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Women in Hamlet

By mlstatic5 May 15, 2011 1327 Words
The Strength of Gertrude in Hamlet
Murder, treason, and deceit are common themes in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. Throughout the play the women are often viewed as weak in character as the men easily dominate them and steal the spotlight through their manic actions. The time period in which Shakespeare would have written Hamlet, women would have been treated with little respect. One woman that shows her feminine power is Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet. Through the play it seems that Gertrude has committed more bad deeds than good, but with further examination, her actions can be seen as altruistic and loving. Queen Gertrude in Hamlet reveals her true strength through her selfless actions for both Hamlet and Denmark. With the fresh death of King Hamlet, Gertrude loses her money, power and her only chance for her son to be a successor to the throne. Instinctively, Gertrude marries the man who is King in order to gain status in Denmark. During the 16th century, a woman was only as powerful as the man to whom she was married and Gertrude knows she must protect her son. By being loyal to Claudius, the next most powerful person to her late husband, she is able to secure a position for Hamlet to be next in line for King. This act of love towards Claudius might or might not be false in the beginning, which is a selfless act on its own, but then Gertrude is able to care for Claudius as well, which proves she has loving characteristics. Throughout the play Hamlet mourns the loss of his father some two months after his death, but Claudius does not support his behavior, infuriating Hamlet. Gertrude being a woman in the 16th century, is unable to comfort Hamlet without stepping on her newly wed husband’s toes: “Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted colour off, And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark” (1.2. 68-69). Gertrude appears to be giving Hamlet the message that, in order for their success he must now adapt to his new surroundings instead of disrespecting Claudius. Even though Hamlet despises Gertrude for her blunt words he obeys when Gertrude asks: “I pray thee, stay with us; go not to Wittenberg” (1.2.118). It is evident that Gertrude desires the best for Hamlet, she has married in order to keep him in line for the thrown and even though she hurts him with words, she is lovingly sacrificing her emotions for his long-term well being. The Queen Gertrude has loving and caring qualities that are only subtly seen in Hamlet, and this is why most audiences see her slightly villainess. She loves Hamlet and underneath her shallow exterior, shows great emotion when he confronts her. Gertrude truly does not know what she has done to make Hamlet so enraged, and it is only when he tells her that she understands her actions to be wrong: “O Hamlet, speak no more: Thou turn'st my very eyes into my soul, And there I see such black and grained spots As will not leave their tinct” (III.iv.88-91). There is no reason to believe that Gertrude is lying to appease Hamlet as she confesses that her soul is blackened. Gertrude is portrayed as loving and loyal throughout the play; she stayed loyal to Hamlet after he lashed out on her in the closet by appeasing Claudius. These loving qualities that are subtly shown in Gertrude prove that she is selfless in her actions for Hamlet and Denmark. Gertrude often lies throughout the play, and while lying is a bad characteristic that would build a certain hate from the audience, her lies are in order to protect those around her. Gertrude’s lies are not cruel and evil falsehoods; hers are white lies that she feels she must tell in order to keep those around her safe physically and emotionally. She must tell the King that Hamlet has killed Polonius, but she does what she can to help Hamlet, telling Claudius that Hamlet "weeps for what is done" (4.1.27) when clearly he does not. Gertrude lies in order to protect Hamlet whom has just lashed out, telling her of all her hurtful actions. She follows her instincts and as a good politician puts a buffer on the truth in order to protect people emotionally around her. All of Queen Gertrude’s actions in lying seem shallow but are necessary for those around her and are selfless on her part in order to protect Hamlet. The ghost of King Hamlet is easily misinterpreted when he reveals to Hamlet, information about his murder and details of Claudius and Gertrude. The message the Ghost tells Hamlet makes Gertrude a far more despised character: “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts” (1.5.42-43). The line of “adulterous beast” insinuates that Gertrude was committing adultery and thus lying to King Hamlet making her a cheater and therefore despised by the audience. The term adulterate does not have the same meaning as adultery, by definition it means to render poorer in quality by adding another substance. In all, the Ghost is correct because Gertrude is of a “poorer quality” due to her new ties with Claudius, but that does not mean that they committed adultery before the King’s death. If Gertrude were an adulteress, she would have been almost certainly been involved in Claudius' plot of murder, Claudius would believe her to be an accomplice and confide in her, but he does not. In addition, if it were true, it would most likely be first on Hamlet's mind, but when Hamlet confronts Gertrude in her closet and announces all her crimes; he does not once even imply that she has committed adultery. This misinterpretation could cause much hate for The Queen by the audience and much confusion as to her real motives, but with this insight it is most obvious that the Queen was respectable towards her family and Hamlet. Through all of the challenges in Gertrude’s life she has never been recognized for all her selfless actions for her son and Denmark. Gertrude is truly a hero of the play because she continuously sacrifices herself for the love of others and Denmark. She selflessly told Hamlet of the poison so he then knew for sure Claudius was corrupt: “The drink, the drink! I am poison’d!” (5.2.304). With this information Hamlet was able to justifiably kill Claudius for the murder of his mother Gertrude. Just before her death Gertrude is able to save the land of Denmark from the deceitful and murderous King Claudius. This action on the Queen’s part is beneficial to all the people of Denmark allowing them to have a fair chance with their newly chosen ruler young Fortinbras. Hamlet is a tragedy in which there needs to be a heroic, selfless character, and in the end this is the Queen Gertrude. Overall, through the examination of Queen of Denmark may appear as a villainess character but when examined closely her motives show a loving and strong character. Living in a time in which she had little respect, Gertrude was able to secure a spot for her son in the throne by marrying a man of power. Through all controversies she sets her emotions aside in order to deal with situations that concern her family and Denmark. Though at most times Gertrude has to keep her emotions at bay it is evident that she has subtle loving qualities for her family. After all controversy and being hated by Hamlet she still protects her son with small white lies to Claudius. Gertrude is never recognized for her strength as she saves Denmark from the tyrant that Claudius is. A heroic, strong, feminine character shows her altruistic characteristics throughout William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet.

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