Hamlet's Mother: Lustful Widow or Evil Queen?

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In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, much detail is given to develop the male characters of the play. For example, the protagonist’s mental and emotional woes are plainly outlined for the audience. This is not the case for the women of this play; it is left up to the imagination of the audience to devise their own opinion of Gertrude and Ophelia. Many critics have offered their interpretation on Gertrude’s personality that range from one extreme of the spectrum to the other. One Shakespearean critic described the Queen’s character as “very dull and very shallow” (Heilbrun, 1957, p.201). It is the contention of this author, that Gertrude is a strong and self-centered woman who is veiled in mystery and ambiguity. Literary evidence will be provided that Gertrude was not a shallow or dull minded individual. The Queen was a shrewd and passionate woman that would go to any limit to obtain her heart’s desire.

Gertrude finds herself in the middle of this family conflict as mother and peacemaker to a newly blended family ("Frailty thy name is woman", n.d.). In the first Act, the Ghost of Hamlet’s father provides Hamlet with the details of his untimely death and the devious acts of his uncle Claudius. This event, coupled with the hasty marriage of his mother to his uncle, causes much of the emotional turmoil and melancholy perceived by the protagonist of this play. Hamlet’s exclamation “Frailty thy name is woman!”(1.2.146) in his first soliloquy demonstrates that his opinion of Gertrude has become tainted. It has been argued that his use of the word “frailty” referred to a flaw in her entire personality, a weakness; it is this weakness that drives Gertrude to an incestuous marriage that disgusts her son and keeps him from his rightf...

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...r was an accomplice in her former husband’s murder. What does seem evident is that Gertrude was a strong, self-centered woman that was capable of feeling passion. She married Claudius quickly, either due to lust or as an effort to retain her power as Queen of Denmark. The play gives evidence that Gertrude was not a shallow minded individual; rather she was a shrewd and sharp witted woman that was capable of going to great lengths to protect her desires.

Works Cited

Frailty thy name is woman. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/bierman/elsinore/women/womenGertrude.html

Heilbrun, C. (1957, Spring). The character of Hamlet’s mother. Shakespeare Quarterly, 8, 201-206.

Loberg, H. (2004, June). Queen Gertrude: monarch, mother, murderer. Atenea, 24, 59-71.

Miola, R. S. (2011). William Shakespeare Hamlet (3rd ed.). New York: Norton & Company.

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