Gertrude: The Tragic Heroine of Shakespeare's Hamlet

analytical Essay
3342 words
3342 words

Gertrude: The Tragic Heroine of Hamlet

Hamlet is perhaps English literature's most renowned play; a masterwork by the greatest of all masters, Shakespeare, from its very appearance Hamlet has not ceased to delight audiences and confound spectators. The complexity of the main character, prince Hamlet, is so vast that all who have attempted to decipher his character fulsomely have failed. Amidst his own grandeur, Hamlet makes the other characters pale. As they blur into literary oblivion due to the magnetism of the central character, other characters are often disregarded as one-dimensional and are not done sufficient justice. Gertrude, victim of Hamlet's virulent verbal abuse, is often seen through the bitter eyes of her son and thus her true character is seldom recognized. However, Shakespeare, incapable of mediocrity, instilled in Gertrude more complexity than simple analysis might yield. He bestowed her the appearance of an unscrupulous woman, one for whom shame is a stranger and who acts guided solely by her carnal desires; furthermore, she gives signs of being a frivolous queen, one who occupies her mind in simple contemplations, and for whom profound matters are inaccessible. Finally, he made her seem an insensitive mother incapable of empathy for her son's grief and oblivious to true sensibility. Nonetheless, it is Gertrude's desire for reconcilement and her need to avoid conflict that make her appear an unscrupulous woman, a frivolous Queen and an insensitive mother.

Certainly the most widespread opinion regarding Gertrude is that she is an unscrupulous woman; however, it is her desire for reconcilement and her need to avoid conflict that make her appear unscrupulous. With all the force of his first soliloquy...

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... tragic flaw was no other than the innocent desire for reconcilement and her too human need to avoid conflict. In Hamlet's own words, this seems the very essence of veracity, "what a piece of work is man! how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties!" and yet, how solitary and uncomprehended; how quick to condemn, how reluctant to forgive and in doing so how like a Greek God, and how, so beautifully and fallibly human.


1. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Folger Library. Edited by Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar Washington, Washington Square Press Publication, 1958.

2. "Gertrude in Hamlet" Date accessed 02/25/2003)

3. Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Gertrude. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (03/25/2003)

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how shakespeare, incapable of mediocrity, instilled in gertrude more complexity than simple analysis might yield.
  • Analyzes how hamlet presents the queen as the most grotesquely unscrupulous woman. his memory of his father goads him to remember how she would hang on him as if appetite had grown by what it fed on.
  • Analyzes how claudius recognizes gertrude's genuine affection for hamlet, which clouds the affection she might hold for him.
  • Analyzes how gertrudes' and claudius' relationship is settled into the tranquility of old age than characterized by the passionate, luscious impromptu of youth.
  • Analyzes how gertrude's frivolity is evidence of her desire for reconcilement and her need to avoid conflict.
  • Analyzes how gertrude displays cunningness in her response to hamlet's question during the play. she hopes that by deviating from the insulting nature, conflict might be avoided.
  • Analyzes how the queen's sensitive and embellished narration of ophelia’s tragic death exonerates her from any accusation of frivolity and shows her as an incisive queen.
  • Analyzes how gertrude's insensitive attitude has won her widespread dislike, but her desire for reconcilement and her need to avoid conflict are the pillars of her actions.
  • Analyzes how gertrude's insensitivity is a manifestation of her desire for reconcilement. she does not reprimand her son, nor condemn him as an assassin.
  • Analyzes how gertrude hides hamlet's cruelty under a veil of compassion when narrating his brutal crime to the king.
  • Analyzes how gertrude's desire for reconcilement and her need to avoid conflict underlie what many mistakenly judged to be motherly insensitivity.
  • Analyzes how gertrude is misinterpreted for centuries as an unscrupulous woman, a frivolous queen, and an insensitive mother.
  • Introduces shakespeare, william, and hamlet in folger library, washington square press, 1958.
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