Queen Gertrude / HamletI have a student who would like to know if there was any historical mandate for Queen Gertrude to marry Claudius?  Her motivation is muddy.  Any thoughts or theories?  ...

Queen Gertrude / Hamlet

I have a student who would like to know if there was any historical mandate for Queen Gertrude to marry Claudius?  Her motivation is muddy.  Any thoughts or theories?  

 

Jill V. Reeve

Asked on by jreeve

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Although we would not understand her decision today, doing so did solidify her position.  It kept her safe.  It was very common for kings and queens to make marriages for political alliance.  A queen naturally had less power than a king, so with the king gone she would need another king she could control in order to keep her position. 

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

In this situation, Hamlet would not have risen to the thrown. His father would have had to appoint him. Since, he didn't, it left the thrown for Claudius. We're not told why Gertrude married Claudius, but we might assume it was for political reasons. Certainly, we're never told it was a love affair. Hamlet was the only one who mentioned love or lust as a motivation. In fact, Claudius put Gertrude third on his list-behind country and throne.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I tend to think Gertrude was not having an affair with Claudius while King Hamlet was alive.  I see her husband's Ghost as being heartbroken and discouraged about his wife's turning to Claudius rather than angry. 

It has always seemed to me Claudius might have murdered his brother as much for Gertrude as for the throne.  He does care deeply for her (note his distress when she drinks the potion in the final duel scene, for example).  I'm guessing Claudius spent those thirty days after King Hamlet's death wooing her.  I have no specific lines to support that, but he does spend as much time with her as he does trying to keep the throne--so she's at least that important to him!

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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I don't think that Gertrude was carrying on an affair while King Hamlet was alive.  The ghost of King Hamlet is dismayed that the women he loved with all his heart could so quickly marry his brother.  When he refers to her as his "seeming-virtous queen" he means, "I thought she was more virtrous than to marry my brother."  He blames Claudius for using "witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts...(that) so have the power to seduce" Gertrude. He specifically tells Hamlet not to punish his mother but to let her guilt prick her.  He may have wanted more justice if Gertrude was guilty of more.

Another thing to consider is that Denmark, at the time the play is set, is an elected monarchy.  Hamlet is the son of the King, but he has been away at school.  Claudius has been at court, making friends and alliances with people such as Polonius, and his election seems logical.  Hamlet doesn't express much discontent over his not being on the throne.  Gertrude's marrying Claudius creates continuity of the throne and ensures her position as Queen, which I am sure she enjoyed. 

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writergal06 | Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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There doesn't appear to be any mandate for Gertrude to remarry, and I do agree that she would have been happy for Hamlet to be king. Her marriage to Claudius reinforces Shakespeare's idea of quick action versus inaction, and the folly of both. Gertrude's quick marriage to Claudius without really knowing him has as many negative consequences as Hamlet's inaction when he has the opportunity to kill Claudius.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Gertrude was not mandated to marry Claudius.  According to normal royal hierarchies, Gertrude would have been demoted to the Queen Mother and Hamlet would have risen to the King's throne.  Claudius had other plans, however, and the two of them passed over Hamlet.  Whether or not Gertrude knew what she was doing or that she was wise to Claudius' plan is another story altogether.

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karasam | eNotes Newbie

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I'm not so sure that Gertrude married Claudius without "really knowing him..."  The Ghost referred to her as his "seeming-virtuous queen," and when Hamlet was informed of how Claudius stole the crown, he uttered "O, my prophetic soul!"  The Ghost also called Claudius "That adulterate beast!"  It seems to me that Gertrude knew Claudius all too well; there appears to be evidence that she was carrying on an affair while King Hamlet was alive, if we delve into the Ghosts' dialogue.

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jreeve | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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Gertrude was not mandated to marry Claudius.  According to normal royal hierarchies, Gertrude would have been demoted to the Queen Mother and Hamlet would have risen to the King's throne.  Claudius had other plans, however, and the two of them passed over Hamlet.  Whether or not Gertrude knew what she was doing or that she was wise to Claudius' plan is another story altogether.

I should think Gertrude would have been happy being Queen Mother.  Then her darling Hamlet, (she lives by his looks alone, you know), could have become King.  

I don't think she was aware of Claudius' plans.  It was indeed foolish of her to re-marry so soon, but I think she's otherwise innocent.  Perhaps love (or lust) really is blind.  

jreeve's profile pic

jreeve | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_of_Acquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 'Margaret Thatcher' of the 12th century comes close.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Matilda

As does Maud / Matilda

But these were powerful women who needed a husband to be taken seriously and kept swapping husbands as alliances demanded. I'm not sure Gertrude was like that.

It is a bit similar to Henry the VIII, who married his dead brother Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragorn. Henry then believed God was punishing him with no issue, because scripture forbids marrying a dead brother's widow, and the whole 'split with Rome' started.

Thank you.  It doesn't illuminate Gertrude's motivation, but it does help us see where Shakespeare may have got the idea.  

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jillyfish | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_of_Acquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 'Margaret Thatcher' of the 12th century comes close.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Matilda

As does Maud / Matilda

But these were powerful women who needed a husband to be taken seriously and kept swapping husbands as alliances demanded. I'm not sure Gertrude was like that.

It is a bit similar to Henry the VIII, who married his dead brother Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragorn. Henry then believed God was punishing him with no issue, because scripture forbids marrying a dead brother's widow, and the whole 'split with Rome' started.

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