Shakespeare's Hamlet - Comparing Ophelia and Gertrude

Shakespeare's Hamlet - Comparing Ophelia and Gertrude

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Hamlet: Ophelia and Gertrude

        Ophelia and Gertrude. Two different women who seem to be trapped in the

same circumstances in relation to Hamlet.

        Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and the Queen of Denmark. She is married to

the present King, Claudius, who is suspected by Hamlet to have killed his father,

King Hamlet, who also happens to be Claudius's brother. Gerturde has somehow

ended up in the plot of King Hamlet's death and in the eyes of her son, seems to

be a monster and an aide to an adulterating deed.


        Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius who is the King's trusted councilor

and is later killed in the play and he forbids his daughter to see Hamlet

because of the possibility that he beseech her name and her virginity. She truly

loves Hamlet and is devastated when he shuns her and pretends to be mad.


        Hamlet's treatment towards these two women shapes and brings life to

their characters and eventually bring s an end to their characters as well.


        Gertrude is a kind and loving mother. The kind that guards after her son

through thick and through thin and loves unconditionally. Hamlet had suspected

her of aiding in the killing of King Hamlet. That will be discussed later.


        Her character is the one character in the play that I believe does not

develop but rather stays identical to the scene in which she is introduced(Act I,

scene II). She is shown to be a quiet, "stand by your man" type individual who

is easily influenced.


        This is my belief because in the second scene of the play, Hamlet is

shown to be crushed by his mother's hasty remarriage. If marriage within the

family was common in the days of Shakespeare, then this is understandable, but,

in any other case, this would be considered an act of betrayal that was

obviously brought on by some outside pressure, probably from Claudius.


        There is, however, a slight change in her personality that is not quite

noticeable. At the end of the play, the King and Laertes(Polonius's son) have

plotted to kill Hamlet for reasons that are irrelevant to my point. One part of

the plot was to have Hamlet drink out of a poisoned cup. It so happens that, in

some confusion, the Queen ends up with the cup in her hand. Even after the

King's warnings not to drink from the cup(she is unaware of the plot), she does.

She does in complete defiance of her husband's wishes. I have interpreted this

in this way because of the line the Queen speaks before she drinks from the cup.

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"I will, my lord, I pray you pardon me."1


        This shows that in the case that she might have lived on and not died

from the poison in her cup, we(the readers) would see a completely different

woman had she found out about the plot by Claudius to not only kill King Hamlet,

but young Hamlet as well.


        The one thing, I believe, that she would have stood up for is her son,

if only she had had a chance.


        There is a large part of this play that seems to be lacking in

information to provide reason to this attitude.


        Hamlet meets with a ghost(seemingly that of his father) who tells him of

Claudius's plot to kill him. After the ghost is done telling the story of his

death, he specifically tell s Hamlet to punish only Claudius for his foul deed,

but "Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught.

Leave her to heaven,".2 Generally, he's trying to tell him to punish Claudius

and only Claudius. I don't understand this since earlier in the play he refers

to the Queen as a "most seeming-virtuous queen".3


        Either I have misinterpreted the previous passage or there is a major

flaw in the attitude toward Gertrude.


        The one other time in the play that we see the Queen standing up for

herself or actually giving some sort of argument is when she and Polonius decide

to confront Hamlet on his behavior toward the King. Since the revealing of

Claudius's involvement in Hamlet's father's death, Hamlet has been putting on an

act of madness.


        After some very rude gestures on the part of Hamlet, Polonius and the

Queen decide to confront him on his rudeness to the King. Here, the Queen is

very strict and domineering which irritates Hamlet. He threatens her and after

some confusion, Hamlet kills Polonius who is hiding behind the curtain listening

to the conversation.


        This brings on the involvement of Laertes(Polonius's son) in the plot to

kill Hamlet.


        In any case, Gertrude shows some backbone in this scene, but, even

though Hamlet had threatened her, she still loved him and treated him the same

way that she had treated him before the confrontation. This, though very

unnoticeable, is a very large character flaw.


        Ophelia, a young lady born to the King's faithful advisor, Polonius and

sister to Laertes.


        The first time we see Ophelia in the play is in scene III, when she is

saying good-bye to her brother who has been granted passage back to Paris.


        She is warned, by her brother, that she should beware of Hamlet's love,

for, it is not the love of a regular man. Prince's go about choosing their wives

at random. She is said to be careful to protect her good name, and her virginity.


        In this scene, Ophelia's love still has no definition towards Hamlet.

She seems indifferent when her brother is talking to her, but, when her father

talks to her, and she tells him about the strong love in between them, Polonius

ridicules the possibility of such love. He orders Ophelia to end the friendship,

and, like the obedient daughter she is, she does.


        After some time in the play passes, Ophelia is suddenly strongly

frightened by an act by Prince Hamlet.


        He comes into her room, half naked(which was very uncommon at the time),

his doublet unbuttoned and his stockings hung loose around his ankles. He didn't

say what was wrong but he was terribly upset. He left without making a stir.


        As soon as Polonius heard of this occurrence, he decided that it was in

mad love for Ophelia that Hamlet did this and he was even more upset after

Ophelia had told him that she was refusing to see him or receive any on his



        Polonius, without hesitation, rushes to the King to tell him of the act

committed to Ophelia.


        As soon as Polonius sees the Queen and King he starts telling them about

Hamlet's love for Ophelia and how strong it is and he also reads a love letter,

from Hamlet to Ophelia, that he has found:


               "Doubt thou stars are fire,

                Doubt that the sun doth move,

                Doubt truth to be a liar,

                But never doubt I love.

                O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. I have not art

                to beckon my groans. But that I love thee best, O most best,

                believe it. Adieu.

                Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this

                machine is to him, Hamlet".4


        This establishes that, even though Hamlet cannot show it, he loves

Ophelia dearly and it is known that if he did show her, then his cover as a

madman would be blown.


        The King, unconvinced of his nephew's madness, asks for some solid proof

of Hamlet's love. Polonius and the King agree that they will set up a meeting

between Hamlet and Ophelia and will hide and watch.


        Hamlet is surprised when he meets Ophelia. She hands back all of the

little presents that he had given her, and at this point, Hamlet loses it. He

completely blows up on Ophelia and all of his bottled up anger since his

mother's remarriage is burdened on her.


        He even starts suspecting her, and that there might be others listening

to his conversation with her.


        In his madness, he utters a threat that the King must have heard: "I say

we will have no mo marriage. Those that are married already - all but one -

shall live".5


        Not only had Hamlet mentioned a threat, but he treated Ophelia with very

little respect in regards to their love. "Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst

thou be a breeder of sinners?"6


        Ophelia is left terrified and quite convinced of Hamlet's madness.

Claudius is still unsure of the situation, but he is sure that the way that

Hamlet behaved cannot be excused for love(at this time, Polonius decides he will

set a meeting with Gertrude to talk to Hamlet while he hides behind the great

tapestry that hangs in Gertrude's room).


        Quite some time has passed and in the confrontation between Hamlet and

Gertrude with Polonius hiding, had resulted in the death of Polonius by Hamlet.

This proved to be the deed that completely threw Ophelia over the edge. She went

mad that her father was murdered by the man she loves. Everyone had understood

how she felt.


        Word of Polonius's murder had worked it's way to Laertes who immediately

left for Denmark and the threat is made even more dangerous by his sudden

barging into the room full of fury. His situation is even worsened when he sees

his sister madly singing to herself of love and death.


        The Queen interrupts a conversation that Laertes and the King are having,

two scenes later. Ophelia has drowned. She seemed to be drinking from a river

when she fell in and made no attempt to get out. She is called a suicide and

Laertes vows to get revenge on Hamlet.


        What seems peculiar is that no one questions the Queen as to how she

knows every single detail to Ophelia's death. It seems strange to me that if the

Queen had been witness to the death that she would have pulled her out, but

didn't. You've already told me that it was word-of-mouth that got word of the

death to the Queen, but then how come whoever did see this death didn't pull her

out and watched her die? This question is definitely a dent in the storyline

that is quite vital to the understanding of the Queen's position towards Ophelia.

The Queen supposedly loved Ophelia and wanted her to marry Hamlet some day, so

it seems strange to me that her reaction to the death was not more dire or

severe than it was.


        Ophelia's funeral was held in a secluded place with a minimal amount of

people because of the way that she died, suicide. Because suicide was and to the

present day is a sin, the departed died with a grave sin to their name and

therefore could not be buried in the same area as the people who died without

sin. It was because of this that there was a small amount of people at her




        Hamlet is there, hiding and watching the funeral processions not knowing

who they're for. Only when he finds out that she had died had he realized how

much he really did love her.

        It is truly a shame that Hamlet had not treated the women in his life

with the respect that they deserve.




        Ophelia, a devoted and true love that died over the fact that the man

she loved so dearly had also killed her father.




        Gertrude, a loving mother that died at the hands of her husband through

a poisoned cup intended for her son.




       Both of these cases show that the downfall of the women was due only to

Hamlet's actions and behavior and that if he hadn't acted the way he did, the

women would still be alive, as well as he.


              "To be, or not to be, that is the question:

               Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer



               The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,



               Or to take arms against a sea of troubles



               And by opposing, end them."7

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