THE RELATIONSHIP OF HAMLET AND GERTRUDE: SAMPLE ESSAYS

A haunted-by-the-past Prince Hamlet seeks the truth about his father’s death (“Do you see nothing there?”). A live-in-the-present Queen Gertrude seeks to protect her second husband and throne (“No, nothing but ourselves”, 3.3).

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

Hamlet and Gertrude: Introduction

“Would it were not so!—you are my mother”

No two figures in Hamlet are further apart in character and outlook than Prince Hamlet and his mother, Queen Gertrude. He is an anguished seeker of truth and meaning; she a contented, status-loving throne occupant.

Hamlet torments himself that his continual “Looking before and after” (4.4) is but an excuse for cowardice. The live-in-the-moment Gertrude (“all that is I see … / Nothing but ourselves”, 3.4) is puzzled why her son struggles to do the same.

What Gertrude admits is her “o’erhasty marriage” (2.2) to her brother-in-law Claudius overshadows the relationship between mother and son. Ultimately, it dooms both their lives and brings to an end the royal dynasty of the Hamlet family.

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Prince #Hamlet and Queen Gertrude: truth-seeker and live-in-the-moment materialist.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • When a mob storms Elsinore Castle, it is Gertrude who defiantly confronts the enraged, sword-wielding, crown-threatening Laertes.
  • Gertrude’s “o’erhasty marriage” (2.2) is as much the result of her desire to retain Denmark’s throne as it is Claudius’ “ambition” (3.3) to acquire it.
  • 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.
  • Despite Hamlet’s accusation of “Frailty” (1.2) towards his mother, Gertrude remains steadfastly at her second husband’s side.

Key Supporting Quotes

26
quotations from the play to support your statements.

1

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Hamlet: Gertrude’s prisoner at Elsinore

“Go not to Wittenberg”

Old King Hamlet allowed his son to follow his chosen path in life as he awaited his time to occupy the throne. The Renaissance prince which Wittenberg University produced certainly impressed Ophelia as “the expectancy and rose of the fair state” (3.1).

Yet Gertrude colludes with her second husband in denying him what her first one granted. The woman who insists “Go not to Wittenberg” (1.2) seems in no need of emotional support from her only son. Only once does she seek him out. But even their encounter in her closet is not her initiative but another of Polonius’ surveillance operations (“Let queen mother all alone entreat him / To show his grief”, 3.1).

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Gertrude colludes with Claudius’s watchful captivity of #Hamlet in the "prison" (2.2) of Denmark.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • As sole reigning monarch, the widowed Gertrude would have been in a strong bargaining position in response to Claudius’ proposal of marriage.
  • Gertrude could have insisted that both partners renounce any claim to the throne, clearing the path for the prince to gain his expected inheritance. Or at least that he be permitted to return to Wittenberg.
  • Hamlet’s delight at the Players’ arrival (“Buzz, buzz”, 2.2) reveals the joy he had in his life before his mother colluded in his confinement at Elsinore in the “cheer and comfort” (1.2) of Claudius’ watchful eye.

Key Supporting Quotes

17
quotations from the play to support your statements.

2

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325 pages
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42 sample essays

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Hamlet, Gertrude and the Player Queen

“The lady doth protest too much”

“Madam, how like you this play?” Hamlet’s pointed question of his mother follows the scene from The Murder of Gonzago in 3.2 when an about-to-be bereaved queen vows never to remarry: “pursue me lasting strife / If, once a widow, ever I be wife!”

But the self-absorbed Gertrude fails to recognise Hamlet’ public shaming her in his hope that, like Claudius, she might “proclaim” her “malefactions” (2.2).

Her response (“The lady protests too much”) reveals that she regards the play as mere entertainment. Her later complaint to the prince is not that she has been humiliated in front of the court but only that Claudius has been “much offended” (3.4).

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'The Mousetrap': "hoodman-blind" (3.4) Gertrude is oblivious to #Hamlet's theatrical shaming of her.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Is the title of Hamlet’s The Mousetrap inspired by Claudius’ pet name for Gertrude (“calls you his mouse”, 3.4)?
  • The target of the conscience-catching play-within-a-play seems to be Hamlet’s “seeming virtuous” (1.5) mother as much as his uncle.
  • Claudius is too good an actor to be exposed by the Players’ performance. It is Hamlet’s threat on his life (“nephew to the king”, 3.3) that sends him fleeing the play.
  • Ever “hoodman-blind” (3.4) in her self-absorption, Gertrude lacks the empathy to recognize herself in the theatrical figure of the Player Queen. Her “withers are unwrung” (3.3).

Key Supporting Quotes

20
quotations from the play to support your statements.

3

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
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Hamlet, Gertrude and the closet scene

“Cruel only to be kind”

Hamlet’s delay in pursuing the Ghost’s first demand (“Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”) stems from his refusal to follow the second (“let thy soul contrive / Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven”, 1.5). In the chapel and closet scenes, we see that Hamlet’s purpose has evolved from mere revenge to another, more poignant one: to reunite in the afterlife his fractured-by-Claudius family of mother and father.

Hence the prince’s desire to rescue first his mother’s soul (“Confess yourself to heaven. / Repent what’s past. Avoid what is to come”, 3.4) before he can condemn his uncle’s to hell (“as damned and black / As hell, whereto it goes”, 3.3). He sees himself as “scourge and minister” respectively to his “uncle-father and aunt-mother” (2.2).

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#Hamlet seeks to reunite in the afterlife his fractured-by-Claudius family of mother and father.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Gertrude tries to scold her son for his “pranks” (3.4), but it is Hamlet who takes on the role of chastising parent.
  • “Dead for a ducat” (3.4)—Hamlet’s blind stabbing of Polonius shows how enraged he still is by the Players’ reenactment “writ in choice Italian” (3.3).
  • Gertrude’s loyalties are divided between husband and son: “O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.” (3.4).
  • “Is it the king?”, A genuine question? Or part of Hamlet’s intent to intimidate Gertrude into submission?
  • Gertrude agrees to shun her husband’s bed, but Hamlet’s credibility is undermined by the Ghost’s visibility only to him.

Key Supporting Quotes

31
quotations from the play to support your statements.

4

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Hamlet’s departure and return

“Hamlet, Hamlet!”

With Hamlet dispatched to England, Gertrude shows no sign of wavering in her relationship with Claudius. But however fearlessly she defends her role as the “beauteous majesty of Denmark” (4.5) against a sword-wielding, castle-storming Laertes, her crown provides no defense against the “guilt” she now feels in her “sick soul” (4.5).

Such is Gertrude’s joy on seeing her son again that she shouts out his name twice: “Hamlet, Hamlet!” (5.1). In his graveyard reflections, the prince recognizes the truth of his mother’s observation that “All that lives must die” (1.2). As he tells Horatio, “If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all” (5.2).

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Gertrude's retaining of her queenly role blocked Ophelia's "advancement" as much as Hamlet's.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Ophelia’s descent into madness prompts the queen to speak, in her first and only aside, of her “sick soul” where “sin’s true nature is” (4.5).
  • From a traumatized Ophelia, Gertrude receives a symbolic offering of rue—a plant associated with sadness and regret.
  • After Ophelia’s breakdown and death, Gertrude’s romantic optimism gives way to a dark realization of where her second marriage has led her.
  • Gertrude’s tragic flaw is what she does not know—or perhaps by what she suspects but refuses “hoodman-blind” (3.4) to see—until it is too late.

Key Supporting Quotes

22
quotations from the play to support your statements.

5

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Hamlet and Gertrude: Conclusion

“Wretched Queen, Adieu”

In 5.2, Gertrude’s defiant drinking from the poisoned wine goblet (“I will, my lord. I pray you, pardon me”) and her damning contradiction of Claudius’ excuse for her fainting (“She swoons to see them bleed”) prompts Laertes’ confession (“The king’s to blame”) and Hamlet’s killing of the man who killed his father.

Not knowing about Laertes’ poison-tipped sword, Gertrude dies believing her last act on earth was to save the life of her son, with her cry: “Hamlet … the drink! I am poison’d.”

However, her son’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.

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"Follow my mother" (5.2): #Hamlet unites forever in hell his "uncle-father and aunt-mother" (2.2).

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Believing that she is about to watch a non-lethal fencing duel of honor, Gertrude is, in fact, the unknowing spectator to the planned murder of her son.
  • The first time in the play Gertrude that disobeys her husband—why?
  • Claudius is torn between saving Gertrude and concealing his poisoning plan.
  • Prince 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”, 5.2).

Key Supporting Quotes

23
quotations from the play to support your statements.

6

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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?