Today, when William Shakespeare is generally perceived by the mass consciousness as iconized genius, a lot of people try to succumb to the temptation to perceive his works with respect and even nihilism. It should be stated that the masterpieces of this great dramatist are worth analyzing, because they are valuable pieces of writing not only from the artistic, but also from literary and historic perspectives. Various researchers manage to reveal new shades of meaning, hidden in his works, and it changes the general perception of characters and ideas, rendered in his plays. Shakespearean works arouse interest because they tell the readers a lot about values and mass perceptions of the world, which were prevalent during the Renaissance period. Shakespeare is the master of psychological portrait. Every character is marked by the differentiating features, deep inner world, particular virtues and defects. “Hamlet” is one of his most well-known dramas, which makes the audience indulge in the analysis and evaluation of its characters. One of the most intriguing characters is Gertrude, who is a mother of Hamlet. She is a shadowy heroine. For years, literary critics cannot find the consensus concerning her role in the play. According to the conventional attitudes, Gertrude is the archetype of lover who forgets about her duty, honor, and good manners. She is criticized for her adultery and lack of attention to the sufferings of the protagonist Hamlet. The character of Gertrude is interesting for the audience, because she represents the prototype of strong women of the Renaissance period, who includes the closely intertwined images of Queen, mother, and woman. This research aims at looking at “hamlet” from the new perspective, revealing the reasons for Gertrude’s sudden marriage, investigation of her general attitude to Hamlet, researching the extent of her guilt, and understanding her deeds through decomposition of her character into separate images, which could tell more about Gertrude as a personality.
Gertrude as Queen
Close analysis of the play has revealed that Gertrude is the heiress of the belligerent country; she is not young, and is familiar with all the subtleties of governance. She is steadfast and determined. One has to remind the scene, when supporters of Laertes made the rebellion, Gertrude was not frightened. She sternly ordered them “O, this is counter, you false Danish dogs!” (Shakespeare 173). This phrase is essential, as it shows readers the inner power and stamina of Gertrude as a Queen. She was able to rule the country due to her skills and intelligence. It could be assumed that she really did not know anything about the murder of her husband. She made a significant political maneuver and decided to marry her late husband’s brother. In such a way, Gertrude sacrificed her reputation in order to strengthen the position of her beloved son - Hamlet, as the heir of the throne. One should admit that Shakespeare did not include the scene, where Queen tells Claudius about her feelings. Sudden marriage to Claudius could be explained as the Queen’s wish to preserve the throne for her son, but not her desire to obtain a new lover.
While conducting the analysis of this play, the temporal period should be taken into account. Women occupied essential place during the period of Renaissance, and Shakespeare has manifested it, with the help of Gertrude. She was a wise woman, and her actions were marked by sophistication, obtained in the course of historical and social circumstances. Gaia Servalio in the work “Renaissance Woman” indicated one essential thing: “The Renaissance also started when woman became more masculine and men more feminine; by becoming more learned, women were able to argue, to give their opinion, to rule” (2). “Hamlet” serves as the confirmation of this hypothesis. The thing is that deep analysis shows that Gertrude conducted a number of actions in order to stay in control of the country, and Hamlet behaved in a feminine way. He constantly grieved and thought little about the fate of his country. The ability of the Queen to retain the cold-blooded premeditation reveals her authority to the audience and sheds light towards the motives of her deeds.
It could be stated that her asking Hamlet to stop grieving for his father and start treating Claudius differently were not the expressions of her frivolity, but rather exhibitions of her plan. Such an attitude towards personality of Gertrude is different from standard opinions, but it explains her behavior, and shows her not as frivolous woman, but as a bright politician. Gertrude is frequently depicted as a weak woman, due to her passivity and subservience to Claudius. Most researchers tie the passivity of this character with Elizabethan standards of femininity. However, it could be assumed that her outer passivity was worked out in order to manipulate her husband and secure her son. Despite the fact that there were different women during the Renaissance age, it is hardly possible that men treated them differently. The outer image of passive and lustful woman was beneficial for Gertrude, as she could embody her plans without the fear of being caught.
It could be assumed that Queen did not know that Claudius killed her husband, but she definitely was aware of his traits and power. The comparison of Hamlet and Claudius shows that Hamlet was weaker. He was young, less ambitious, and lacked the Claudius’ experience. If Gertrude did not marry him, he could pose danger to her and her son. Gertrude was a wise woman, aware of different political nuances, and she definitely had calculated all the possible steps. Marrying Claudius and retaining her image of weak widow was advantageous for Gertrude, as she could prepare her son for the future governance and secure him from the possible dangers. The analysis of Gertrude’s statements shows that she did everything she could to save Hamlet. Even when she insisted the madness of her son, it was the maneuver to distract the attention of Claudius from him.
“Mas as the sea and when both contend
Which is the mightier. In his lawless fit,
Behind the arras hearing something stir,
Whips out his rapier, cries ‘A rat, a rat!’
And in this brainish apprehension kills
The unseen good old man” (149)
At first sight, it seems that the Queen talked against her son, but in reality, she could simply defend him, diminishing his strength to Claudius. In such a way, she disoriented her husband. She portrayed Hamlet as a silly boy, who simply did not know what he said. But this is the thing, which even modern women apply in order to save their kids from punishment. They simply try to mollify the anger. This is the part of female psychology.
Unfortunately, most of the modern critics perceive Gertrude as a woman, who has turned from the archetype of woman and mother into the archetype of lover. One of them is Robert Blumenfeld. In order to understand his idea, the following quote from his work should be considered:
Certainly the extraverted Claudius is prey to his archetypal shadow’s desires, and taking Gertrude to wife represents for him the mystical triumph that is realized in his intense sexual relationship with her. Gertrude’s shadow too is apparent in her behavior: she has abandoned her role of archetypal mother, which she continues to play out in a formal, but uninvolved way, in favor of her role as the love-goddess archetype for Claudius. (Blumenfeld 249)
In the above statements, researcher Blumenfeld applies the standard way of thinking, which manifests no analysis of this heroine. It could be argued that Gertrude was a love-goddess archetype for herself. Claudius had to treat her as the exhibition of his victory, but Gertrude perceived it as her sacrifice. Despite the fact that readers generally perceive her as the lustful woman, it can be supposed that she really loved her husband, and that his death was a tragedy for her. She could not allow herself to grieve properly, because her son did not behave in the mannish way. He indulged in psychoanalysis and his emotional sufferings, and could not understand the fact that without the monarch, the country is vulnerable. Prince could not be the decent alteration of his father, because he was not ready for it. Being an intelligent Queen, Gertrude understood that specific steps had to be taken in order to preserve the throne for her son. Marrying Claudius was actually the best option.
One could consider the possible effects of Gertrude’s falling in deep depression, as Hamlet did. Claudius would marry another woman, and she, together with her son, would find themselves in danger. They would turn out to be the relatives of the previous monarch, and Claudius could simply chuck them out from the kingdom. For that reason, the Queen had to pull herself together, and pretend being the love-goddess. In such a way, she was able to control the situation. Moreover, her sexuality, which attracted Claudius, assisted the Queen to manipulate Claudius. Her naivety and outer passivity helped Gertrude to put off the Claudius guard.
One could state that Shakespeare looked at Queen Gertrude differently, than we do it now, and that he perceived her actions differently. Modern people analyze the play, from the viewpoint of norms and morale, present in the modern society, but it is not right. While considering the deeds of Shakespearean heroes, the readers should be able to put their actions into the historical context. During the Middle Ages, rivalry was prevalent in royal families, and people were not ruled by the democratic rules, which we perceive as norms today. People did everything possible to obtain the power. They killed, lied, and manipulated. While analyzing this work, the temporal gap should be taken into account. Intrigues were the part of daily life of the Middle Age people.
Perception of Queen Gertrude in this light totally alters the attitude of readers to her. They stop seeing her as frivolous widow, but start viewing as wise monarch.
Gertrude as Mother
Most readers of Shakespeare perceive Gertrude as Shakespearean vamp woman, who could ruthlessly burry her husband and marry for the second time. Moreover, a number of researchers depict her as the monarch, but not mother. One of them is Felicity Dunworth, who emphasized: “Gertrude’s relentlessly public function as queen disallows her personal role as mother” (176).
It could be supposed that Dunworth’s ideas are not totally right. Gertrude might be perceived as a smart mother, a ruler, who controlled the fate of her son. When the Queen is perceived through her actions and statements, but not through the Hamlet’s vision of his mother, she emerges as practical, intelligent, and wise woman, who truly loves her kids. She constantly takes care of her son, but he is too blind to understand it. Claudius confirmed the Laertes that she “lives almost by [Hamlet’s] looks”, and there is no textual evidence that she knew about the murder of her husband (Fisher and Silber 131).
She understood why Hamlet disliked Claudius, but revealing her plans to Hamlet was too dangerous for him. Hamlet is young and desperate, and he needed the cold-blooded person, who could look after him.
In order to understand the psychology of Gertrude, the analysis of the Act III, Scene 4 has to be conducted. Hamlet comes to the chamber of his mother to talk about his behavior, and kills Polonius, while the latter was listening to their conversation in the hiding place. Hamlet starts accusing his mother of adultery, and expresses the hatred, which he feels towards her. He tells her many offensive things, but as a real mother, she endures his moral punishment in a decent way.
“O shame! Where is thy blush! Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax.
And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
Dince frost itself as actively duth burn,
And reason panders will”. (142)
She feels the pain, and wants him to stop losing his temprer, and look into the situation more realistically, but Hamlet is unable to do so. One should consider the following quote:
“O gentle son!
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience!”. (144)
Gertrude tries to persuade her son that his hatred, anger and emotions just exacerbate the situation. She asks him to calm down, and look into the situation differently.
The primary reason of Hamlet’s visiting his mother was not the talk about his behavior, but the expression of his feelings towards his mother. He wanted to state his dislike of the Claudius, and tell the way he feels about her betrayal. He succeeded in his primary goal, but his actions led to serious side effects, like murder of Polonius.
Most researchers depict him as a victim, who suffers from the father’s death and lack of attention from his mother. Though, it is not so. The analysis presents him as a teenager, who constantly conducts the highly emotional outbursts of his feelings grounded on the deep depression and self-deprecation. The Queen’s desire to save her kid becomes evident, as his behavior is unfit for the position of a real man. The death of his father killed the male traits in him. Men are generally known for their ability to preserve the calm mind in difficult situation, to analyze, monitor, and make conclusions. However, it was not about Hamlet. He simply locked in his inner world, and could not perceive the reality. It could be assumed that the presence of the ghost could be treated of Hamlet’s inner desire to talk with his father. He could not be brave enough to let him go and start taking concrete actions to clear the path to his kinship. His behavior resembles the performance of hysterical girl. Depression, anger, and overuse of emotions hinder the readers’ perception of him as a true Middle age man. The Queen, on the contrary, behaves in a mannish manner. Under the mask of love and passivity, she hides the strong will that can move the mountains to achieve the goal. She tries to calm her son down and explain the situation. If he behaved differently, he could easily kill Claudius without any victims, but his emotional outbursts resulted in Claudius’ suspicions, and his plan of poisoning Hamlet. As a result, Hamlet becomes deprived of one of his strongest allies, his mother.
Gertrude was a good mother, and her death serves as a symbolic confirmation of this fact. She expresses the apparent sincerity in her worries for Hamlet. She drank the poison, which was prepared for her son. In could be supposed that in such a way, Gertrude conducted her last step in protection of her son. She was always on his side, even in those cases, when he did not feel it. For example, during the duel with Laertes, she was openly on Hamlet’s side. Moreover, during the Ophelia’s funeral, Gertrude cried, and whispered that she hoped to call the girl her daughter. This act confirms her care and borderless love towards her son. She mourned the beloved woman of her son. Gertrude was the only person who understood his inner pain and sufferings. These scenes are often overlooked by the researchers, but they tell a lot about the Queen’s personality. They reveal her true character without masks and pretence. It could be assumed that if Hamlet knew that his mother conducted all her actions in order to protect him from the rage of Claudius, she would become closer to him, than she ever was.
The readers are often misled by Gertrude’s actions, which hinder them to deconstruct the motives of her deeds. For years, this character was associated with adultery, betrayal, lust, and passivity. But analysis of the inner sense layer, the quotes and consideration of the Gertrude’s behavior portrays her from the completely different perspectives. She was a strong woman, and doting mother, who could overcome all the difficulties and indulge in any activities, in order to protect her son and ensure that he occupies the right place in the kingdom. Her marriage was not the act of adultery, but the female sacrifice aimed at providing her son with the chance to inherit the throne.
Gertrude as Woman
Gertrude is able to fascinate the readers with her image. She performs the role of a shadowy character, but the close analysis of her deeds in the play assists the readers to grasp the truth about her. Investigation of the Gertrude’s features proves that she is one of the most significant characters of this play. She is a woman, who adds this story mystery and power. She is strong, sexual, dominant and authoritative. The queen could be compared to cheetah, who could be affectionate in one moment, and ruthless in another. There is a viewpoint that this quality was the thing, which attracted Claudius. She was sensual and strict simultaneously.
The audience should not perceive her as a silly woman, who was cheated by her late husband’s brother, and married him because of her true love and lack of understanding of the situation. This woman was not that simple, she applied her sensuality and sexuality to attract Claudius, and made him marry her, in order to demolish, when her son will be ready for the throne. She protected her son and decided to keep an eye on her enemy. She was a Middle Age vamp woman, who could lie, slip out, and be double faced. She was a real woman.
Predinger, Lester, and Ishizuka state that Gertrude was an archetype of woman (p. 242). She was mature and intelligent, true queen, who knew what to say and when. She was the key dramatic character of this literary work; she attracted the audience of the reader of her anarchic sexuality. Gertrude was not the ordinary dame, but the prototype of modern women.
Gertrude is often portrayed as an evil individual. However, in general perspective, every woman is evil. All women are descendants of Eve, who was the creator of sin. Gertrude was definitely a sinful woman, because she became the wife to Claudius, but she did not reveal her feelings toward him. This fact is intriguing, because she revealed her feelings towards her son in a number of facts. If Gertrude truly loved him, she could divulge her emotions in one of the parts. She has never declared any kind of emotion for Claudius. And he, on the contrary, expressed his profession of love and admiration towards the Queen. In such a way, it could be assumed that she was the Hamlet’s defender, and all her actions were conducted with one objective only - she wanted to make her son a king and protect him from danger.
Gertrude and Her Guilt
The guilt, which Gertrude has experienced, is one of the most debated topics, connected to this play. A number of researchers express very different opinions and visions of this issue. Gertrude was really guilty of Hamlet, and the cause of her guilt demands extra attention.
The analysis has confirmed the hypothesis that Gertrude’s behavior was the manifestation of her desire to protect her kid from the tyrannical uncle. In order to deflect the Claudius’ attention from her son, Gertrude applied her female beauty, sensuality and sexuality, and made Claudius adore her. Despite the fact that this deed was committed for the welfare of her kid, it has become the major cause of his depression. In this case, Gertrude turned out to be guilty.
Her purposive action caused many sufferings to her son. She could not behave differently. Gertrude was locked in the vicious circle. In order to protect her son, she had to tempt Claudius. While baiting Claudius, she destroyed her son. In such a way, she was partially guilty for her desire to defend him.
Sequentially, the father’s murder was not the only issue, which caused the Hamlet’s psychological collapse. His mother’s life, behavior, and her sexuality were the things, which caused him severe pain, which he simply could not stand. He could not bear the queen’s carnal love and her relationships with other man. His sufferings are revealed in the course of chamber scene. Hamlet starts his conversation with the word “mother” and ends it with the same word. He started his discussion with the exaggerated and idealized description of the character of his mother, and turned to Gertrude. He compared the positive traits of his father with the betrayal of Gertrude and childishly stroke out the uncontrolled outburst of anger.
Such kind of behavior is the sign of Hamlet’s inner destruction. He could not accept her deed. It caused him extreme psychological and emotional tortures, which served as a proof of Gertrude’s guilt.
It was an extremely difficult situation for her, because she had to choose between life and psychological well-being of her son. Unfortunately, few understood the complexity of her decisions and the emotional pain, which Gertrude experienced. She understood the feelings of Hamlet, but could not do anything. His explosive character could not allow her to reveal the truth, and her only way out was to continue her difficult mission.
Alteration of the Image of Gertrude
For years, various scholars wrote their works, trying to accuse Gertrude of all the sins, which happened to the royal family and Hamlet. The readers perceived her as a source of adulteration, bad mother, who preserved her duties only formally, and a passive woman, who could not take the wise and grounded decisions.
The accurate research can reveal new traits of Gertrude, which totally alter her image. She was a loving wife, doting mother, and wise monarch, who thought first and foremost about the well-being of her son and country. She was psychologically and emotionally strong woman, who could apply different methods in order to achieve her objective. Unlike the general persuasion, Gertrude was a woman, who could immolate her reputation and love of her son for his life and security. She was an extremely intelligent woman, who knew how to put her female spell on Claudius, and liberate the path to throne for her son. She was a cold-minded woman, who could hide her sufferings, pain and feelings and reveal authority - the artificial representation of her personality.
Despite the mass accusation of her betrayal, the work does not include the direct signs of her love towards Claudius. She did everything possible to defend her son, who behaved as a childish boy, unable to cope with his emotions. Gertrude was Hamlet’s invisible helper and his major ally. Unfortunately, he could not notice it and appreciate it. She sacrificed her life in order to give him an opportunity to grasp the gist and continue living.
Gertrude was not the evil woman, love-goddess, or traitoress, she was a Queen, a mother and a woman.
In conclusion, it should be stated that a lot of people perceive Shakespeare as a masterful dramatist, and respect his talent. Though, few understand that he was more than a dramatist, poet and writer, he was a narrator, who tried to portray the life in his works. While investigating his works, people often take the standard and conventional explanations, and use them for the perception of his works. But it is not right, as accurate analysis reveals the new shades of coloring, new features, new details and nuances, which totally alter the attitude of readers towards his characters, their roles, ideas of his works, etc.
“Hamlet” is generally perceived to be the tragedy of a young prince, who mourns the murder of his father and his father’s betrayal. Though, attentive reading of this wok changes its gist. It seems to be the tragedy of the young and blind prince, who locked himself in his inner world, full of grief, accusations, hatred, and pain, and did not notice how his mother sacrificed her reputation, her honor, and even her life to him. The queen Gertrude is often depicted as a woman-monster, who is deprived of the ability to feel, regret, and take care. This analysis has revealed this character from the completely new side. Gertrude turned out to be the woman, who thought about her son, cared about him, who constantly protected and defended him. She was his invisible assistant, ally, and friend, but Hamlet could not realize it.
While reading the Shakespearean works, people take into account the surface structure of his texts. This common mistake makes the readership unable to encode the true gist in his work. Shakespeare was a master, who dowered his plays with wisdom and practical lessons. People, who read his masterpieces, should be able to notice the nuances, analyze them, and make the necessary decisions.
The detailed investigation has totally altered the vision of Gertrude. She appeared to be the wise and intelligent queen and good mother, who could manipulate, pretend, and lie to save her kid.