Gertrude: The Tragic Heroine Of Shakespeare's Hamlet

3356 words - 13 pages

Gertrude: The Tragic Heroine of Hamlet

Hamlet is perhaps English literature's most renowned play; a masterwork by the greatest of all masters, Shakespeare, from its very appearance Hamlet has not ceased to delight audiences and confound spectators. The complexity of the main character, prince Hamlet, is so vast that all who have attempted to decipher his character fulsomely have failed. Amidst his own grandeur, Hamlet makes the other characters pale. As they blur into literary oblivion due to the magnetism of the central character, other characters are often disregarded as one-dimensional and are not done sufficient justice. Gertrude, victim of Hamlet's virulent verbal abuse, is often seen through the bitter eyes of her son and thus her true character is seldom recognized. However, Shakespeare, incapable of mediocrity, instilled in Gertrude more complexity than simple analysis might yield. He bestowed her the appearance of an unscrupulous woman, one for whom shame is a stranger and who acts guided solely by her carnal desires; furthermore, she gives signs of being a frivolous queen, one who occupies her mind in simple contemplations, and for whom profound matters are inaccessible. Finally, he made her seem an insensitive mother incapable of empathy for her son's grief and oblivious to true sensibility. Nonetheless, it is Gertrude's desire for reconcilement and her need to avoid conflict that make her appear an unscrupulous woman, a frivolous Queen and an insensitive mother.  

Certainly the most widespread opinion regarding Gertrude is that she is an unscrupulous woman; however, it is her desire for reconcilement and her need to avoid conflict that make her appear unscrupulous.  With all the force of his first soliloquy, Hamlet presents the Queen as the most grotesquely unscrupulous woman. His memory of his father goads him to remember how "She would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on;" (Hamlet I, i 150-51) and, immediately following, as if abhorred by the mere memory, he recriminates her much too speedy remarriage, lamenting "and yet within a month- let me not think on't!" ( Hamlet I, ii 151-152)  Such an abrupt introduction to the queen, full of bitterness and remorse, immediately stains her image showing her to be an unscrupulous woman, and thus what to a more discerning would be a demonstration of desire for reconcilement and need to avoid conflict, becomes rapidly a sign of frivolity. Aggravatingly, Hamlet continues to condemn her "most wicked speed" with a vivid carnal imagery, saying "to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets." ( Hamlet I, ii 163)   Furthermore, the ghost of Hamlet senior, when narrating the episode of his murder to Hamlet, vituperates her calling her a "most seeming-virtuous queen" and then, with powerfully abhorring carnal imagery, continues to say in reference to the Queen's relationship with Claudius, "so lust, though to a radiant angel linked, will sate itself in a...

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