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William Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

1072 words - 4 pages

William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Perhaps the greatest uncertainty in William Shakespeare's Hamlet is
the character of Queen Gertrude. Undoubtedly a major player with
regard to number of lines and contribution to the action of the play,
her personality is nonetheless basically undeveloped. It is also
notable that Gertrude is perhaps the only character besides Hamlet
with enough power over all of the characters to stop the play's tragic
series of events, but she cannot, for she seems entirely unaware of
what is transpiring right in front of her. Gertrude's importance to
Hamlet therefore exceeds the tangible functions of her character. Her
power makes the tragedy Hamlet initiates evitable, but it occurs
anyway because her naïveté prevents her from stopping it.

For such an important character, Gertrude is noticeably flat. Analysis
of the text of Hamlet provides few clues as to her involvement with
Claudius prior to King Hamlet's death, her knowledge or lack thereof
of his murder, or how she really feels about either of the kings.
Though Hamlet does not seek to punish her outright for whatever part
she may have played in his father's death, he does continually accuse
her of being generally amoral, especially with regard to her
incestuous marriage to Claudius. Hamlet's accusations are one of few
indicators throughout the play as to her character, and they
illustrate only Hamlet's perception thereof. It is conceivable that
Gertrude's motivations would not seem suspect at all if not for
Hamlet's continual insistence that she was not affected at all by King
Hamlet's death, and that her relationship with Claudius was
dishonorable. Because the audience is confused about Gertrude's morals
or lack thereof, they gain empathy for Hamlet's plight. Like Hamlet,
they cannot decide whether or not Gertrude is guilty with regard to
King Hamlet's death, furthering the realism of the play.

It is ironic that Gertrude's thoughts and feelings are so
indistinguishable because her actions are generally very strong for a
woman of the time. She continues to carry out her function as
Denmark's political leader after King Hamlet's death, and does not
surrender her powers after her marriage to Claudius, personally
negotiating with emissaries from Norway and England. It is conceivable
that her open displays of power were construed as signs of
questionable character when Hamlet was written, for women were
generally portrayed as weak and emotional. Perhaps the combination of
her strength and Hamlet's insinuations about her relationship with
Claudius would have been a much stronger statement about Gertrude's
scruples in the conservative 1500s. At any rate, all that is made
certain in the characterization of Gertrude is that there are definite
...

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