What is the role of mothers in Hamlet?

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Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, is the Queen of Denmark, widow of the late king, and wife of Claudius. She is a central character in Hamlet in that her son is consumed with obsessive feelings that his mother has betrayed his father by marrying the suspected murderer of the previous king.

Throughout this play, Gertrude remains ambiguous in that the audience is never privy to her actual feelings and thoughts. She gives no grand introspective soliloquy to the audience that provides a window into her mind and motives. We, like Hamlet, are left asking if she has knowledge of Claudius's guilt. We do not know her true feelings for her new husband or how sincerely she mourns her first husband. We are even left wondering if she carried on an affair with Claudius previous to the death of her husband. We also do not even know if she purposely drinks the poison that is meant for Hamlet in the final act. We know that she is greatly worried in concern to her son's strange behavior. Yet we do not know if this is purely maternal concern or if she worries that he will uncover a hidden truth. All this uncertainty surrounding Gertrude echoes the uncertainty that her son battles with throughout the course of this tragedy. In the end, Hamlet's mother remains enigmatic, and it is up to the reader to determine exactly what role she plays.

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