Tuesday, November 9, 2010


“Q” is for “Queen”
Queen Gertrude, that is.

Do you like murder mysteries? Well, here’s one for you to consider.
It’s the story of a queen whose husband has recently died. Protocol requires that, after the death of a king, his widow should remain in mourning for at least a year. But Queen Gertrude has married all too soon after the death of her husband.

Glenn Close, as Gertrude.
However, the people of her realm, Denmark, don’t hold it against her because the man she married, Claudius, was the brother of the late king. The general feeling is that now the country will have new rulers whom everyone admires and who will bring stability and prosperity to the land.
In fact, everyone seems to be happy with the marriage – except for one guy who doesn’t go along with it at all.
That would be Gertrude’s son, Prince Hamlet.

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet.
Hamlet has his reasons. He despises his uncle, Claudius, and he hates the idea that his mother is now living with him. He’s also upset that his mother, defying tradition and respect for the late, beloved King, has rushed into the marriage. In addition, Hamlet suspects that Claudius had something to do with his father’s death.
We who are sitting in the audience, watching the play, are gradually made aware that Claudius did indeed kill his brother. And it also seems to be true that Gertrude had been having an adulterous affair with Claudius while her husband was still alive.

In the Olivier film, Gertrude was played by Eileen Herlie. The Queen doesn’t understand why her son cannot join in the general feeling of good-will.
In Act Three there is an extraordinary scene: Hamlet visits his mother in her bedroom to tell her just how angry he is. His anger turns to rage.

He steps over the line; he says things few sons have ever said to their mothers. He shows his disgust, his very nausea, at the thought of her sleeping with Claudius.
Hamlet: “To live, as you are doing, in the rank sweat of a greasy bed, stewing in corruption!”
Queen: “Oh, Hamlet, speak to me no more! These words are like daggers!”
Hamlet: “He’s a murderer and a villain! A slave that is not a twentieth part of your precedent lord.”
Queen: “Have you forgotten who I am?”
Hamlet: “No, you are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife. And – though I wish it were not so – you are my mother.”

Hamlet is so angry that Gertrude fears for her life. The scene ends as her son finally calms down and tries to convince her that what he had said was for her own good; he had been “cruel only to be kind.”
All of the foregoing leads to some fascinating theories about the Queen.
Question number 1. Did Gertrude have any idea, when she married Claudius, that he had murdered her husband?
Question number 2. Is it possible that the Queen was aware of this but went ahead with the marriage anyway?
Number 3. During the adulterous affair, did Gertrude learn that Claudius was planning to kill the King?
Number 4. Is it possible that there was complicity on her part, that she played a role in the killing?
Number 5. Or is it possible that Gertrude was completely innocent of having anything to do with the murder of the late King?
(It’s interesting that there are scholars who have written that the play “Hamlet” should really have been named “Gertrude” because the whole plot revolves around her. Whatever any of the other characters do during the action of the play, everything seems to be tied in one way or another to the Queen.)
Depending on how familiar you may be with “Hamlet,” what’s your opinion as to the correct answer to the questions about Queen Gertrude listed above?


Paul C said...

I think Claudia was duplicitous in the whole relationship with Claudius. A wonderful overview of the complex relationship with her son.

Mar said...

I will have to see this film. I somewhat missed it. Great interesting choice for the theme!
Q is for...

photowannabe said...

I have to agree that Gertrude was playing both sides of the fence.
Great overview and very thought provoking.

Roger Owen Green said...

well, my mother is mnamed Gertrude, so OBVIOUSLY, she's totally innocent.

Without rereading, my sense is that she didn't know for sure, didn't WANT to know, but in her heart suspected.

ROG, ABC Wednesday

Gigi Ann said...

Not being familiar with the play, except what I read here, I would say Gertrude knew Claudius' plan to murder his brother, the King.

Shigune Matsui said...

Hey, I'm also doing a post on queens. Wanna see at http://thelunaticsdiary.blogspot.com

EG Wow said...

I think Gertrude didn't know at the time she married Claudius.

Sylvia K said...

Great post for the day as always. I have always felt that Gertrude was playing both sides of the fence. This is a great overview as always!


Hildred and Charles said...

Love your Shakespeare, and I would find it difficult to believe that Gertrude was entirely innocent of any complicity in this dastardly affair...

Tumblewords: said...


OJ Gonzalez-Cazares said...

You make Shakespeare so easy to understand!! I haven't read the play or watch the movie, but based on your explanation and premises, and how Shakespeare loved tragedy, my inclination is to no.4... no woman in power is so inocent (otherwise it would've been played by Julie Andrews, not Glen Close!!)

Pat said...

I think she suspected but chose to ignore it.

Berowne said...

OJ Gonzalez: "...no woman in power is so inocent (otherwise it would've been played by Julie Andrews, not Glen Close!!)"
Good point...

Berowne said...

Interesting, the variety of responses to the Queen Gertrude question. Thanks.

Berowne said...

Thanks to my friends Paul C, photowannabe, Roger O G, Sylvia K, Hildred & Charles and Tumblewords for such encouraging comments.

rallentanda said...

This is my favourite production of Hamlet. Mel Gibson is a superb Hamlet.

Anna said...

Another thought-provoking post about a character from one of Shakespeare's best-known plays.
And always, scholarly and with wit.
Best wishes,

Shari Sunday said...

Catching up with my blog reading. I always thought that Gertrude was at least as guilty as Claudius and was probably the instigator. I think Hamlet thought so, too. It's been a long time since I studied the play in school and a long time since I saw the movie.

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