LR’s – Queen Gertrude and Hamlet Analysed

Two notes from me.

1.  The older guys have been focused on rhetoric  and the methods of rhetoric for the past weeks.  They were supposed to find a topic in the realm of rhetorical history or theory to cover.  Being Montessori the rabbit trails abounded and at least one led far from the original topic.  However, it has proved very insightful.  Presentations for Project Week began at 9:30 yesterday.  This is the first time I’ve designated that the written paper is not the speech and the speech is to delivered from or nearby a podium.  It was evaluated – as was their written piece.

2. LR is 12.  Upon landing on this topic, LR found the seemingly easy topic to be quite a challenge.  The adult matter of the relationship was tricky.  Discussions of adult motivations (whether emotional or biological) were necessary and LR waded through them and came out on the other side with his own ideas and theories which withstood the buffets of intellectual challenge.

The Conflict Between Hamlet and His Mother Analyzed with a Focus on Cultural Roles and Emotional Motivation.

HAMLET: Now, mother, what’s the matter?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
HAMLET: Mother, you have my father much offended.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
HAMLET: Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Why, how now, Hamlet?
HAMLET: What’s the matter now?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Have you forgot me?
HAMLET: No, by the rood, not so:
You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife,
And would it were not so, you are my mother.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak.
HAMLET: Come, come, and sit you down, you shall not boudge;
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murder me?

This is a segment from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Hamlet is the son of Queen Gertrude, these kinds of parent and child conflicts are common in some of Shakespeare’s plays. The events surrounding these characters must be taken into account as we watch the attitude of Gertrude and Hamlet change. They have their own unique places in society. I will discuss the cultural ramifications and mental state of these characters. To understand the relationship of these characters I will summarize the play. Then I will individually look at Queen Gertrude then at Hamlet.


In the tragedy of Hamlet, the main character is the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet. Throughout the play he struggles to keep his sanity. This is especially apparent after his father’s ghost visits him. The ghost tells him the frighting idea that his father was murdered by his uncle Claudius, who is the current king and now married to Hamlet’s mother. Now Hamlet is determined to kill Claudius. Hamlet, convinced that his mother, Queen Gertrude has knowledge of his father’s murder, is extremely angry. When he confronts, her she denies that Claudius is the killer.

To make sure Claudius is the murder of his father, Hamlet writes a play about his father’s death and has it performed by traveling players. When it is performed, the king’s reaction is proof enough. Claudius storms off shocked. Hamlet now knows his uncle is the killer of his father. Hamlet has the chance to kill his Uncle while he is praying, but Hamlet decides not to. While Hamlet is having an argument with his mother, he sees movement behind the curtains. Reacting without thinking Hamlet stabs Lord Polonius the father of Hamlet’s love, Ophelia.

After the death of Polonius, Ophelia goes mad and drowns herself. Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, comes to her funeral. Blaming Hamlet for Ophelia’ madness, Laertes and the king plot to kill Hamlet by use of more poison. Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel. Claudius poisons Hamlet’s chalice of wine and Laertes poisons the tip of his sword. At the duel Hamlet is winning, and Claudius gives a toast offering the poisoned wine to Hamlet. He declines the offering. Queen Gertrude drinks to Hamlet and unknowingly consuming the poisoned wine. Laertes cheats and stabs Hamlet; Hamlet with anger picked up the same poisoned sword and stabs Laertes. Hamlet sees that his mother is poisoned. Enraged he stabs Claudius then forced the wine down his throat. In the end Laertes, Claudius, Queen Gertrude, and Hamlet are all dead.

Queen Gertrude is one of the most confusing and mysterious characters in Hamlet. There are several reasons for her confusion. One of the primary reasons is that, Hamlet is angry with her. He tries to tell her that that Claudius is the killer of her former husband. If this is true, she has no one to turn to. So she doesn’t want to believe Hamlet. She is also afraid of Hamlet because he stabbed Polonius. Hamlet is extremely angry at her because he thinks she has forgotten Hamlet’s father too soon. As the play progresses, she questions if Claudius is the murderer. If he is the killer she will not be married to a king, and in the eyes of her culture she would be nothing. In the end Gertrude drinks from Hamlet’s chalice even after Claudius says not to. I believe that is her way of saying that if Claudius is the killer and he poisoned the wine she does not want to live.

Queen Gertrude, as other queens of this time period, was very dependent on her husband. It was very uncommon for a queen after the death of her king to marry his brother. There is a chart written in 1559 by William Clerke about prohibited marriages. It is called The Trial of Bastardies and there are 16 prohibited marriages and the probation not to marry your brother’s wife is one of them. A queen like Gertrude was more of a public figure than an authoritative ruler. Queen Gertrude managed her children but she didn’t care for them. She would manage the castle’s staff like the maids or cooks. She would attend royal and religious ceremonies. She had a slew of managerial and stately events and duties to keep her day full.

In the climax of the conflict between mother and son, Hamlet is trying to keep the memory of his father alive by arguing with his mother. His internal conflict is whether or not to avenge his father by killing Claudius. His anger has blinded his conscience and decisions. Hamlet is furious at his mother because he thinks she has forgotten his father and because he thinks she knows Claudius is the killer. He has the chance to kill Claudius while he is praying, but Hamlet doesn’t because wants Claudius to go to Hell. In Hamlet’s time they believed if you were praying and you died you would go to heaven. Claudius plots to murder him. Hamlet discovers this and makes his urge to kill Claudius stronger.

Behind all the drama of Hamlet, Hamlet knows he will one day have to take the thrown of Denmark. He would need to marry someone. He would need to be well educated. Hamlet was very focussed on his education. He would also have to collect rents from fiefs. Hamlet would have done sports like sword fighting and hunting. He would have known everyone in the castle. He would learn the duties of the king. He would need be preparing himself to one day be king.

In the end, the insanity of Hamlet and his indecision caused more deaths than he anticipated. Queen Gertrude’s mysterious character makes us question what she knew. Claudius’ hunger for power motivated him to kill his brother. All in all, the emotions of these characters made for a disastrous downward cycle, and ultimately led to their deaths.


Brown, F. And McBride, K. (2005). Women’s Role In The Renaissance. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Adelman, A. (1992) Suffocating Mothers Fantasies Of Maternal Origin In Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet To The Tempest. New York: Routlegde.

Jokinen, A. (1996). Renaissance. Luminarium. February 1, 2010 from the World Wide Web:

Thomas, Dr. C. E. (interview, January 27, 2010) College of Charleston, Department of English.


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Filed under European History, Geography and World Studies, LR

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