Hamlet and Gertrude
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet depicts the dilemma faced an average man trapped in the overwhelming demands of life. Prince Hamlet’s attempts at resolving the moral issues related to incest and power can possibly lead to many critical interpretations. The role played by women in the play, though seemingly minimal, cannot be undermined if one approaches it with psychoanalytical parameters. The presence of ‘Oedipus Complex’ in Prince Hamlet’s psyche can be explicated with the help of a close analysis. It can even be argued that the entire action of the play revolves around the desire of Claudius and Prince Hamlet to possess a woman- Gertrude. However, it remains doubtful whether one could accuse Gertrude for being the cause of all the mishaps that ensue.
The major obstacle in Prince Hamlet’s way in avenging the murder of his father is his ambivalent relationship with his mother, Gertrude. He is utterly disappointed by her hasty marriage to Claudius soon after his father’s mysterious death. Even as he realizes that Gertrude is unaware of the heinous acts of Claudius, he finds it difficult to relate to her normally. What makes the situation worse is his intense feelings for her, both as a son and an adult man, which could be interpreted as the manifestation of ‘Oedipus Complex’. He tells Gertrude, “You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife: / And – would it were not so! – you are my mother” (Act III, Scene IV, 15-16). These words explain the prince’s predicament of having to despise his own blood to unveil the mystery surrounding his father’s death. The fact that Claudius married Gertrude in a hurry makes the situation complex. If he had been after power, his decision to marry Gertrude can be considered just a means to fulfill his ambition. But it is also possible to argue that he killed King Hamlet out of his desire for Gertrude.
Gertrude is not presented in the play as a seductress who encouraged Claudius’s motives. On the contrary, she is forced to marry Claudius in the guise of a political emergency. She confirms to the general demands and tries to conceal her grief in order to be faithful wife of the new king. Prince Hamlet’s strange behavior is of grave concern for her, and she tries everything possible to reach out to him. It is not possible to blame her for any of the mishaps that took place in relations to her identity as a woman. However, Claudius and Prince Hamlet are in many ways influenced by her existence in the order of events.
Prince Hamlet’s negligence towards Ophelia, which leads to the innocent girl’s suicide, is also a result of his solemn preoccupation with Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius and his own affinity towards her. The prince finds it impossible that his beloved mother has indeed married his father’s murderer. Claudius’s existence as the king is inextricably linked to his status as the husband of Gertrude. People relate to him as a king mainly through her. And the ways in which he establishes their relationship is an exhibition of power, and a challenge to Prince Hamlet. In this respect, it is the presence of a woman which determines the course of action in the play. It can also be assumed that the tragic events that fill the stage are also indebted to the awe-inspiring presence of Gertrude at every turn.
It would be a gross injustice to blame Gertrude for the events that unfurled around her without her knowledge. However, the complex feelings that guided Claudius and Prince Hamlet through their choices of action were intricately linked to their relationship with her. The human interest and concern for the events in the play would not have been sustained without the presence of Gertrude, which makes it possible to state that the major events in the play occur because of a woman.