Gertrude is a very minute character in Hamlet, yet the same cannot be said about her impact on the action of the play. Certain audiences view Gertrude in different ways, some sympathise with her as a character, and see her actions as empowering towards women as a whole, letting loose of the social conventions of the Shakespearian era, in addition to being a caring mother. However, I feel there are two options that can be seen here concerning Gertrude as a person, and neither of them are positive, as the only two plausible ways in which her character can be based on is a manipulative plotter, or one who is simply invested in her own ignorance. Considering her lack of concern for the social conventions of the time, alongside poor ways of dealing with an unstable son, it is my personal opinion that Shakespeare intended Gertrude to be seen as a manipulative plotter, rather than a woman who epitomised a tragic heroine.
To begin assessing how much of a tragic heroine Gertrude really was, it is imperative to assess the tragic conventions of the time. ‘A hero must fall from fortune and power, with a tragic flaw allowing the reader to empathise with the character’ (Aristotle 335 BCE) In addition to this, Shakespearean tragic conventions also suggest that a tragic heroine must show promise of further greatness and possess a character trait that would normally be a virtue, but under the circumstances of the play become a flaw.
On the surface my repudiation of Gertrude as anything other than a manipulative plotter may seem a brash claim; at least it does until we are met with the way she confronts Claudius in Act 2 Scene 2. Her line ‘thanks Guildenstern, and gentle Rosencrantz’ (2:2:34) is used either to correct what Claudius said just before her, or is simply her mistaking between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I think it is obvious that it is merely Gertrude correcting Claudius, as if the line were meant to be said with indecision, Shakespeare would have most...
Ratcliffe, Stephen. “What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Queen’s Speech.” (1998): 130-31
Aristotle. “Poetics [Penguin Classics]” (1998): 54
Loberg, Harmonie. “Queen Gertrude: Monarch, Mother, Murderer.” (2004): 68
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