Gertrude Character Traits

Queen Gertrude is a complex character in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. She is the mother of Prince Hamlet and the wife of King Claudius. Gertrude is first introduced in Act 1, Scene 2 where she appears alongside Claudius and Hamlet. From her first appearance, it is clear that Gertrude is a loving mother as she anxiously enquires about Hamlet’s health and well-being.

However, she is also shown to be easily manipulated by Claudius as he convinces her to remarry him just two months after her husband’s death.

Throughout the play, Queen Gertrude remains loyal to her new husband, even when it becomes apparent that he murdered her first husband. Gertrude is also dismissive of Hamlet’s suspicions and refuses to believe that Claudius could be capable of such a crime. This loyalty to Claudius, despite his obvious flaws, shows that Gertrude is a forgiving person.

Queen Gertrude is also shown to be a sexual person. In Act 3, Scene 4, she encourages Hamlet to stay with her and sleep in her bed. She also tries to seduce him, telling him that she wishes he would “loosen up” and not be so “strict” with himself. This side of Gertrude’s personality contrasts sharply with her role as a mother and wife.

However, in Shakespeare’s day, the Church of England considered marrying a husband’s brother to be incestuous. Another reason not to condemn Gertrude is that she is the queen of Denmark and therefore deserves respect as head of state. This argument find support in moments where it appears she is not at fault and Claudius is wholly responsible for what has happened (“Taken to wife”).

Gertrude is also seen to be a woman who loves her son Hamlet dearly and is greatly affected by his upset after the death of his father. She genuinely believes that Hamlet’s actions and words are those of a madman and does everything she can to try and help him, going as far as to agree with Claudius to send him away. It is only when she realises that it was Claudius who killed her first husband and Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, that she finally turns against him.

Queen Gertrude is a controversial figure in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. She is the mother of Hamlet and the wife of both King Hamlet and his brother Claudius. She has been accused of being responsible for the death of her first husband, King Hamlet, as well as complicit in the murder of her second husband, Claudius. However, there are many factors that can be taken into account that show she is not entirely responsible for either death.

One reason that Gertrude cannot be blamed for the death of her first husband is the fact that at the time of his death she was unaware that he had been poisoned by Claudius. She only finds out after Hamlet tells her and she is visibly shocked and upset by the news.

It has also been argued that Gertrude cannot be held responsible for the death of Claudius as she was forced into marrying him by Hamlet himself. Hamlet threatened to kill her if she did not agree to marry Claudius and so she had no choice in the matter.

Shakespeare never truly exposes Gertrude’s innermost thoughts about the marriage, so it is easy to feel empathetic towards her. Even so, it is justifiable to criticise Gertrude for how hastily she married Claudius—it all happened with “wicked speed.” Because of this hasty decision, Hamlet condemns her as being no better than a prostitute: “A beast that wants discourses of reason would have mourned longer.”

Gertrude is also shown to be easily manipulated due to her being “sealed in my heart” for Claudius. This suggests she is very gullible as well as lonely after the death of her husband which may have made her an easy target for Claudius. She also appears to crave attention and love from Hamlet, which he fails to give her.

Gertrude can also be seen as a victim in the play as she is unaware of Claudius poisoning King Hamlet. This is significant as it would make her an accessory to murder had she known. It could be argued that Gertrude did know about the poisoning, however there is no real evidence in the text to suggest this. Gertrude is also unaware of Hamlet’s madness and takes his actions and words at face value. This led to her feeling betrayed by Hamlet when he stabs Polonius through the areas.

Gertrude can be seen as a selfish character as she does not really consider Hamlet’s feelings regarding the marriage. She also places her own happiness above Hamlets, shown when she chooses Claudius over her son. It could be argued that Gertrude is not necessarily selfish but just desperate for love and attention, which is something she feels she lacks from Hamlet.

The ghost of Hamlet also condemns Gertrude using sarcasm, saying “my seeming virtuous queen.” This disapproval is a natural reaction that strengthens the audience’s opinion that she should be condemned. However, because hamlet and the ghost are biased, their views cannot be used to make a serious judgement about whether or not to condemn the queen.

Gertrude can be seen to be a victim as well as she is being controlled by Claudius. This is due to the fact that women at the time were not considered to be able to make their own decisions and were very much under the control of men, particularly their husbands. Gertrude may have been forced into marrying Claudius against her will and so she cannot be held completely responsible for her actions.

She is also naïve and easily manipulated by Claudius as he is able to convince her that Hamlet is mad without any evidence. This shows that she is not intelligent enough to see through his lies and so she allows herself to be controlled by him.

However, despite all of these negative character traits, Gertrude does show some positive traits. After Hamlet has killed Polonius, she shows great courage by standing up to him and telling him off. This is very brave as he is her son and she knows that he is capable of killing her.

She is also fiercely loyal to Claudius, even after he has murdered her husband. This could be seen as a negative trait as she is supporting a murderer but it could also be seen as a positive trait as she is remaining loyal to her husband despite the fact that he has done something terrible.

Overall, it is difficult to judge whether or not Queen Gertrude deserves to be condemned. She has both positive and negative character traits which make it hard to come to a definitive conclusion. However, the majority of her character traits are negative and so it is fair to say that she is not a particularly good person.

In conclusion, Gertrude is a complex character who is hard to truly understand. Shakespeare has deliberately left her character vague so that the audience can make their own interpretation. Whether you sympathise with Gertrude or not, she is an essential part of the play and helps to create further tension between Hamlet and Claudius.

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