Passionate Gertrude in Hamlet
Like so many of the characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Gertrude appears to be dominated by passion. This essay will explore this and other aspects of her interesting character.
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).
At the outset of the tragedy Hamlet appears dressed in solemn black. His mother, Gertrude, is apparently disturbed by this and requests of him:
Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour 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:
Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
The queen obviously considers her son’s dejection to result from his father’s demise. Angela Pitt considers Gertrude “a kindly, slow-witted, rather self-indulgent woman. . . .” (47). She joins in with the king in requesting Hamlet’s stay in Elsinore rather than returning to Wittenberg to study. Respectfully the son replies, “I shall in all my best obey you, madam.” So at the outset the audience notes a decidedly good relationship between Gertrude and those about her in the drama, even though Hamlet’s “suit of mourning has been a visible and public protest against the royal marriage, a protest in which he is completely alone, and in which he has hurt his mother” (Burton “Hamlet”). Hamlet’s first soliloquy expresses his anger at the quickness of his mother’s marriage to Claudius, an “o’erhasty marriage” (Gordon 128), and its incestuousness since it is between family: “Frailty, thy name is woman! . . . .” Rebecca Smith interprets his anti-motherly feelings: “Hamlet’s violent emotions toward his mother are obvious from his first soliloquy, in which 23 of the 31 lines express...