CHARACTER ANALYSIS OF GERTRUDE IN HAMLET: SAMPLE ESSAYS

Gertrude quickly remarries in the hope her queenly life will continue as before. But her choice of husband dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her.

In six parts — your free sample essay on the character of Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. From Hamlet: Model Essays for Students by Brendan Munnelly.

Gertrude character analysis: Introduction

“All that is I see”

“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.

SHARE THE SHAKESPEARE

#Hamlet's Queen Gertrude - Her 'happily ever after' descends into a nightmare.

CLICK TO TWEET!  

SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • In Shakespeare’s era, England’s actual queen directed every aspect of government with such success that Elizabeth I’s reign came to be regarded as England’s ‘Golden Age.’
  • The on-stage Queen Gertrude, however, displays no interest in her country’s welfare.
  • So unpopular is the reign of Gertrude and her second husband that a rebellious Laertes has little difficulty in inciting a commoners’ uprising against Denmark’s royal couple
  • Gertrude’s wished-for, happily-ever-after fairytale of a second marriage concludes in a violent bloodbath that consumes her entire family.

Key Supporting Quotes

13
quotations from the play to support your statements.

1

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - small side pic

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Gertrude’s second wedding

“Taken to wife”

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).

SHARE THE SHAKESPEARE

#Hamlet - a marriage of evil (Claudius) and self-deluding naivety (Gertrude).

CLICK TO TWEET!  

SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Gertrude’s shocked reaction to Hamlet’s accusation (“As kill a king, and marry with his brother”, 3.4) strongly suggests Claudius alone was responsible for what the conscience-haunted king privately confesses as “a brother’s murder” (3.3).
  • The order of words spoken by Claudius in the chapel scene (“My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen”, 3.3) suggests Gertrude has been “taken to wife” (1.2) by a man motivated primarily by the desire to gain the throne of his late brother, and only to a lesser extent by love for his “sometime sister” (1.2).
  • A marriage that should never have happened means another never can: Elsinore’s climate of duplicity and distrust dooms the love affair of Hamlet and Ophelia.

Key Supporting Quotes

12
quotations from the play to support your statements.

2

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - small side pic

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Gertrude and Claudius

“I shall obey you”

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).

SHARE THE SHAKESPEARE

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

CLICK TO TWEET!  

SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Gertrude is clearly a woman of great personal magnetism who successively won the heart and hand of two brothers: the first, a triumphant warlord; the second, a Machiavellian schemer.
  • Claudius is respectful towards Gertrude in public; and in their private scenes, they are comfortably at ease in each other’s company.
  • Claudius shares his burdens with her (“O Gertrude, Gertrude, / When sorrows come … ”, 4.5) and expresses his love in uncharacteristically sentimental language )“I could not but by her”, 4.7).
  • External events trouble but do not destroy the royal marriage: it survives Hamlet’s resentment, Polonius’ murder, his daughter’s drowning and his son’s open revolt.

Key Supporting Quotes

12
quotations from the play to support your statements.

3

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - small side pic

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Gertrude and Prince Hamlet

“Why seems it so particular with thee?”

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.

SHARE THE SHAKESPEARE

Prince #Hamlet to his mother, Queen Gertrude: "Have you eyes?"

CLICK TO TWEET!  

SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Gertrude’s decision to wed Claudius so quickly after old King Hamlet’s death creates a barrier between a mother and her son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.
  • It is only in the closet scene that Gertrude fully recognizes how much her remarriage has devastated her son.
  • That she discloses one of Hamlet’s secrets (that he did stab Polonius) but guards another (that he displayed no remorse) reveals how Gertrude’s loyalties are torn between her second husband and her son.
  • Claudius tells Laertes he cannot openly strike against Hamlet because “The queen his mother / Lives almost by his looks” (4.7).

Key Supporting Quotes

16
quotations from the play to support your statements.

4

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - small side pic

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Gertrude and Ophelia

“Your good beauties”

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.

SHARE THE SHAKESPEARE

#Hamlet - Over Ophelia's grave, Gertrude sees her future slipping away from her.

CLICK TO TWEET!  

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?
  • Gertrude’s outlook changes from cheerful optimism to dread and foreboding, when “Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss” (4.5).
  • 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.

5

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - small side pic

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Gertrude character analysis: Conclusion

“I am poisoned”

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.

SHARE THE SHAKESPEARE

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

CLICK TO TWEET!  

SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Torn between revealing his murderous, nephew-poisoning plot or saving the life of his queen, all Claudius can do is utter a meek and fatally ineffective: “Gertrude, do not drink.”
  • The queen’s final words of “O my dear Hamlet—The drink, the drink! I am poisoned” are a cry for help, a warning to her son and an damning exposure of her husband’s excuse for her fainting (“She swoons to see them bleed”) .
  • Hamlet’s parting words to her (“Wretched Queen, adieu”, 5.2) reveal that the prince is unwilling to extend to his mother the forgiveness he received from a repentant Laertes (“Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee”).

Key Supporting Quotes

8
quotations from the play to support your statements.

6

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - small side pic

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

The most helpful book ever for students and teachers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

42 x 1,500-word model essays

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students Get it from Amazon  >

 

Chapter-by-chapter guide to Hamlet Model Essays

Inside you will find three 1,500-word essays on each of the following 14 characters, relationships and themes.

#1: The Character of 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.

#2: The Character of Claudius

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.

#3: The Character of Gertrude

“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.

#4: The Character of Ophelia

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.

#5: Relationship of Hamlet and the Ghost

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.

#6: Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

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?”).

#7: Relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude

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.

#8: Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia

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.

#9: Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio

“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.

#10: Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude

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.

#11: Main Themes of Hamlet

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.

#12: The Theme of Revenge

Two young men 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.

#13: Deception and Appearance versus Reality

“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.

#14: The Theme of Madness

“Your noble son is mad”, Polonius tells Denmark’s king and queen. But is Hamlet ever really insane? If not, why is he pretending to be? And is the prince’s behavior the cause of Ophelia’s traumatic breakdown?