Claudius wanted the king’s throne. Gertrude wanted to hold onto her queenly role. In the end, Gertrude dies by the same poison her second husband used to murder her first.
Three 1,500-word model essays on the relationship of King Claudius and Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
What challenges does the royal marriage of king and queen survive? And what dooms it in the end?
The wedding of Claudius and Gertrude
Why did Claudius and Gertrude become man and wife?
The royal couple of Denmark
As far as his character allows him, Claudius loves his queen.
Hamlet: the problem of the prince
Gertrude is saddened by her son’s reaction. Claudius is fearful.
“When sorrows come”
Ophelia’s madness and death. Two sons return. Claudius’ new murderous scheme.
Betrayal and redemption. Gertrude dies from her husband’s poison. Claudius dies as he lived.
The marriage of Claudius and Gertrude is strong enough to survive Hamlet’s resentment, Polonius’ stabbing, Ophelia’s apparent suicide and Laertes’ castle-storming, mob-leading insurrection. But it cannot escape a dark secret of murder that hides in the past.
Hamlet’s role in relation to the royal couple is, in the prince’s own definition of drama, “to hold a mirror up to nature” (3.2). The prince brings Denmark’s false king to his knees in a moment of genuine repentance-seeking: “O, what form of prayer Can … Forgive me my foul murder?” (3.3). And it is through Hamlet that Gertrude could see the “black and grained spots” (3.4) in her soul.
#Hamlet: Gertrude dies by the same means her second husband used to murder her first: poison.
The “within a month” (1.2) marriage of Claudius and Gertrude eased Claudius’ path to the throne, a position we can imagine he jealously coveted during the long years he spent in his brother’s kingly shadow; and it enabled Gertrude to continue living the life of a queen she had for decades enjoyed.
As the opening coronation scene unfolds it is easy to be persuaded that the man Gertrude chose as her new husband is exactly the commanding and protective monarch Denmark needs at a time when the rebellious Fortinbras of Norway is planning trouble, “thinking by our late dear brother’s death / Our state to be disjoint and out of frame” (1.2).
Claudius & Gertrude in #Hamlet - the villainous king and self-deluding queen.
Despite Hamlet’s accusation towards his mother of fickle disloyalty (“Frailty thy name is woman”, 1.2), Gertrude remains steadfastly at the side of her second husband. Claudius’ dark secrets mean he can never fully open his heart to her, but his comments about Gertrude—“I could not but by her” (4.7)—reveal another side of an otherwise cold and calculating man.
The on-stage royal relationship is far removed from the unrestrained sensuality which King Hamlet’s Ghost luridly imagines. It more resembles that of a middle-aged, married couple which, of course, Claudius and Gertrude actually are.
"Frailty"? Queen Gertrude is in fact the most loyal character in #Hamlet.
Neither king nor queen succeeds in winning Prince Hamlet’s support for their marriage. He believes that “Father and mother is man and wife, man and wife is one flesh” (4.3); as long as she is joined in marriage to him, and they share throne and bed, she is one person with Claudius.
Gertrude is truly saddened by the “poor wretch” (2.2) the prince has become. Claudius’ approach to his new stepson begins with false show of concern (“think of us / As of a father”, 1.2), evolves into fearful suspicion and culminates in panic after Hamlet’s ‘play-within-a-play’ and Polonius’ stabbing: “His liberty is full of threats to all” (4.1). Claudius now knows that Hamlet knows.
#Hamlet: "Father and mother is man and wife, man and wife is one flesh."
In 1.2 we saw the queen as a woman quick to move on from the past—“All that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity”; now in 5.1 Gertrude finds her future slipping away from her. Ophelia’s passing allied with her son’s absence in England represents the death of her future grandchildren who otherwise would have carried on the Hamlet dynasty at Elsinore.
Meanwhile, her husband discovers his exile of one revenge-seeking son is followed only by the return of another. Claudius devises a fatal duel between Hamlet and Laertes, but he appears to have neglected the threat to Denmark from Norway’s Fortinbras, now leading an army of battle-tested men.
Gertrude's double greeting - "#Hamlet, Hamlet!" - suggests both joy in her heart and guilt in her soul.
The royal marriage crumbles in a violent and truth-revealing bloodbath. Gertrude finally confronts the truth about her husband, acts to protect her son (“O my dear Hamlet—The drink, the drink! I am poison’d”, 5.2) and in doing so perhaps gains a measure of redemption. Claudius dies as he lived—a duplicitous and unrepentant villain.
The story Horatio survives to recount about the royal house of the Hamlet family will tell not just of a bad man’s immoral ambition. It will also speak of a good woman’s naivety. It was through the heart and “too solid flesh” (1.2) of Gertrude that Claudius carved his path to Denmark’s throne.
#Hamlet - Queen Gertrude she sees the truth about her husband when it is too late.
Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as both the tragic hero and victim of a story he did not want to be in.
His “ambition” for Denmark’s throne leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.
“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage” dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.
Ophelia’s sanity is overwhelmed by Elsinore’s maddening world of deception and betrayal. Her “self-slaughter” is her revenge against everyone who dismissed, silenced and humiliated her.
By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.
The relationship between uncle and nephew begins with mutual suspicion and dislike, escalates into a psychological battle of wits and ends with defeat for both and victory for the rival kingdom of Norway.
Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius and her collusion with the prince’s confinement at Elsinore creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.
Begins in uncertainty, descends into mutual deceit and rejection, and ends with their double surrender to death: she to the water, he to Claudius’ rigged fencing duel.
A genuine friendship in an Elsinore poisoned by betrayal. But does Hamlet exploit his friend’s loyalty with his improbable tale of divinely-inspired rescue by pirates?
Deception, revenge, madness, corruption, decay and death—all shaped by destiny. A prince is left with an impossible choice when his uncle chooses murder and his mother chooses self-delusion.
Two young men journey from revenge, through madness and anger, to forgiveness. An opportunist claims an empty throne. And a restless Ghost is granted atonement for his sins by his kingdom-surrendering son.
‘Seems’ and ‘is’ are as far apart as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are similar in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to play a false role, and to perform in theater.