Apologizing for GertrudeHamlet is very hard on his mother, some argue rightfully so.  (See his first soliloquy.)  However, there may have been compelling reasons for Gertrude to acquiese to...

Apologizing for Gertrude

Hamlet is very hard on his mother, some argue rightfully so.  (See his first soliloquy.)  However, there may have been compelling reasons for Gertrude to acquiese to Claudius.  What might those reasons be? 

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Great points, Jamie - but then, let me ask - What did you intend by the question? A modern perspective or a Renaissance perspective? And are there truly compelling reasons for her to acquiese to Claudius, from a Renaissance point of view? I'm guessing not, simply because times were what they were and as you pointed out, audiences would have considered her remarriage to be shocking and in poor taste.

  It was something of a trick question.  The intended answer, though of course, not the only one, was to claim that Gertrude was so compelled by her intense, freed sexuality that she could not control herself.  I should have worded the question a bit differently, I think; still, posing such a question helps us understand how modern, especially feminist perspectives, are brought to bear on works out of context.

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jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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I was always intrigued by the Ghost’s desire for Hamlet to leave his mother alone. I thought there might be more to it than simply a resignation that God will mete out the appropriate punishment. I think the Ghost was steering Hamlet clear of the trap of Gertrude’s capacity to cajole and distract. She is a harpy luring Hamlet from his quest. Aside from other aspects of the Gibson film, the second appearance by the ghost is chilling. “This visitation is to whet thine almost blunted purpose.” Or, “She is hard as stone, kiddo, she will never get anywhere going there.”

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Great points, Jamie - but then, let me ask - What did you intend by the question? A modern perspective or a Renaissance perspective? And are there truly compelling reasons for her to acquiese to Claudius, from a Renaissance point of view? I'm guessing not, simply because times were what they were and as you pointed out, audiences would have considered her remarriage to be shocking and in poor taste.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

If Claudius seized the throne following his brother's death, that meant he had some kind of political and/or military might behind him...a lone man does not seize a kingdom without some help. So we can assume that he probably had the army backing him up. Whatever the case may be, this guy was king.

What choice did Gertrude have? If Claudius was bound and determined to have her, and if he had complete control over the kingdom, he could have had her sent away to a nunnery, I suppose, or banished elsewhere, or done away with her somehow.

Yes, Gertrude could have accepted those consequences and refused him, but I think she wanted to believe that Claudius was as good as her dead husband had been...that he would also, like Old Hamlet, "not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly." They were brothers, for goodness' sake, so I think she thought she was safe with Claudius, as she had been safe with Hamlet.

I also think people react differently to death and loss. Whereas one woman might want to retreat within herself and not be with another man following the death of her husband, another woman might really want/need the affection and love of another man to help her through the grieving process. Some might say that shows insincerity on her part, but then, not all of us have walked in those shoes.

Yours is an positive response, but alas, a modern one that probably was not what Shakespeare intended.  I admit the question may have been misleading, in that it evokes a more favorable space for Gertrude.  However, I doubt audiences would have had the compassion that modern thinkers may employ. 

Anthony Fletcher, in his study, "Gender, Sex and Subordination in England 1500-1800,"  argues that the "lascivious woman threatens and challenges manhood...All of Shakespeare's most powerful women exhibit gluttony" (6).  Fletcher cites Gertrude's hasty marriage as proof of her gluttony. 

Playgoers probably would have agreed, given the biases against women in the Renaissance, both cultural and "scientific".    Women were thought to possess rampant sexual "humors," which, if left unchecked, could lead to ruin. 

Margaret L. King,  ("Women of the Renaissance") agrees.  She notes that the power of the sexually unleased widow was of infinitely greater concern than her personal happiness.  Widows were considered "contaminated" by sexual experience and remarriage was a serious business.  If it were allowed at all, it was typically reserved for the young widow, which Gertrude certainly was not. 

Thus, to Renaissance eyes, not only was Gertrude's marriage shocking, it was in such poor taste that no justification, especially a union of such haste, would invite compassion. 

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

If Claudius seized the throne following his brother's death, that meant he had some kind of political and/or military might behind him...a lone man does not seize a kingdom without some help. So we can assume that he probably had the army backing him up. Whatever the case may be, this guy was king.

What choice did Gertrude have? If Claudius was bound and determined to have her, and if he had complete control over the kingdom, he could have had her sent away to a nunnery, I suppose, or banished elsewhere, or done away with her somehow.

Yes, Gertrude could have accepted those consequences and refused him, but I think she wanted to believe that Claudius was as good as her dead husband had been...that he would also, like Old Hamlet, "not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly." They were brothers, for goodness' sake, so I think she thought she was safe with Claudius, as she had been safe with Hamlet.

I also think people react differently to death and loss. Whereas one woman might want to retreat within herself and not be with another man following the death of her husband, another woman might really want/need the affection and love of another man to help her through the grieving process. Some might say that shows insincerity on her part, but then, not all of us have walked in those shoes.

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