VIEWS: 2 PAGES: 4 POSTED ON: 8/11/2012
Lindsay Chombok A.P. English/Orehotsky Pd. 3 5/9/10 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 not. 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.