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									Lindsay Chombok

A.P. English/Orehotsky

Pd. 3


                                   Queen Gertrude’s Conflict

         Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play. It is full of plot twists, romance, vengeance,

and character depth. Each character has their own story, their own personality. This

complexity causes a lot of disagreements between readers. Prince Hamlet’s mother is one

of the most controversial characters in the play. Many of Queen Gertrude’s actions can be

interpreted in two different ways. Was Gertrude a murderous, adulterous woman who

knew all of her second husband’s plots? Or, was she only a naïve, unknowing woman who

didn’t even realize what her second husband was doing? Both sides of the argument are

supported by scenes and lines throughout the play. Many professional literary critics argue

Gertrude’s true intentions, and whether she was truly forgiven for her sins, intentional or


         One opinion on Queen Gertrude is that she was a malicious and lustful woman who

deserved Prince Hamlet’s wrath. They believe that she took part in her late husband’s

murder and had even been having an affair with Claudius while King Hamlet was still

living. The idea that Queen Gertrude was having an affair with Claudius is supported

mainly by one line. The ghost says to Hamlet, about Claudius, on his first visit, “Ay, that

incestuous, that adulterous beast,” (1.5.42). They are convinced that King Hamlet’s ghost

clearly states that Gertrude and Claudius had been cheating on him prior to his untimely

death. If they were in fact having an affair, it would make sense that Queen Gertrude would
want to kill her husband. This point has been highlighted by many directors throughout the

years. Franco Zeffirelli directed the 1990 version of Hamlet, and accented the previous

relations between Queen Gertrude and King Claudius from the first scene. During the

late-King Hamlet’s funeral, Queen Gertrude and Claudius exchange secretive glances that

suggest a previous relationship. These glances continue throughout the film. In the 1999

version directed by Laurence Oliver and Michael Almereydra, the Queen recognizes that

the wine is poisoned which suggested she was aware of the plot. These critics believe that

Gertrude has sinned against King Hamlet. During his first ghostly visit he says, “Taint not

thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/Against thy mother aught,” (1.5.85-86). This is

interpreted by those who believe that Gertrude is evil to mean that God will deal with

Gertrude’s sins. They believe that Gertrude was punished for her debauchery after she

died, and that King Hamlet didn’t want his son to sin against his own mother. They don’t

see Gertrude as a figure to be forgiven. Although many people look down on Gertrude, just

as many side with her.

       Like every argument or debate, there is another side to Gertrude’s part in the play.

Many critics believe that Gertrude was too oblivious to have taken any part in the

murderous actions of her second husband. They interpret her surprise in Act 3, Scene 4 as

just that, surprise. Through this analysis, Queen Gertrude is just an innocent bystander in

the whole mess created by her son and husband. One argument for this side is that in

Shakespeare’s time, words had different definitions than they do now. Adultery, in that era

meant any sexual sin. In this case, the late-King Hamlet could have been referring to the

incestuous relationship between King Claudius and Queen Gertrude. This discredits that

argument against Gertrude. Also, King Hamlet never actually accuses Gertrude of having
any part in the murder. He only accuses her of sinning and marrying his brother so soon

after his demise. A director who seems to take this approach is Gregory Doran who

directed the 2009 television version. Queen Gertrude seems thoroughly surprised when

Hamlet accuses her of murdering her first husband, his father. This suggests that Gertrude

knew nothing of Claudius’ part in King Hamlet’s death. To readers like Doran, Gertrude

was just a trusting pawn in Claudius’ overall plan to rule Denmark. These critics believe

that Gertrude died as a martyr and will be forgiven by God for her sins and incest.

       Every piece of literature has aspects that can be debated for a life-time. Gertrude’s

ambiguity has been debated for centuries. Was she an accomplice in King Hamlet’s

murder? The argument for Gertrude’s innocence seems to have more valid points than the

argument against her. Gertrude is oblivious to the acts of revenge and jealousy going on

around her. She is only a peacemaker trying to keep the last threads of her family together.

Consequently, the Queen does things that incriminate her in both her sons’ and her second

husband’s minds. Queen Gertrude did, in fact, marry her late-husband’s brother, therefore

committing incest. This seemed to be her biggest crime, other than grieving for too short a

time. Both of those things, however, are matters of opinion. In Shakespeare’s time,

incestuous marriages were much more common than they are today. Why, then, to modern

critics hold her to the standards of today’s society? Queen Gertrude was doomed by King

Hamlet’s ghost to be judged by the Heavens. According to the better supported argument,

she would rest easy in Heaven for eternity. Gertrude has not committed any sins that

directly oppose the teachings of the Bible. Gertrude should be wholly forgiven by Hamlet

readers worldwide.

       Queen Gertrude may have helped murder her husband, or she could have been
blind-eyed to what was happening until her death. Critics have argued each side for

centuries, and maybe they always will. Unfortunately, the world will never know of

Shakespeare’s true intentions for Queen Gertrude. Like many other questions critics have

for Shakespeare, Gertrude’s involvement in the murder of King Hamlet will never be

known for sure. Perhaps Shakespeare didn’t know the answer to that question himself.

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