Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

The relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude

Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of recent posts! I’ve been super busy with course work, but I’ve found a spare 10 minutes to FINALLY write up some points on HAMLET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH GERTRUDE. This is a question that so many of you have asked me to do, but I haven’t got around to it until now. I’ve laid out some key points for you to discuss in your essay and hopefully, they should be the semblance of an essay!

  • At the core of the play is the relationship between Hamlet his mother Gertrude.
  • Gertrude’s “o’er hasty marriage” to Claudius forms the source of Hamlet’s distress.
  • This acts as a catalyst to Hamlet’s behaviour.
  • However, Gertrude is NOT a dominant figure in the play and seems easily manipulated by the male characters of the play.
  • She is never far from Hamlet’s thoughts and quite worryingly, he seems inordinately preoccupied with her. The famous psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud suggested that a reason for Hamlet’s procrastination resides in Oedipal Complex. That is to say, Claudius has acted out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. This is an extremely worrying aspect to the Danish prince’s character and it is very important to his relationship with his mother.
  • Gertrude is characterised as flippant and careless – “seeming virtuous queen”. Hamlet reveals his disgust towards her marriage to his uncle, describing it as morally offensive, “incestuous” and he admonishes his mother’s weaknesses, saying “frailty thy name is woman”.
  • It is strongly suggested that Gertrude is an adulteress, weak and easily persuaded by physical love and Hamlet feels disappointment, anger and betrayal towards her. In turn, she seems to regret her actions at pivotal points in the play. She realises that it is HER behaviour that has altered her son’s perception of the world and she expresses this aloud to Claudius. She realises this, especially in the  “Closet scene”, when Hamlet “speaks daggers” to her regarding her relationship with Claudius. He also holds a mirror to her (“hold a mirror up to nature”) to “show virtue her own feature”. 
  • It’s interesting to note that Gertrude doesn’t actually see the Ghost when he appears in the same scene – it is only Hamlet who can see him. Perhaps this might suggest that Gertrude is, in some way, morally blind. She cannot see how she has sinned – it is only her son Hamlet who notices it.
  • For someone as sensitive and as philosophical as Hamlet, it seems a cruel fate that he would have someone as flippant and nonchalant as Gertrude for a mother.
  • At the beginning of the play, she seems oblivious to all of the corruption around her and it is her flippancy that ignites a rage in Hamlet – “thou knows’t tis common….” 
  • In a sense, Gertrude fails miserably at motherhood because she fails to see the true extent (or even empathise with) of her son’s grief.
  • Shakespeare uses Gertrude to portray the role of women within the play – one of passivity and fierce obedience. The relationship between Hamlet and his mother is pivotal to communicating the theme.
  • Throughout the play, we are unaware as to who Hamlet hates more – Claudius for killing his father or his mother Gertrude for betraying someone as noble as Old Hamlet.
  • However, one could also argue that HAMLET DOES NOT AVENGE HIS FATHER’S DEATH. Think about it – Hamlet REACTS when Gertrude is drinks the poison. It is after the death of his mother that Hamlet spurns to action and finally kills the villainous Claudius.
  • The relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude is probably THE most important relationship in the play.


There you are everyone! Hope it helps…coming up next will be some points on COMEDY in Hamlet and some notes on images of disease in the play. These are two questions that students usually find very tricky as they’re so specific, but hopefully you guys will be able to tackle them with the guidance of some notes!!




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