In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the importance of Gertrude being in the play?

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Gertrude is important because she is the primary force that keeps Hamlet from returning to Wittenberg, instead insisting that he stay at home. Without this action, none of the events of the play would be able to unfold. Gertrude seems to function as something of a bulwark between Hamlet and ...

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Gertrude is important because she is the primary force that keeps Hamlet from returning to Wittenberg, instead insisting that he stay at home. Without this action, none of the events of the play would be able to unfold. Gertrude seems to function as something of a bulwark between Hamlet and Claudius's obvious aggression towards one another. She tries to prevent either from making too rash of a move.

Despite her obvious concern for her son, Gertrude seems to greatly contribute to Hamlet's madness. Hamlet's image of her creates the anti-sexual and misogynistic behavior that is seen when he spurns the love of Ophelia. This sentiment in Hamlet is embodied by his most famous comment about Gertrude: "Frailty, thy name is Woman." While this comment certainly says much more about Hamlet's state of mind than Gertrude's character, she does little and less to stop any of the horrible events that unfold in the play.

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Gertrude serves to emphasize Hamlet's isolation. By marrying Claudius, she's made her peace with the new regime in a way that is impossible for her son. In fact, Hamlet can't understand how Gertrude can move on so quickly after her husband passes away. There's no evidence to suggest that Gertrude knows that Claudius murdered old King Hamlet, but there's still something faintly indecent about the haste with which she's decided to remarry, and Hamlet hates her for it.

Now Hamlet finds himself in the unfortunate position of essentially being an orphan. His father is dead, and his mother is dead to him because of her marriage to Claudius. At such a difficult time in his life, when he needs all the moral support he can get, Hamlet's total estrangement from Gertrude goes some way towards explaining his fraught emotional and psychological state, which is one of his most important characteristics.

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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, I believe that Gertrude is important for several reasons. The most important reason is that Claudius' marriage to her solidifies Claudius' place as King, when Old Hamlet dies. Second, she is the connection that brings Hamlet to stay at the castle. If not for his mother, he most certainly would have returned to school after his father's funeral if he had not seen the Ghost. If he had seen the Ghost, I doubt that Claudius would have tolerated Hamlet's behavior very long. I believe he does so out of deference to his new wife.

Gertrude hasty remarriage to Claudius after Old Hamlet's death serves to alienate Hamlet even further. This alienation sets Hamlet up to die because he has so few trustworthy connections; the peace he makes with his mother comes to late to be of help to him to stop the plotting that has already begun in earnest to have Hamlet killed. 

Gertrude's presence, as well as Ophelia's, serves to remind us of the tenuous place women held in society at that time, and how powerless they were to change or correct what was taking place in the male-dominated society in which they lived. It is important to understand why Gertrude is so unaware of Claudius' actions.

Gertrude may not have been in love with Claudius at all: it was a quick courtship. However, she is guaranteed protection and support when her husband dies by marrying Claudius, and more to the point, she may also be the force that allows Hamlet to stay to address his father's murder. With her marriage, she guarantees a place for Hamlet at court.

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