Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - cover image

The Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude: Sample Essays

A marriage of mutual self-interest: 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.

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Introduction

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.

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#Hamlet: Gertrude dies by the same means her second husband used to murder her first: poison.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • How would the lives of Claudius and Gertrude have been different had Prince Hamlet departed Elsinore after the coronation ceremony?
  • Is the Ghost’s luridly sensuous description of the royal marriage supported by the relationship we see on stage?
  • In the final scene, Gertrude dies by the same means her second husband used to murder her first: poison. And Claudius at the play’s end is like his brother was at its beginning: “Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched” (1.5).

Key Supporting Quotes

14
quotations from the play to support your statements.

The wedding of Claudius
and Gertrude

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).

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Claudius & Gertrude in #Hamlet - the villainous king and self-deluding queen.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • In dangerous times, Gertrude a woman alone; Denmark a country without a king.
  • Claudius wanted something (the role of king) he did not have.
  • Gertrude had something (the role of queen) she wanted to hold onto.
  • King Hamlet’s Ghost describes Claudius as an “adulterate beast” (1.2)—a debased individual—but not, significantly, an adulterous one.
  • Even Hamlet, when he rages against his mother's relationship with "the bloat king" in the closet scene of 3.4, never accuses her of being an adulteress.

Key Supporting Quotes

12
quotations from the play to support your statements.

The royal couple
of Denmark

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.

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"Frailty"? Queen Gertrude is in fact the most loyal character in #Hamlet.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • The royal couple—stately decorum, mutual affection and respect, comfortably at ease in each other’s company.
  • In the Player’s Hecuba speech of 2.2, Hamlet sees the heartbreak his mother would experience should he make her a widow a second time by killing Claudius.
  • When a mob storms Elsinore Castle, it is Gertrude who defiantly confronts the enraged, sword-wielding, crown-threatening Laertes.
  • Claudius shares his burdens with her and expresses is love in uncharacteristically sentimental language.

Key Supporting Quotes

10
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Hamlet: the problem
of the prince

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.

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#Hamlet: "Father and mother is man and wife, man and wife is one flesh."

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • Gertrude’s insensitivity to the prince’s bereavement.
  • Claudius’ false show of friendship.
  • What is revealing about Gertrude’s reaction after the closet scene?
  • Why did Claudius ’delay' so long before dealing with Hamlet?

Key Supporting Quotes

16
quotations from the play to support your statements.

“When sorrows
come ...”

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.

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Gertrude's double greeting - "#Hamlet, Hamlet!" - suggests both joy in her heart and guilt in her soul.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • What is the meaning of Gertrude’s refusal to meet a distressed Ophelia?
  • Why does Ophelia offer the queen a rue plant?
  • When her son reappears Gertrude shouts his name twice—why?
  • How can Claudius dispose of a returned Hamlet while appearing blameless?

Key Supporting Quotes

12
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Conclusion: betrayal
and redemption

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.

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#Hamlet - Queen Gertrude she sees the truth about her husband when it is too late.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • The first time in the play Gertrude that disobeys her husband—why?
  • Claudius is torn between saving Gertrude and concealing his poisoning plan.
  • The prince kills Claudius without making any reference to vengeance for old King Hamlet.
  • Hamlet’s parting words to Claudius (“Follow my mother”) suggest it will be in the company of the prince’s villainous uncle rather than his murdered father that the “wretched queen” will be eternally united.

Key Supporting Quotes

8
quotations from the play to support your statements.