Prompt: Carolyn Heilbrun contends that, contrary to the predominant critical opinion, Gertrude is not a weak character who lacks “depth and vigorous intelligence.” Heilbrun argues that Gertrude’s actions, in fact, reveal her to be clear-headed and courageous, lustful but also “intelligent, penetrating, and gifted with a remarkable talent for concise and pithy speech.”
Carolyn Heilbrun’s view on the character of Gertrude in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet as an intelligent being is contradicted by Gertrude’s actions and words, indicating her loyalty and subsequent obedience to the king. Part of this relates to her weakness as she always has worshipful obedience of her husband, the king. She fails to have thoughts of her own, and whenever they are revealed they are immediately shot down. Through her tactless attitude and actions towards events and characters in the play, Gertrude herself proves that she is neither “clear-headed” nor “courageous.”
Gertrude’s actions at the scene of Ophelia’s death illustrate her inability to react to the situation properly, displaying her lack of tact and intelligence. At Ophelia’s funeral, Gertrude, speaking to the departed Ophelia, tells her “I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife” (Act V, Scene I) being completely dismissive of Ophelia’s suicide. Gertrude’s lack of tact is further illustrated in the way she is, instead of mourning Ophelia’s death, dreaming of what kind of bride she could have been for Hamlet. This also illustrates Gertrude’s selfish nature, for instead of mourning for Ophelia she is considering the “trophy wife” she would have made for Hamlet, therefore improving the royal reputation.
The ability to think for oneself escapes Gertrude in this play, showing her dependence on others and unwillingness to take matters into her own hands. Claudius commands her to secretly reveal Hamlet’s reasons for his madness, and she obeys without question though she should have a closer connection to him...
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