Hamlet and its Gertrude
How queenly is the current queen in Shakespeare’s tragic drama Hamlet? Is she an unprincipled opportunist? A passion-dominated lover? A wife first and mother last? Let’s study her life in this play.
Courtney Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks in "Making Mother Matter: Repression, Revision, and the Stakes of 'Reading Psychoanalysis Into’ Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet," comment on the contamination of the queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
Hamlet, a play that centres on the crisis of the masculine subject and its "radical confrontation with the sexualized maternal body," foregrounds male anxiety about mothers, female sexuality, and hence, sexuality itself. Obsessed with the corruption of the flesh, Hamlet is pathologically fixated on questions of his own origin and destination -- questions which are activated by his irrepressible attraction to and disgust with the "contaminated" body of his mother. (1)
At the outset of the drama, Hamlet’s mother is apparently disturbed by her son’s appearance in solemn black at the gathering of the court, and she 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. (1.2)
The queen obviously considers her son’s dejection to result from his father’s demise. She joins the king in asking Hamlet to stay in Elsinore rather than returning to Wittenberg. Respectfully the prince 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”). Gertrude would be hurt even more if she were to overhear Hamlet’s first soliloquy, which expresses anger at the quickness of his mother’s marriage and its incestuousness: “Frailty, thy name is woman! . . . .” Mary Bradford-Whiting, in her article “Mothers in Shakespeare” compares the mother of Juliet to the mother of Hamlet:
Juliet has a mother, to whose heart of stone she appeals in vain:
. . . O, sweet my mother, cast me not away! [Romeo and Juliet, III.v.198]
Hamlet has a mother, each remembrance of whom is a pang to his distressed mind, and of whose conduct he can only say:
Let me not think on’t. Frailty, thy name is woman! [Hamlet, I.ii.146] (251)
When the ghost talks privately to Hamlet, the prince learns not only about the murder of his father, but also about the unfaithfulness and adultery of his mother. Gertrude was seduced by “that incestuous, that adulterate beast, / With witchcraft of his...