Gertrude is again a woman without character and individuality. She might seem to be partly responsible for the course of events in the play. Her overhasty marriage in a month or so after her husband’s death-and the summoning of Hamlet back to Denmark from the University of Wittenberg (and that was the doing of Claudius) set the action moving. The antagonism be- tween the King and the Hamlet is manifested in the Council-scene as well as Gertrude’s feeble effort at reconciliation. In Hamlet’s soliloquy that follows it the stage is set for action.
His mother’s conduct has upset his faith in womankind and nothing can restore it. After all that show of affection-
“She would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on”
That she should marry Claudius, a satyr compared to his father, Hyperion, passes all belief! And she followed his poor father’s body, like Niobe, all tears, ! His own life of thinking later receives confirmation from the ghost:
“Ay, that incestuous that adulterate beast.
With witchcraft of his wit, traitorous gifts,
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce !”
We should note here that the ghost condemns Claudius and not his Queen. Some critics have inferred that Gertrude entered into adulterous relations with Claudius while her husband was living. H. Granville-Barker writes, “…… we know that this shallow, amiable, lymphatic creature was an adulteress, cunning enough to deceive her husband.” Hamlet says that-
“She would hang on him.
As if increase of appetite had grown,
By what it fed on……..”
It was the obvious way of deceiving him. She wept bitterly when he died. We need not, however, see hypocrisy there. She may well have wept the more bitterly because she had been false to him. And husbands, whose love is of too complacent and Hyperion, like a ‘dignity’, are temptingly easy to deceive. Within a month she has married her over, and she is still the Queen. She owns that-in the eyes of the world-it was overhasty of them. But of any remorse for the past there is no hint at all. Surely everything if her morose son would but come to his senses and take a more cheerful view of life has at last turned out very well. This is to take a very uncompromising attitude towards Gertrude.
To infer Gertrude’s adultery from the ghost’s words, quoted above, is unwarranted. Claudius seduced Gertrude and it happened after her husband’s death. Let us note the words of the ghost again:
“So lust, though to a radiant angel link’d:
Will state itself in a celestial bed,
Hand pray on garbage.”
If we are to believe the ghost, his Queen is a lustful woman. Hamlet’s words quoted above, lend support to this view.
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Neither Hamlet nor the ghost accuses her of adultery. Then again the ghost warns Hamlet not to do anything to her :
“Leave her to heaven,
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her.”
The ghost seems to have a weakness for her, and so her son too. We can not presume that she is a bad, depraved woman.
After Hamlet kills Polonius, Gertrude cries out:
“O, what a rash and bloody deed is this.”
To it Hamlet replies:
“A bloody deed, almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king, and marry with his brother.”
From these words of Hamlet some critics conclude that the Queen had also a hand in the murder of Hamlet’s father. There is no hint of it in the ghost’s words. Nor does Hamlet press the point further. Kolbe writes, “The Queen’s faint echo of the awful accusation (it was the first she heard of it) convinced Hamlet that she is not guilty of the major crime.”
We can not say that Hamlet is able to open her eyes to the truth about her husband. “For the Queen,” writes Shucking, “in spite of all Hamlet’s references to his uncle as a murderer, really does not seem to suspect the truth until the very end of the play, for she never shows, in word or in deed, and especially in her relations with her husband, that she has drawn any such conclusion from what she has heard.” The mother seems to have been drawn nearer to her son from now on, and, we may believe, breaks of sexual relations with her husband. She has always had affection for Hamlet. After Hamlet’s violent outbursts at the graveside of Ophelia, his mother shields him;
“…..This is mere madness,
And thus awhile the fit will work on him;
Anon, as patient as the female dove
When that her golden couplets are disclosed,
His silence will sit dropping.”
The Queen dies by drinking the poisoned cup intended for Hamlet. And then the whole truth comes out. Laertes is fatally wounded, and before dying confesses the plot of the King against the life of Hamlet. Laertes last words, the back-rushing memory of much not understood till now, of the mimic murder in the garden, Hamlet’s mysterious….. as kill a king’ the sight of Claudius here in his grip-she does, companioned by the meaning of all this, conscious even, it may be, of her dying son’s implacable farewell.