A Comparison of Gertrude and Ophelia of Hamlet
Gertrude and Ophelia occupy the leading roles for females in the Shakespearean drama Hamlet. As women they share many things in common: attitudes from others, shallow or simple minds and outlooks, etc. This essay will delve into the various facets of what they hold in common.
John Dover Wilson explains in What Happens in Hamlet how the prince holds both of the women in disgust:
The exclamation “Frailty thy name is woman!” in the first soliloquy, we come to feel later, embraces Ophelia as well as Gertrude, while in the bedroom scene he as good as taxes his mother with destroying his capacity for affection, when he accuses her of
such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fir forehead of an innocent love
And sets a blister there.
Moreover, it is clear that in the tirades of the nunnery scene he is thinking almost as much of his mother as of Ophelia (101).
Hamlet’s disgust for his mother is so great that it even “envelops and exceeds her” (Elliot 25). In the closet scene he attacks her with “the indulgence of an obsessive passion” (Knight 70). Such aggressiveness is contrary to the natural direction of both Ophelia and Gertrude. They are both “tender of heart,” and “to Hamlet, Ophelia is no better than another Gertrude” (Bevington 9). Both are motivated by love and a desire for quiet familial harmony among the members of their courtly society in Elsinore. At the first social function in the play, Gertrude advises out of love:
Dear Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust. (1.2)
Likewise does she ask that the prince remain with the family: “Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet, / I pray thee stay with us, go not to Wittenberg.” Later, when the hero’s supposed “madness” is the big concern, Gertrude lovingly sides with her husband in the analysis of her son’s condition: “I doubt it is no other but the main, / His father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage.” She confides her family-supporting thoughts to Ophelia: “And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish / That your good beauties be the happy cause / Of Hamlet’s wildness,” thereby attempting to keep a loving relationship with the young lady of the court, even though the latter is of a lower social stratum. When Claudius requests of Gertrude, “Sweet Gertrude, leave us too; / For we have closely sent for Hamlet hither,” Gertrude responds submissively, “I shall obey you.”
Familial love is first among Gertrude’s priorities. When, at the presentation of The Mousetrap, she makes a request of her son, “Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me,” and he spurns her to lie at Ophelia’s feet, Gertrude is not offended; her loyalty to family overrides such slights. She...