Does Gertrude exhibit any semblance of true motherly love, or is she merely interested in feathering her own nest?Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Hamlet,  Gertrude does display motherly tendencies.  For one thing, she loves Hamlet is deeply concerned about Hamlet's depression and possible madness. In Act III, Scene 1, Gertrude confides in Ophelia her hopes that it is merely Hamlet's love for her that is causing his irregular behavior.

...Ophelia, I do wish

That your good beauties e the happy cause

Of Hamlet's wildness.  So shall I hope your vitures

Will bring him to his wonted way again,

To both your honors. (3.1.38-42)

In the following scene, Gertrude attends the play which Hamlet has organized; when he appears, she asks him to sit by her. However, he refuses; later when the Player Queen declares that she will never remarry, Hamlet asks her what she thinks.  Gertrude responds, "The lady doth protest too much" (3.2.221) and Hamlet retorts, "Oh, but she'll keep her word" (3.2.222), Gertrude does not miss the implications of his remark and is clearly hurt.  Later, when she calls Hamlet to her chambers, where Polonius is hidden, Gertrude begs him,

...O gentle son,

Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper

Sprinkle cool patience.      (3.4.124-126)

Her concern is genuine as she plans to talk with Hamlet as Polonius hides behind the curtain in scene 4 of Act III.  And, when Hamlet accuses his mother of so soon forgetting his father's death and marrying his brother out of lust, Gertrude is hurt, but accepts blame and asks advice from her son:

O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain. (3.4.160)

What shall I do? (3.4.184)

Perhaps Gertrude's greatest act of maternal love is in the final act as with loyalty to Hamlet she does not reveal to Claudius Hamlet's suspicions.  Then, in the final scene, Gertrude drinks from the cup that has been poisoned for Hamlet, asking Claudius to forgive her:

Gertrude, do not drink.

I will my lord; I pray you pardon me. (5.2. 267)

She alerts her son to this poison,

No, no, the drink, the drink! O my dear Hamlet!

The drink, the drink!  I am poisoned. (5.2.286-287)

While Gertrude's flesh may be weak as she is clearly a sensual woman who gives in to her desires, her spirit is willing when matters pertain to her beloved son, Hamlet.


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