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Essay/Term paper: Hamlet and gertrude: love or hate

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Hamlet

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Hamlet and Gertrude: Love or Hate


Imagine it, while away at college you receive word that your beloved father
who had seemed in good health only a short while ago has died leaving your
mother and yourself. This situation would be enough to bring great depression to
even the strongest of souls but for Hamlet, the fictional prince of Denmark in
Shakespeare's play of the same name, this is not his imagination but cruel
reality. Not only has his father passed but, as if to mock the very memory of
the former king, Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and queen, has married again within
two months. This shock is further compounded by the fact the her new husband is
none other than her former brother-in-law, Claudius.
Unable to return to the university due to his over whelming despair,
Hamlet is trapped by his loving parents and not allowed to leave Denmark until
certified well. It is at this time he receives word from his friend Horatio that
the spirit of his father has returned and walks the night. During the
Elizabethan period of English literature, man and nature were thought to be
linked as part of a "great chain of being". To Hamlet, the fact that his father
had returned showed that this chain had been disrupted by some evil in the world
of man. That he had returned as a ghost could mean only one thing, his death was
not an accident. The ghost beseeches Hamlet to avenge him but warns him, "taint
not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught . . . leave her
to heaven".
This statement by the ghost was left open enough for Hamlet to develop
many questions about his mother's actual involvement in his father's death. At
first, Hamlet's rage is confined to his uncle Claudius but quickly and violently
shifts towards his mother, dwelling upon the horrible thought that she might
have been involved. "Oh most pernicious women!" He screams, "O villain, villain,
smiling, damned villain!" Hamlet speaks as though he has temporarily forgotten
his promise to his father and has become insane with anger. The insanity through
anger is a reoccurring motif throughout the play. After Hamlet has simmered down
to the point where he is again lucid, he vows to his friend Horatio that he will
take revenge upon Claudius, and he will do so by acting insane until the time is
right.
It's clear by what the ghost has said that Claudius is guilty of murder,
but what about Gertrude? She clearly disgusts Hamlet due to her hasty marriage.
Throughout the play he makes satirical remarks and is generally cold towards her
but does not make any direct accusations. This changes in act 3, scene ii after
the performing of the "mouse trap". Hamlet uses the traveling performers to
provoke a response from the king in order to confirm what the ghost has told him.
After his suspicions are concerned his confidence is so bolstered that he
rushes to accuse his mother of the murder.
Whether or not the queen had any prior knowledge of the murder is never
made entirely clear by Shakespeare but he does make clear what it is that Hamlet
believes. Now sure that his mission is just, he becomes violent in his
accusations to the point that he kills Polonius. As he falls the ground the
queen screams, "O what a rash and bloody deed is this!" To this Hamlet's
response is, "A bloody deed - almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king, and
marry with his brother." This, Gertrude would have us believe, is the first she
has known about the murder. " As kill a king?" Gertrude acts confused and
surprised by the accusation but goes on to say, "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." Is this statement a realization or an
admission of guilt? Gertrude could simply have just seen through Claudius's
deception. If indeed she did have a part in the murder, the fact that her son
has discovered the plot could have sent her over the edge.
Working on the assumption that Gertrude is truly innocent of the murder,
we are left with another unanswerable question, why then, did she choose to
marry her former brother-in-law? If guilty, the answer is simple, greed and
power. If she did not know about the murder, however, than perhaps Claudius and
Gertrude were working independently but for virtually the same goal. Claudius
killed for power while Gertrude may have had a much more subtle approach to
gaining power, she married it. While at first thought Gertrude may not seem to
be as devious as Claudius, marrying the king would be the perfect way to come to
power in a society governed by an elected monarchy. The final option is that
Gertrude truly is innocent of all knowledge of her husband's crime and is in
fact a victim of circumstance. Based upon the literal interpretations this would
seem to be the most plausible.
Which interpretation Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote Hamlet we
will probably never know, but it is the open ended questions in his works that
make them great. Whether or not Gertrude was guilty of a crime the fact that
such a thing could be asked served to give not only Gertrude depth as a
character but also any character whom came in contact with her in the text.
Truly this was the reason behind the ambiguous language of the play, in order to
make it eternal and open to individual interpretation.

 

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