The Gertrude in Shakespeare’s tragic drama Hamlet is controversial in the sense that some critics uphold her morality and some deny it. Let’s consider this question and others related to this character.
Gertrude has many good qualities in the play; she is not evil through and through. Rebecca Smith in “Scheming Adulteress or Loving Mother” presents an image of the queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that is perhaps not consistent with that presented by the ghost:
Although she may have been partially responsible for Claudius’ monstrous act of fratricide and although her marriage to Claudius may have been indirectly responsible for making a “monster” of Hamlet, Gertrude is never seen in the play inducing anyone to do anything at all monstrous. . . . When one closely examines Gertrude’s actual speech and actions in an attempt to understand the character, one finds little that hints at hypocrisy, suppression, or uncontrolled passion and their implied complexity. . . . She speaks plainly, directly and chastely when she does speak. . . .(81-82)
Gunnar Bokland in “Hamlet” describes Gertrude’s moral descent during the course of Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
With Queen Gertrude and finally also Laertes deeply involved in a situation of increasing ugliness, it becomes clear that, although Claudius and those who associate with him are not the incarnations of evil that Hamlet sees in them, they are corrupt enough from any balanced point of view, a condition that is also intimated by the “heavy-headed revel” that distinguishes life at the Danish court. (123)
Gertrude’s “contamination” does indeed affect the hero. Courtney Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks in "Making Mother Matter: ...
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Jorgensen, Paul A. “Hamlet.” William Shakespeare: the Tragedies. Boston: Twayne Publ., 1985. N. pag. http://www.freehomepages.com/hamlet/other/jorg-hamlet.html
Lehmann, Courtney and Lisa S. Starks. "Making Mother Matter: Repression, Revision, and the Stakes of 'Reading Psychoanalysis Into' Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.1 (May, 2000): 2.1-24 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/06-1/lehmhaml.htm>.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html No line nos.
Smith, Rebecca. “Gertrude: Scheming Adulteress or Loving Mother?” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. of “Hamlet”: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.
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