Ophelia and Gertrude. Two different women who seem to be trapped in the same
circumstances in relation to Hamlet.
Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and the Queen of Denmark. She is married to the present
King, Claudius, who is suspected by Hamlet to have killed his father, King Hamlet, who also
happens to be Claudius's brother. Gerturde has somehow ended up in the plot of King Hamlet's
death and in the eyes of her son, seems to be a monster and an aide to an adulterating deed.
Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius who is the King's trusted councilor and is later killed
in the play and he forbids his daughter to see Hamlet because of the possibility that he beseech
her name and her virginity. She truly loves Hamlet and is devastated when he shuns her and
pretends to be mad.
Hamlet's treatment towards these two women shapes and brings life to their characters
and eventually bring s an end to their characters as well.
Gertrude is a kind and loving mother. The kind that guards after her son through thick
and through thin and loves unconditionally. Hamlet had suspected her of aiding in the killing of
King Hamlet. That will be discussed later.
Her character is the one character in the play that I believe does not develop but rather
stays identical to the scene in which she is introduced(Act I, scene II). She is shown to be a
quiet, "stand by your man" type individual who is easily influenced.
This is my belief because in the second scene of the play, Hamlet is shown to be
crushed by his mother's hasty remarriage. If marriage within the family was common in the days
of Shakespeare, then this is understandable, but, in any other case, this would be considered
an act of betrayal that was obviously brought on by some outside pressure, probably from
There is, however, a slight change in her personality that is not quite noticeable. At the
end of the play, the King and Laertes(Polonius's son) have plotted to kill Hamlet for reasons that
are irrelevant to my point. One part of the plot was to have Hamlet drink out of a poisoned cup. It
so happens that, in some confusion, the Queen ends up with the cup in her hand. Even after the
King's warnings not to drink from the cup(she is unaware of the plot), she does. She does in
complete defiance of her husband's wishes. I have interpreted this in this way because of the
line the Queen speaks before she drinks from the cup. "I will, my lord, I pray you pardon me."1
This shows that in the case that she might have lived on and not died from the poison in
her cup, we(the readers) would see a completely different woman had she found out about the
plot by Claudius to not only kill King Hamlet, but young Hamlet as well.
The one thing, I believe, that she would have stood up for is her son, if only she had had
There is a large part of this play that seems to be lacking in information to provide
reason to this attitude.
Hamlet meets with a ghost(seemingly that of his father) who tells him of Claudius's plot
to kill him. After the ghost is done telling the story of his death, he specifically tell s Hamlet to
punish only Claudius for his foul deed, but "Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive against
thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven,".2 Generally, he's trying to tell him to punish Claudius
and only Claudius. I don't understand this since earlier in the play he refers to the Queen as a
"most seeming-virtuous queen".3
Either I have misinterpreted the previous passage or there is a major flaw in the attitude
The one other time in the play that we see the Queen standing up for herself or actually
giving some sort of argument is when she and Polonius decide to confront Hamlet on his
behavior toward the King. Since the revealing of Claudius's involvement in Hamlet's father's
death, Hamlet has been putting on an act of madness.
After some very rude gestures on the part of Hamlet, Polonius and the Queen decide to
confront him on his rudeness to the King. Here, the Queen is very strict and domineering which
irritates Hamlet. He threatens her and after some confusion, Hamlet kills Polonius who is hiding
behind the curtain listening to the conversation.
This brings on the involvement of Laertes(Polonius's son) in the plot to kill Hamlet.
In any case, Gertrude shows some backbone in this scene, but, even though Hamlet
had threatened her, she still loved him and treated him the same way that she had treated him
before the confrontation. This, though very unnoticeable, is a very large character flaw.
Ophelia, a young lady born to the King's faithful advisor, Polonius and sister to Laertes.
The first time we see Ophelia in the play is in scene III, when she is saying good-bye to
her brother who has been granted passage back to Paris.
She is warned, by her brother, that she should beware of Hamlet's love, for, it is not the
love of a regular man. Prince's go about choosing their wives at random. She is said to be
careful to protect her good name, and her virginity.
In this scene, Ophelia's love still has no definition towards Hamlet. She seems
indifferent when her brother is talking to her, but, when her father talks to her, and she tells him
about the strong love in between them, Polonius ridicules the possibility of such love. He orders
Ophelia to end the friendship, and, like the obedient daughter she is, she does.
After some time in the play passes, Ophelia is suddenly strongly frightened by an act by
He comes into her room, half naked(which was very uncommon at the time), his
doublet unbuttoned and his stockings hung loose around his ankles. He didn't say what was
wrong but he was terribly upset. He left without making a stir.
As soon as Polonius heard of this occurrence, he decided that it was in mad love for
Ophelia that Hamlet did this and he was even more upset after Ophelia had told him that she
was refusing to see him or receive any on his letters.
Polonius, without hesitation, rushes to the King to tell him of the act committed to
As soon as Polonius sees the Queen and King he starts telling them about Hamlet's
love for Ophelia and how strong it is and he also reads a love letter, from Hamlet to Ophelia,
that he has found:
"Doubt thou stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. I have not art
to beckon my groans. But that I love thee best, O most best,
believe it. Adieu.
Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this
machine is to him, Hamlet".4
This establishes that, even though Hamlet cannot show it, he loves Ophelia dearly
and it is known that if he did show her, then his cover as a madman would be blown.
The King, unconvinced of his nephew's madness, asks for some solid proof of
Hamlet's love. Polonius and the King agree that they will set up a meeting between Hamlet and
Ophelia and will hide and watch.
Hamlet is surprised when he meets Ophelia. She hands back all of the little
presents that he had given her, and at this point, Hamlet loses it. He completely blows up on
Ophelia and all of his bottled up anger since his mother's remarriage is burdened on her.
He even starts suspecting her, and that there might be others listening to his
conversation with her.
In his madness, he utters a threat that the King must have heard: "I say we will
have no mo marriage. Those that are married already - all but one - shall live".5
Not only had Hamlet mentioned a threat, but he treated Ophelia with very little
respect in regards to their love. "Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of
Ophelia is left terrified and quite convinced of Hamlet's madness. Claudius is still
unsure of the situation, but he is sure that the way that Hamlet behaved cannot be excused for
love(at this time, Polonius decides he will set a meeting with Gertrude to talk to Hamlet while he
hides behind the great tapestry that hangs in Gertrude's room).
Quite some time has passed and in the confrontation between Hamlet and
Gertrude with Polonius hiding, had resulted in the death of Polonius by Hamlet. This proved to
be the deed that completely threw Ophelia over the edge. She went mad that her father was
murdered by the man she loves. Everyone had understood how she felt.
Word of Polonius's murder had worked it's way to Laertes who immediately left for
Denmark and the threat is made even more dangerous by his sudden barging into the room full
of fury. His situation is even worsened when he sees his sister madly singing to herself of love
The Queen interrupts a conversation that Laertes and the King are having, two
scenes later. Ophelia has drowned. She seemed to be drinking from a river when she fell in and
made no attempt to get out. She is called a suicide and Laertes vows to get revenge on Hamlet.
What seems peculiar is that no one questions the Queen as to how she knows
every single detail to Ophelia's death. It seems strange to me that if the Queen had been
witness to the death that she would have pulled her out, but didn't. You've already told me that it
was word-of-mouth that got word of the death to the Queen, but then how come whoever did
see this death didn't pull her out and watched her die?
This question is definitely a dent in the storyline that is quite vital to the understanding of the
Queen's position towards Ophelia. The Queen supposedly loved Ophelia and wanted her to
marry Hamlet some day, so it seems strange to me that her reaction to the death was not more
dire or severe than it was.
Ophelia's funeral was held in a secluded place with a minimal amount of people
because of the way that she died, suicide. Because suicide was and to the present day is a sin,
the departed died with a grave sin to their name and therefore could not be buried in the same
area as the people who died without sin. It was because of this that there was a small amount
of people at her funeral.
Hamlet is there, hiding and watching the funeral processions not knowing who
they're for. Only when he finds out that she had died had he realized how much he really did
It is truly a shame that Hamlet had not treated the women in his life with the
respect that they deserve.
Ophelia, a devoted and true love that died over the fact that the man she loved so
dearly had also killed her father.
Gertrude, a loving mother that died at the hands of her husband through a poisoned
cup intended for her son.
Both of these cases show that the downfall of the women was due only to Hamlet's
actions and behavior and that if he hadn't acted the way he did, the women would still be alive,
as well as he.
"To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing, end them."7
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