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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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