Gertrude's Hearing: A Hamlet Essay




  • 19th Century Engraving of The Merchant of Venice
  • I wrote this English essay in high school. For an essay assignment on Shakespeare's Hamlet, I decided to write up a court scene defending the character Gertrude. It was one of the more enjoyable essays I wrote in school.

    As human beings, it has become a routine for us to pass judgment on others, as if we have regular seats in the panel of juries. A seat in the jury is for those who make the right decision, after all sides have spoken their side of the story. Here is a chance that allows one to become a jury to judge a person as rightfully as necessary. Imagine a court. Full of people of Denmark, with the ghost of Gertrude begging for redemption of her character. The queen’s advocate speaks; “Oblivious to her late husband’s murder, Gertrude the queen of Denmark was a moral coward, the king’s puppet, and a victim of her circumstance. But for her ultimate sacrifice for her son which was returned with a basket full of deaths; her lamenting corpse should not be looked upon as the remains of a bad mother. ” The hearing has begun.

    Presently, there are accusations that Gertrude may well have known the murder Claudius had committed in order to obtain kingship. Within this devious murder, the one sole witness and also the victim was Hamlet’s father, whom evidently orders Hamlet to revenge his death by killing Claudius. In the matter of the Gertrude however; “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/ Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven/ And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge, / To prick and sting her."(1.3.90-94) If Gertrude had truly known her husband had been murdered and ran off to be in the arms of the murderer, she would have received a worse fate, for she betrayed love. Instead she receives a penalty less harsh, in an amount that equals jealousy and disappointment, not murder and knowing of the murder by her husband. This reveals that she was unaware of the murder. If this does not satisfy the jury, then there is the time she shows absolute astonishment to Hamlet when he informs her of the murder. In the first incidence of finding out her late husband had been killed, her automatic response is: “As kill a King!” (3.4.46) Although behind every words lies a different thought, Gertrude had continuously shown us unconsciously how naïve, dependant, and pathetic her character is that it becomes apparent to believe she truly was not aware of Claudius’s murder. Gertrude was so morally weak that she could not have lived with such a horrible act of betrayal, while being reminded of what she had done every time she saw into the eyes of her new husband, if she knew he had been the murderer.

    Gertrude was not only morally weak; she was also an utmost moral coward. Exhibit one: the evidence that she is a moral coward becomes magnified when she refuses to meet Ophelia at her most desperate time. After Horatio forces her to meet the distraught Ophelia, as she readies herself she whispers out; “To my sick soul, as sin’s true nature is, / Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss. / So full of artless jealousy is guilt, / It spills itself in fearing to be split.” (4.5.18-21) The doubtless feeling of guilt is one that Gertrude knows too well, and her only remedy for such painful emotion seems to be being held in arms of the most available husband, or just discarding them. Exhibit two: In the scene where Hamlet visits his mother to confront her of her treacheries, he challenges that she is undeserving and misplaced in her position.

    Rebellious hell,
    If thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones
    To flaming youth let virtue be as wax
    And melt in her own fire. Proclaim no shame
    When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
    Since frost itself as actively doth burn
    And reason panders will
    (3.4.91-97)

    Hamlet demands the whereabouts of Gertrude’s moral self-esteem, because he believes it is disgraceful that people as old as her cannot control their passion. In Hamlet’s eyes, Gertrude was simply ignoring her true conscious, which he absolutely despised about his mother. Her most fatal flaw that definitely stood as a barrier from her son was her fear of facing proper emotions.

    Another major factor that placed Gertrude under false accusations of being a bad mother seems to be her after husband, Claudius. When asked to leave because the king needed to spy on her own son she replies, “I shall obey you. / And for your part Ophelia, I do wish / That your good beauties be the happy cause / Of Hamlet’s wildness.” (3.1.41-44) This is the most direct quotation the queen has replied to one of king’s commands, where she nor questions or consider Claudius’s intentions or thoughts, which illustrates the king’s absolute control over the queen. Claudius manipulated Gertrude throughout the play into loosing her sense of motherhood. A great example of this is when she shows signs of wisdom by speculating the reason behind Hamlet’s madness. “I doubt it is no other but the main, / His father’s death, and our overhasty marriage.” This was the right answer that her motherly instincts gave her when she hears of her son’s madness; but when afterwards Polonius and Claudius suggests Ophelia’s beauty as Hamlet’s madness, she throws away her previous answer and agree with what her surrounding recommends. Gertrude was the king’s puppet, allowed his wishes and demands, and obeyed them without consent.

    As the ghost of Gertrude gently weeps, it has become time to pass judgment on Gertrude’s character. In her lifetime, Gertrude sat watching Hamlet flirting with Ophelia, gasped in horror at his murder of Polonius, and was traumatized at his bewildered conversation to the air. Just as her late husband had poison poured down his ear, Gertrude was also forced to swallow the words of toxic venom Hamlet produced through her ear. She suffered in her own way, but never once stopped loving her only son. She loved him as the oblivious queen, she loved him as a moral coward, she loved him as the king’s doll; she loved her son in her own lacking ways. If all does not convince the jury, then there is the one crucial element to her defense: she gave her life for her son. An act only a true mother at her peak of motherly instincts can achieve. It is now up to the jury to decide. Was Gertrude a bad mother? The hearing has ended.