulties of
the past to be forgotten.
Hamlet’s refusal to forget the death of his father or to forgive her of incestuously
remarrying Claudius are the only things that stop Gertrude from being perfectly happy;
they remind her of the continuing difficulties of the position she is in, which, because of
her incredible naivet?, she had hoped would end by changing the ordinarily accepted form
of marriage. If she could only get Hamlet to accept her new husband as his new father,
she could completely put away the past and start thinking about the present comfortably.
She therefore begs him to remain at Elsinore so that this reconciliation can take
place (”I pray thee, stay with us. Go not to Wittenberg.” Act 1, scene 2, line 123). But as
she watches her wonderful son only become more and more mentally deranged as the
months pass by, and sees his offending behaviour beginning to disturb even the patience of
Claudius, her happiness starts to wither. She hopes that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will
be able to bring him out of his depression (”…And I beseech you instantly to visit / My too
much changed son.” Act 2, scene 2, lines 37-38). Then she wonders of the possibility that
Hamlet’s “madness” might actually be a result of his love for Ophelia rather than her own
behaviour and hopes that Ophelia will be able to cure him (”…And for your part, Ophelia,
I do wish / That your good beauties be the happy cause / Of Hamlet’s wildness. So shall I
hope your virtues / Will bring him to his wonted way again…” Act 3, scene 1, lines 42-45).
Her spirits rise for a moment when she sees Hamlet’s excited involvement with the play
and his attentions to Ophelia, but then they immediately drop as Claudius rises from the
performance in anguish. Finally she is pushed by Polonius to do the one thing that she has
avoided for all these months: to meet Hamlet privately, discuss his behaviour, and try to
understand its source. Probably the only reason that she gives in to this idea is because
she sees it as the last resort to “curing” Hamlet.
Hamlet’s immediate charge towards her, “Mother, you have my father much
offended,” (Act 3, scene 4, line 13) confirms her worst fear the she is responsible for
Hamlet’s state of mind, and she tries to put a quick end to their talk, rather than having to
face Hamlet “condemning” her. But she is so shocked that she gives in to Hamlet’s violent
rage and ends up releasing onto Polonius, who is hidden behind the arras, who Hamlet
then kills. Hamlet’s continues to insult her, and she first answers as if her conscience is
innocent: “What have I done that thou dar’st wag thy tongue / In noise so rude against
me?” (Act 3, scene 4, lines 47-48). She avoids criticising herself so completely, that she
actually believes she has nothing to answer for, except for the effect her hasty remarriage
has had on her son. But as Hamlet continues to draw her attention to the antipathy of her
remarriage, she gradually comes under his spell and begins to feel guilty for the way she
has acted. Even though the appearance of the ghost, which she cannot see, convinces her
that Hamlet is mad and that his verbal abuse towards her was the result of increased
melancholy, she cannot forget the feeling of guilt he had given her.
When Ophelia goes mad, Gertrude wants to avoid the painful sight of her as much
as she had earlier wanted to avoid looking into her own soul. This is especially shown
since Gertrude sees Ophelia’s mental breakdown as proof of the impending evil caused by
her own insensible behaviour, and this sequence of evil effects seems to be, to her guilty
conscience, foreboding a catastrophe (”To my sick soul (as sin’s true nature is), / Each toy
seems prologue to some great amiss. / So full of artless jealousy is guilt, / It spills itself in
fearing to be spilt.” Act 4, scene 5, lines 22-25). Later on, even though she grieves
Ophelia’s death, she tries to explain it to herself and to Laertes in the least harmful way.
But her sadness at Ophelia’s funeral is emphasised by the madness Hamlet displays there in
his unexpected return.
When Hamlet shows up at the fencing match in such a sensible state of mind, she is
delighted. Not only does Laertes appear to accept Hamlet’s offer of love (”…I do receive
your offered love like love / and will not wrong it.” Act 5, scene 2, lines 266-267), but
Hamlet’s own willingness to go as Claudius’ fighter seems to assure her that their
relationship will work out for the better, too. In her opinion, if Laertes and Hamlet were
at peace with each other, and if Hamlet and Claudius were also at peace with each other,
then all the pain she was feeling because of her guilt and Ophelia’s death would be
forgotten, and she might still be as happy as she would if Hamlet had married Ophelia. As
she is hopeful for future happiness, yet blind to what is happening in the present, her son’s
good, gentlemanly behaviour and excellence in fencing make her so happy that she really
gets into the event, so that she wipes her dear son’s brow and finally insists upon toasting
his victory. Against Claudius’ objection, she drinks to her son to show him how happy he
has made her.
Because she has avoided the thought of all things painful in hope of finally
becoming perfectly happy, the result is that this “flaw” lead to her downfall. Only as she
feels the poison coming over her, and hears her husband lie about her condition to save
himself, does she truly face reality. And only then does she begin to understand Hamlet’s
objections to Claudius and recognise that, while Claudius has poisoned her body, he has in
turn poisoned her whole life also. Trying too late to protect her “dear Hamlet,” she dies as
an unfortunate victim of an idealistic and deceived hope for happiness.
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