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“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother, Queen Gertrude (3.4). The relationship between Old King Hamlet’s widow and her former brother-in-law is a tragic tale of opportunistic self-delusion colluding with murderous ambition.
Queen Gertrude’s character flaw is her deliberate blindness to what she must surely suspect: that her second husband Claudius is, in her son’s words, a “murderer and villain” (3.4). Others in the play put on acts of ‘seeming’ to conceal their true selves. Gertrude fools only one person—herself.
In the end, Queen Gertrude loses her life to her second husband’s villainy and her throne to the son of the man her first husband defeated on the day her own son Prince Hamlet was born.
#Hamlet's Queen Gertrude - Her 'happily ever after' descends into a nightmare.
With Old King Hamlet dead, and she lacking any interest in or capacity for governing, the position of Queen Gertrude was now in jeopardy.
It must have seemed to Gertrude that accepting the proposal of marriage from her former brother-in-law Claudius held out the attractive prospect of continuing to live and enjoy the only life she had known for thirty years.
The answer to the question asked of her by Hamlet (“What devil was᾿t / That thus hath cozened you at hoodman-blind?”, 3.4) was Gertrude’s desire to continue by means of a second marriage the privileged status she had through her first: the role of queen, “the beauteous majesty of Denmark” (4.5).
#Hamlet - a marriage of evil (Claudius) and self-deluding naivety (Gertrude).
One of the play’s great ironies is that the person most continually accused by Prince Hamlet of fickle disloyalty—“Frailty thy name is woman” (1.2)—is, in fact, the most loyal character of all. Up until the very last scene, she remains steadfastly at the side of the man she married.
When in 4.5 an angry, castle-storming mob shouts out “Laertes shall be king!”, Gertrude responds unhesitatingly with: “O, this is counter, you false Danish dogs!” She confronts the sword-wielding Laertes when she fears for the king’s safety and defends him from any part in Polonius’ death (“But not by him”).
These are not the actions of a merely decorous trophy wife but of a woman who fulfills Claudius’ description of her as the “imperial jointress to this warlike state” (1.2).
"Frailty"? Queen Gertrude is in fact the most loyal character in #Hamlet.
Queen Gertrude is a person who seeks to smooth over everything without thinking too deeply; her son is an introspective scholar who cannot but think deeply about everything. Hamlet delights in wordplay. She is direct in her speech and is the only character to tell the bombastic Polonius to come to the point—“More matter, less art” (2.2).
Prince Hamlet’s ranting against “bloat king” in the closet scene of 3.4 produces a rare moment of self-awareness in Gertrude: “Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul.” But Hamlet’s conversation with the Ghost, who is visible only to him, diminishes her son’s credibility in Gertrude’s eyes—“Alas, he’s mad!” It must seem to her that she has gained a new husband at the cost of losing her son to insanity.
Prince #Hamlet to his mother, Queen Gertrude: "Have you eyes?"
We do not know if Gertrude follows Hamlet’s direction to shun her husband’s bed: “Assume a virtue if you have it not” (3.4). But the changing nature of her relationship with Polonius’ daughter suggests that something inside her has changed. Gertrude’s words to Ophelia in 2.1 of her hopes that “That your good beauties be the happy cause / Of Hamlet’s wildness” are those of someone with a romantic even simple-minded view of life.
But when confronted in 4.5 with Ophelia’s madness, Gertrude speaks of the “guilt” in her “sick soul.” I suspect that when the traumatized Ophelia offers her a symbolic gift of rue—a plant associated with sadness and regret—Gertrude was already reflecting ruefully on all the calamity and unhappiness has followed from her remarriage.
#Hamlet - Over Ophelia's grave, Gertrude sees her future slipping away from her.
Nowhere is the “hoodman-blind” (3.4) naivety of the “all that is I see” (3.4) queen more pathetically evident than in the final scene. She is to be unknowing witness to the assassination of her son disguised as a sporting duel between Laertes and Hamlet—a “brother’s wager” preceded by a display of reconciliatory “gentle entertainment” (5.2).
Ultimately, Gertrude falls victim to the same poison that her second husband used to murder her first.
At the play’s beginning, it was the offer of marriage from Claudius that enabled her to continue as queen on Denmark’s throne. But at the end, Gertrude is literally dethroned when she collapses to the floor as a result of drinking from the tainted wine goblet the same Claudius intended for her son.
#Hamlet's Queen Gertrude - She sees the truth about her husband when it is too late.
The most helpful book ever for students and teachers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as the title character of a play 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.
As she struggles to respond to the self-serving purposes of others, Ophelia’s sanity collapses in Elsinore’s “unweeded garden” of falsity and betrayal. Her “self-slaughter” is her revenge for her silencing and humiliation.
By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father murdered” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.
Uncle and nephew are two men at war with each other—and themselves. Claudius is haunted by the murder he has committed (“O heavy burden!”); Hamlet by the one he hasn’t yet (“Am I a coward?”).
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.
“Those friends thou hast … Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.” Horatio is Hamlet’s trusted confidant in life and vows to remain the keeper of his memory after the prince’s death.
A marriage of mutual self-interest. Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the status of queen) she wanted to hold onto.
A king murdered, an inheritance stolen, a family divided: Elsinore’s older generation destroys its younger when two brothers—one living, one undead—battle in a “cursed spite” over a crown and a queen.
Hamlet and Laertes journey from revenge, through obsession and anger, to forgiveness. And the revenge sought by the Ghost on King Claudius becomes the revenge of Old King Fortinbras on Old King Hamlet.
“Who’s there?” The characters struggle to distinguish between truth and falsehood in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to behave deceitfully, and to perform in theater.