Character analysis: Gertrude in Hamlet Essay

Focussing on key quotations and theatrical interpretations, Tamara Tubb explores the smoothness of Gertrude in Hamlet and her role within the play.

Exploring the character of Gertrude

Gertrude is Hamlet’s mother and Queen of Denmark. She had been married to the murdered King Hamlet (represented by the Ghost in the play) and it has subsequently wed Claudius, his cousin. The woman close relationships toward main male figures imply that this woman is a vital figure inside the narrative.

King Hamlet’s death and Gertrude’s wedding to Claudius happen instantly ahead of the opening of play. Both of these occasions will be the reason behind Hamlet’s distress and disgust in Act 1, and form the foundation regarding the revenge plot. However, Shakespeare intentionally leaves the level of Gertrude’s historic participation with Claudius (as both their fan and prospective accomplice in murder) ambiguous. Unlike the woman male counterparts, Gertrude doesn't have any soliloquiess and is for that reason rejected the chance to present her internal ideas and feelings toward market. Therefore, the real nature of her character and motivation is ambiguous.

Probably the most enduring characterisation of Gertrude – as shamelessly sensual and superficial – is given by Hamlet and also the Ghost. Hamlet often mentions their mother’s sex, and obsesses about the woman real relationship with Claudius, describing their marital sleep as ‘incestuous sheets’ (1.2.57) and ‘an enseamèd bed, / Stewed in corruption’ (3.4.84–85). The Ghost additionally speaks of Gertrude’s sexuality as he bitterly laments:

So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed
And victimize garbage. (1.5.55–57)

The Ghost cites Gertrude’s voracious lust whilst the reason behind her quick wedding to his brother (the ‘garbage’ in this metaphor). Gertrude’s intimate relationship with Claudius defines the woman character for both Hamlets, and taints the audience’s perception of the girl as an intemperately lustful and self-indulgent person. However, Gertrude says nothing inside the play text to either confirm or reject this assessment. The language she does use paints a different image entirely.

Key quotations and language analysis

Gertrude’s role has traditionally been regarded as passive, with critics usually discounting the couple of, brief, speeches she makes as just the reflection of the woman male counterparts’ view. Yet upon closer analysis, the woman message shows to be invariably direct, insightful and innuendo-free. Gertrude often anticipates, or correctly identifies, key moments, themes, or implications inside the play all together.

The woman clipped instruction to Polonius to talk ‘[m]ore matter with less art’ (2.2.96) identifies Polonius as a pretentious, rambling old trick while as well asserting the woman authority and intelligence – that is achieved in a poetic heartbeat.

She instinctively perceives the true cause of Hamlet’s antic disposition in Act 2, and doesn’t mince terms when she describes to Claudius that it's their union that has upset her son so:

it isn't other nevertheless the primary —
His father’s death and our o’erhasty wedding. (2.2.56–57)

Despite Gertrude’s present in making shrewd findings she appears content not to ever act upon them, and rather submits towards the schemes of her spouse and their councellors in the 1st 1 / 2 of the play: ‘I shall obey you’ (3.1.38). Gertrude’s compliance is open to interpretation: does it show passiveness and apathy, or simply commitment to the woman partner and rely upon their judgement regarding the woman son? Gertrude is consequently enigmatic, and this is why her character struggles to define itself against the Hamlets’ explicit opening viewpoints. However, the power and complexities of Gertrude’s personality do emerge because the play progresses and she is forced to confront the realities of the woman situation.

The pivotal and revelatory cabinet scene of Act 3, Scene 4 is the first and just instance in which Hamlet and Gertrude are alone together on phase. It's the strength of their interaction, as well as the shock of Polonius’s assassination and

Hamlet’s subsequent accusations of murder and incest, which start to reveal the emotional depths of Gertrude’s character:

Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul,
And here we see such black colored and grainèd spots (3.4.81–82)

The information that her very first spouse, King Hamlet, ended up being murdered by Claudius causes Gertrude to see a moral awakening: that which was when an ethical grey area (the girl ‘o’erhasty marriage’) has become a ‘black and grainèd spot’ upon her extremely heart. Gertrude’s suffering at these revelations is genuine; her repeated needs for ‘sweet Hamlet’ (3.4.88) to ‘speak in my experience no more’ (3.4.86) belie the pity that she now seems. The woman response is in a way that perhaps the Ghost, a previous critic, observes that ‘amazement on thy mother sits’ (3.4.104) and warns Hamlet not to ever distress her further.

Despite being overwrought Gertrude is able to muster the woman resolve and come to the assistance of her son. She agrees not to divulge that Hamlet is ‘mad in craft’ (3.4.177) and not actually:

Be thou assured, if terms be made of breath,
And breath of life, I have no life to breathe
What thou hast said to me. (3.4.186–88)

In this passage Gertrude swears on her behalf life to keep Hamlet’s sanity a key, and to keep her very own familiarity with her first husband’s murder a secret from her second spouse – his murderer. The closeness forged between the two figures inside scene paves the way in which the tragic finale of this play, and Gertrude’s part within it.

Gertrude and genre

not merely is Gertrude an integral figure in activities which inspire and compel Hamlet’s search for revenge, but this woman is additionally instrumental within the actualisation of this revenge. Though her character is visible as passive for the very first part of the play, its in Act 5, Scene 2 that she fully realises the woman dramatic potential. She wilfully disobeys Claudius by drinking the poisoned wine. She dies with cries of ‘the beverage! the drink! I am poisoned’ (5.2.264), and in therefore doing identifies Claudius as the woman killer. This, then, offers Hamlet the clarity of function, and the means and motive for revenge, which he has soliloquised over and struggled with throughout the play. Whilst the scholar Marguerite Tassi says of Gertrude, ‘[i]n fulfilling her tragic part, the conclusion crowns all; into the last moments of the woman life, she performs an exceptional work that provides Hamlet motive and cue for killing the King’.[1]

Theatrical interpretations of Gertrude

The ambiguity surrounding Gertrude’s character means she is represented on phase and screen in many ways.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2008 theatre manufacturing and movie (2009) of Hamlet, directed by Gregory Doran with David Tennant as Hamlet, portrayed Gertrude (played by Penny Downie) as overtly sexual. In a BBC interview Doran explained that his manufacturing ended up being rooted in premise that Gertrude and Claudius enjoyed ‘a strenuous intimate relationship’ within, and ahead of, the occasions of play.[2] He viewed the two characters’ marriage as a love match. Gertrude’s persona, within form of the play, is consistent with the Hamlets’ view of the girl as shallow and lustful. Speaking as Gertrude in interview, Downie declared, ‘I was just very pleased that i possibly could have what I wanted, that was Claudius and also the crown’.[3]

However, these traits cannot always determine or restrict the woman character and dramatic potential. Rather, Gertrude’s love for Claudius produces a fantastic twist toward closet scene in which he could be revealed as a murderer. The last Act, in which she is demonstrably conscious that the wine is poisoned, sees her sacrifice by herself to save lots of Hamlet. This is the tragic peak of manufacturing, and forms its staying moments.

On the other hand, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film – which he both directed and starred in – gifts Gertrude as a moderate, ineffectual but fundamentally truthful dynastic pawn. Julie Christie, whom played Gertrude, stated of the woman: ‘she just isn't perfectly developed – none associated with ladies in the play are. She’s a passive character who never ever makes herself clear’.[4] In this production Gertrude is seemingly oblivious towards governmental and murderous manoeuvrings surrounding the girl. In the last Act she is blissfully ignorant of the woman husband’s plot to poison her son, and her death is only among the numerous that populate the play and supply a gory backdrop to Hamlet and Claudius’s rivalry.


[1] Marguerite A. Tassi, ladies and Revenge in Shakespeare: Gender, Genre, and Ethics (Selinsgrove PA: Susquehanna University Press, c. 2011.), p. 95.[2] [Accessed 20 April 2017].
[3] [Accessed 20 April 2017].
[4] [Accessed 28 April 2017].

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