Gertrude's marriage

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Hi, we are class IV G of Liceo scientifico of Gela-

We have an important question about Hamlet plot and we can't find a plausible answer:

"Why Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, married so soon(two months) after her husband's death?Didn't she know that this would have caused a reaction not only in her son but also in front of her nation?" In a word, was she an insensitive mother and a woman that disregards the traditions?

-- IV G Class (liceo.scient.gela@telkanet.it), March 03, 2000

Answers

I think that Gertrude was just so much in love with Claudius that she didn't really think about how the marriage would affect Hamlet. She was probably quite lonely being married to Hamlet Senior, seeing as he was always off at war...who else to warm the royal bed than charismatic Claudius? They may have had an affair (this is hinted at in Branagh's film) so it was only natural to her that after Old Ham kicked the bucket that she would marry Claudius. (Hamlet obviously sees him in a different light than his mother.) Denmark seems to approve the union since they don't see a problem with Claudius becoming King. Perhaps it's Hamlet who's being insensitive; he is, afterall, not at home much, off studying in Wittenburg. Was he expecting her to be a widow for the rest of her life? Besides, the only other guy in the court is...well, Polonius... Not much selection :). I'm not sure what the "tradition" is, although I suspect it's highly unusual for a woman to marry her deceased husband's brother!

-- Virginia (vleong@attglobal.net), March 04, 2000.

You have made very valid points, Virginia, but isn't also possible that Gertrude married Claudius because of Old Hamlet's sudden death? After all, here she is, a woman in a powerful position (as much as possible for a woman, anyway) and she is thrown into an unstable and uncertain circumstance involving both affairs of state and her emotions. Lo, there's Claudius - a man to cling to in her grief for support and love, and a king to stabilize Denmark's political situation. He, being "close" to her and the throne, was the perfect solution. If Hamlet entered her thought process at all, it was probably something like, "He's a smart boy, he'll understand" or "The poor boy needs a strong father figure and a sense of familial continuity for his emotional stability in these difficult times." What I believe was truly insensitive, was the fact that she seems to never have actually talked with him about his feelings. Of course, she suspects what's bothering him, but does she ever take him aside and ask him? Obviously not.

-- mikken (mikken@neo.rr.com), March 05, 2000.

i think that Gertrude was thinking of nobody but herself during the time of her husband's death. She was unsure about how to handle the loss of her husband. Claudius was real anxious to step into his brother's shoes, Gertrude probably figured the easiest thing to do was to let him. That way she had a husband again, and she could pretend that nothing even happened and move on with life as prior to the death. Gertrude was not trying to think selfishly. She was just a fallible woman of the times who was trying to mask her grief.

-- tennille utomi (mocha364@hotmail.com), April 08, 2001.

Two points: to marry the sibling of your first spouse, no matter how nice he/she might be, was indeed "damned incest" - forbidden by the church. And religion was seriously the way of life and death back then. But on the human side, if a dearly beloved spouse dies, it is often natural to cling to the remaining relatives of the spouse. (Consider that Hamlet gets his capacity for love from his mother.) Gertrude merely takes it too far, to committing incest and hurting Hamlet so.

-- catherine england (catherineamer@hotmail.com), October 05, 2001.

I know this is out of the bule, but i'm doing a paper on Gertrude...and i can't seem to find much information or opinions. Would you guys e-mail me your opinion? The character Gertrude is fascinating to critics. Is ishe a strong, ambitious, manipulative woman? Is she a weak woman who is incomplete without a strong man? or does she fall somehwere betweeen these extreme dichomies? Thanks a lot!!

-- Lana S. (me112784@hotmail.com), October 15, 2001.


Since I last responded to this ? I've realized something: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I's father, married his brother's wife, Katherine of Aragon. His brother was Arthur, older than Henry and would have been king if he hadn't died of TB. Difference was, though, Arthur and Katherine were only about 15 when he died, and she declared the marriage hadn't been consummated. But in HAMLET we have young Hamlet ...

Anyway. I think Gertrude is probably more on the weak side. All her lines and speeches are very gentle in tone, and many are indecisive. When H says "... kill aking and marry with his brother", she seems to respond with surprise/shock: she's just gone along with Claudius without thinking very deeply. Later in that scene, when Hamlet has tried to win her round, she says, "O Hamlet thou hast cleft my heart in twain", ie, she's divided between the two (Claudius and Hamlet) rather than siding firmly either way. There are only two women in the play. I think both are intentionally drawn as lovely and charming but lacking in moral fibre, strength of character, and even sense. This may be to emphasise that it is a men's world that they have to live in, and/or to partly justify Hamlet's revulsion against women: these are the two women he has close dealings with, and as he says, "frailty, thy name is woman". These two women do seem to be very frail in character.

-- catherine england (catherineamer@hotmail.com), October 18, 2001.


Gertrude is Bunk.

-- Jorge (millencolinboardpunk@hotmail.com), December 09, 2002.

Now, if one works a pun in terms of beds, that's a magnificently apt choice of four-letter words from one who is clearly not a fan.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), December 15, 2002.

I agree with the fact that Gertrude is a "frail" woman. I feel as though shes dominated by Claudius, as it is that she lives in a society where that is appropriate. I feel that she's gullible and Claudius doesnt truly love her because he's almost conspiring against her when he tells Laertes Gertrude wont ever know about poisoning Hamlet. I am doing a report on her and decided to look up the meaning of Gertrude. It means: Strong like a Spear. I didnt understand because its a total contradiction. What do you think? Just for fun I looked up Claudius and it had the implication of a feeble woman! I dont know what to make of it. Help me out...

-- Lindsey S (surflover1@aol.com), February 16, 2003.

YThe name Gertrude comes from Gerutha (I think that's it - it's certainly something similar), which is the name of the character in Shakespeare's source(s) for the play. Don't know why he chose Claudius, but I think I doubt it was because of its meaning.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), February 17, 2003.


O boy, so much hassle about nameheritage. There is actually nothing easier than claiming the heritage of the name gertrude.

It is commonly used in as an english, dutch and german name. It means "spear of strength", derived from the Germanic elements ger "spear" and ■ru■ "strength".

thanks for nothing :-)

-- Tobias M. Bleckwedel (tmbleckwedel@gmx.de), August 05, 2003.


Well that's really what Lindsey basically just said. The point we're actually considering is why WS might have chosen the names he did.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), August 05, 2003.

I'm currently doing my A-level coursework based around the "frailty thy name is woman" quote and its link to gerty, but i just can't decide whether she was frail + shakespeare was being sexist or whether she was infact sly and manipulative (as i would prefer to believe). Does the fact that she has few lines and little stage presence imply the former? If shakey gave characters little stage prescence, maybe he didn't wish the different aspects of their characters too deeply. I'm also confused by the name thing, maybe old shakey was trying to be ironic. but then again, if you were writing a book would you really bother to look up names with suitable meanings? wouldn't you just choose names that sounded right?

-- Jeni thorley (jeniii134@aol.com), November 19, 2003.

oops, that last comment didn't really make sense in parts. sorry

-- jeni (jeniii134@aol.com), November 19, 2003.

You're right, it didn't. Firstly if, as you say, she WAS frail why is Shakespeare being sexist? And why must everything that comes out of Hamlet's mouth be the voice of Shakespeare? Didn't get that part, dear. Sorry.

And secondly, if you were "writing a book" then yes, you may take the time to look up names with suitable meanings, but Shakespeare wasn't writing a book; He was writing a play.

-- Patrick Walker (the_right_hand_of_doom@msn.com), November 19, 2003.



'Sexist" is a totally anachronistic term to use with regard to Shakespeare's England.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), November 19, 2003.

play, book, same difference. only authors (+ playwrights if you're going to be so pedantic) who wrote their works intentionally for analysis would bother to look up names (e.g Margaret Atwood). I was only asking for opinions dude! what does anyone think...is Gertrude "frail"?

-- jeni (jeniii134@aol.com), November 20, 2003.

No, Jeni. YOU are wrong. In this case, Play/Book is NOT same difference. Shakespeare, as far as we know, did NOT prepare ANY of his plays for publication. And I agree with Catherine in what she said about sexism and Elizabethan england.

-- Patrick Walker (the_right_hand_of_doom@msn.com), November 20, 2003.

As an individual person, Gertrude is, I think, relatively frail - i.e., weak - in character and personality. She is not necessarily meant to be a representation of the entire female gender by WS. I also think she gets stronger as the events of the play progress.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@fastmail.com.au), November 20, 2003.

chill m8! no need 2 get in a tizz! my point is that Hamlet is now published as a book and is studied as so. thanx catherine for giving me a sensible answer, your ideas have been really helpful. Do you think that "imperial jointress to our warlike state" bears any relevcance to Gertrude's reason for marrying Claudius?

-- jeni (jeniii134@myway.com), November 26, 2003.

No, Jeni. You are still wrong and I AM giving you a sensible answer. Of course the play is PUBLISHED AS a book but should not be studied as such or else we run into all sorts of problems. And that isn't what you were saying. Shakespeare was NOT writing a book. Never think of it as such. And don't call me "m8".

-- Patrick Walker (the_right_hand_of_doom@msn.com), November 26, 2003.

As I indicated several comments back, I think WS simply used an anglicized version of the name for the Queen that existed in his sources for the story. I don't think the meanings of this name had any bearing on his decisions about her character. And I don't think he decided to go with the name in order to make any suggestions about her character. Apart from anything else, WS deals with the shaping of real human characters. My name comes from the Greek for pure, but my parents just chose it because of someone they knew, and they didn't then try to make me pure.

No, I don't think "imperial jointress to our warlike state" has much bearing on Gertrude's reasons for marrying Claudius. Gertrude's interest and focus are always in and on the personal and intimate - what affects her family and friends and their relationships. I think her reasons for marrying Claudius were personal. The line might, though, be a clue to a reason why Claudius married Gertrude: she was the wife of the popular former King, so marrying her could perhaps help consolidate Claudius' position as the new one, given that he was not particularly popular with the people (see II.ii.347-350).

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), November 26, 2003.


Technically speaking, WS scripted plays. In his own lifetime these could be produced on stage, or published in book form. They are still both performed, either cut or whole, and published as books. WS did not publish them himself, and, as far as we know, for whatever reason(s) he did not prepare copies himself for publication. But as an intelligent man he surely realized that at least some of them would continue to be published in some form by someone, even if not for all the centuries that they have been, and with quite the degree of analysis to which they are subjected.

My points are these: whether HAMLET is watched on a stage or screen, or read in a book, it is in both cases a play by WS; and I myself feel sure that WS knew that it would sometimes be read as opposed to seen. What might WS have wanted out of this? Probably just people to enjoy it. Go ahead. Enjoy it.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), November 26, 2003.


In my (humble) opinion, i think Patrick is a minion of Lucifer. I think that, in the words of your boyfriend, Shakespeare, "you are an ass".

-- I think it's rather obvious. (nichola_mcgough@hotmail.com), April 20, 2004.

I think Pat's(if i can call him that) is right...definitions need to be made and need not be crossed..its not a book its a play and i'm tired of ppl trying to mix the two. There is a line between those and it does make a difference. I think Gertrude was both...insensitive and yet strong. First of all, any woman that can ignore her son's feelings is strong. She's not right, but she is strong. However, the ability to ignore one's own child is insensitive. Was she doing it for the kingdom? She may have. But she may not have. I think its hard to say because we don't know WS's mindset or Gertrude's. Lets stop being all nit picky ppl and lets just say she was a complex woman.

-- super woman (realsteelheartwoman@hotmail.com), January 08, 2005.

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