Hamlet -- the Dissimilar Characters of Gertrude and Ophelia
In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet it is much less challenging to illustrate the lack of resemblance between Gertrude and Ophelia than it is to indicate the similarities between the two ladies.
The biggest difference between the two is the moral difference. Who can deny that the Queen has done some very serious sinning? Who can deny that Ophelia is a shy, obedient, innocent daughter? Lilly B. Campbell comments in “Grief That Leads to Tragedy” on Queen Gertrude’s sinful state:
Shakespeare’s picture of the Queen is explained to us by Hamlet’s speech to her in her closet. There we see again the picture of sin as evil willed by a reason perverted by passion, for so much Hamlet explains in his accusation of his mother:
You cannot call it love, for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it’s humble,
And waits upon the judgement; and what judgement
Would step from this to this? . . .
O shame! Where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thous 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 ardor gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn
And reason panders will.
And of the Queen’s punishment as it goes on throughout the play, there can be no doubt either. Her love for Hamlet, her grief, the woes that come so fast that one treads upon the heel of another, her consciousness of wrong-doing, her final dismay are those also of one whose soul has become alienated from God by sin. (97-98)
Quite opposite the criminality of the king’s wife is the innocence of Ophelia, a “broken lily” (O’Donnell 241). Disregarding the “erotically charged” songs (Lehmann and Starks 2) sung by Ophelia in her maddened state shortly before her death, one generally finds nothing incriminating in her deportment. Some evidence may exist, however, that Ophelia is not sexually innocent in her relationship with the protagonist (West 107). But there is no doubt in the fact that Hamlet’s “mother is a criminal” (Wilson 39). Gertrude “wishfully sees in Ophelia” the innocent freedom from the “compromises and surrenders” of which Gertrude has been guilty (Bevington 9).
Ophelia is so despondent at the death of Polonius and the alienation of Hamlet that she slips into madness – something that would never happen to Gertrude at the loss of a man. The queen has difficulty empathizing with the masculine point of view, even that of her own son. She sees him attending the courtly social gathering in black, and refuses to tolerate it:
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 she expresses her wishes that the prince “go not to Wittenberg.” When Claudius requests...