In Shakespeare's Hamlet, how might one analyze Hamlet's response to his mother's marriage to Claudius?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Hamlet’s reaction to Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius is most fully outlined in act 3, scene 4, when he confronts her directly. During the course of this confrontation, he makes the following points:

  • He accuses her of having married the man who killed her husband (Hamlet’s father [3.4.28-29]).
  • He accuses her of marrying a man (Claudius) who can in no way, especially physically but also in character, compare to Old Hamlet (3.4.53-71).
  • He accuses her of having sexual relations with a man (Claudius) whom she should despise (3.4.91-94).
  • He accuses her of being unwilling to admit her mistakes (3.4.144-49).
  • He urges her to confess her sins to God and to

Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come,

And do not spread the compost on the weeds

To make them ranker. (3.4.149-52)

  • He urges her to refrain from sleeping any longer with Claudius (3.4.159).
  • He tells her that if she can refrain one time from such sin, refraining will become easier and easier each time she refrains (3.4.165-70).

Hamlet detests Claudius because he believes (rightly) that Claudius is guilty of Old Hamlet’s murder. Hamlet does not accuse his mother of knowing about the murder or of having participated in it, but he does accuse her of giving her affections (and body) to a man wholly unworthy of her love or loyalty. He believes that she has offended the memory of her dead husband and has also offended Hamlet himself, not only by marrying Claudius but by marrying him so quickly after Old Hamlet’s death. Some critics believe that Hamlet’s obsession with his mother is excessive and even somewhat sexual, and this scene is often played as if it illustrated Sigmund Freud’s theories about the so-called “Oedipus complex.” Yet Hamlet does not seem jealous at all of his father’s relations with the queen, however disturbed he may be by Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius.



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