Shakespeare’s characterization of Gertrude in Hamlet is paradoxical as it challenges as well as complements the contemporary social traditions and norms. Gertrude is the best example of this paradox that is manifested through her extraordinary supremacy over all the major characters of Hamlet, her influence in the court matters and state affairs and her blind obedience to Claudius. Gertrude influence is wide ranging as it encompasses the domestic as well as the state affairs. Simultaneously she manifests the behaviour that is in consonance with the contemporary traditional view.
She has the ability to captivate, fend off, or manipulate all important male characters for her own interests. Act 2, scene 2, clearly manifests how Gertrude behaves authoritatively with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and with Polonius. This scene further depicts her interaction with Claudius and influence she possesses over Claudius. But she further exhibit the behaviour hat is an embodiment of Elizabethan socio-cultural milieu and its values. She is subservient to Claudius when she agrees to Claudius’ plan to trap Hamlet, “I shall obey you,” (3. 1. 37).
Again in the closet scene, she is in compliance to Hamlet’s orders; “What should I do? ” she asks (3. 4. 181). Furthermore, despite Gertrude’s conformist female acquiescent behaviour, her excessive sexuality and lust makes him a non-traditional woman. This portrayal of Gertrude clearly challenges the social and ethical norm of Elizabethan society. Her sexuality is intimidating for both Hamlets, father and son, who consider it brutal, extreme, and tainted: “Nay, but to live/ In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,/ Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love/ Over the nasty sty” (3.
4. 92-¬95); Again it is said; “So lust, though to a radient angel linked, / Will sate itself in a celestial bed And prey on garbage. ” (1. 5. 55¬-57). These lines are not in conformity with the woman image of contemporary society where woman’s chastity was the first condition for her social recognition. The relation of Hamlet and Gertrude is marked with oedipal connotations. Hamlet is placed in a situation his unconscious incestuous inclinations are juxtaposed with the apparent incestuous relationship of Gertrude and Claudius who is a new father figure to him.
This juxtaposition and presence of Oedipal feelings plays an important in changing Hamlet’s behaviour toward his mother. (Jones, 76-77) A. C. Bradley further reflects that it is plain that Gertrude marries to Claudius in over-haste and she was indulged in unchaste matter according to the contemporary norms but she can be blamed or help responsible for the murder of Hamlet senior. (166) Shakespeare does not hint at her involvement but there is sufficient evidence of her non-involvement. Gertrude is an instrument of, and incentive towards, crime; she is not criminally involved herself.
The only exception to this the fact that by consenting to marry Claudius only such a short while after the death of her husband, she betrays either the greater infirmity of will, or an abnormally high degree of sexuality. The ghost makes it clear that Gertrude was neither an accessory to the murder nor even aware of it. We can call her a weak woman, not a wicked or depraved woman. The ghost styles her ‘seeming virtuous’. Hamlet forces her to search her heart. Then she is able to see how shameless and offensive to good sense and modesty her ‘over-hasty marriage’ was.
This view clearly manifests that though she possessed animal nature but she was not cruel to the extent of Lady Macbeth’s. Thus these paradoxes in her personality clearly reflect that she was not in conformity with socio-cultural norm as she possessed an unchaste nature yet she was contemporary as she was not involved in heinous crime of murdering her husband. A. C. Bradley also look some strengths in the character of Gertrude and says in this regard; “When affliction comes to her, the good in her nature struggles to the surface.
Like other faulty characters in Shakespeare’s tragedies, she dies a better woman than she had lived. When Hamlet shows her what she has done, she feels genuine remorse and says: “O Hamlet, speak no more; / Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, / And there I see such black and grained spots/ As will not leave their tinct. ” (Act III, Scene IV, 88-91) It is true that Hamlet fears that this remorse will not last and so at the end or the interview in this scene he adds a warning that, if she betrays him, she will ruin herself as well.
It is true also that there is no sign of her obeying Hamlet, because she does not break off her relationship with the King. Still she does feel remorse; and she loves her son and does not betray him. She gives her husband a false account of Polonius’s death, and keeps silent about the appearance of the Ghost. She shows spirit while Laertes excites the mob, and she stands up for her husband when she can do nothing to help her son. If she had sense enough to realize Hamlet’s purpose, (or the probability of the King’s taking some desperate step to defeat that purpose, she must have suffered torture in those days.
But perhaps she was too dull. ” (Bradley 1966, 167) Although Gertrude and Ophelia are two different women but Gertrude is caught in the same dilemma and circumstances in relation to Hamlet as Ophelia does. She loves Hamlet and suffers due to their relation with Hamlet. Although Gertrude follows the bidding of Claudius throughout the story, and cannot even effectually resist Polonius, she evinces a deep love for Hamlet. She almost lives by looking at Hamlet. The contempt and hatred of her beloved son cut her to the quick and drives her to the very verge of madness.
It must be noted that when Hamlet’s upbraiding grows unbearable for the queen, the ghost of his father steps in to save Gertrude from a further expression of their son’s bitter hatred. The Queen has little personality to set against the strong individuality of the men. She rarely takes any positive action. She is carried along by events which concern her closely but which she cannot hope to control or influence in any significant way. When we see her first, she is characteristically repeating the wishes of her husband that Hamlet should not return to the University.
Here and throughout the play, Hamlet treats her with deference because she is his mother and also because the Ghost had asked him to leave her alone. It seems that her thinking is fairly clear at least so far as Hamlet’s state of mind is concerned. She is not convinced when Polonius makes every effort to prove that Hamlet is suffering from love-madness. Gertrude does not direct or affects the course of events directly but her role is of considerable importance for understanding the character of Hamlet. Hamlet at once intensely Gertrude and passionately hates her.
Although Shakespeare has characterized Ophelia as inferior to male characters, but characterization of Gertrude has dual characteristic. Sometime it challenges the traditions of the conformist society and sometime it itself become conforms to the values of the society by acting passively. Work Cited Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966. Jones, Ernest. The Oedipus-Complex as an Explanation of Hamlet’s Mystery: A Study in Motive. The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Jan. , 1910), pp. 72-113Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com